The business of going green

photo credits include: stevendepolo, cluttercup, GrowingCity

Sometimes the end of the road brings unexpected opportunity. For Clark Chow, that opportunity was turning old tires into a brand new product called StompStone, an environmentally friendly solution that can be used in patio and walkway construction. His insights into the value of turning a waste into a usable product are not unique either. There are several other young entrepreneurs in BC who are taking the green movement to heart and to the bank.

StompStone is a product of Plascon Plastics, and was invented by Chow four years ago. His moment of inspiration came after finding out about a local tire stewardship program from Western Rubber where tires are recycled.

“What I noticed of interest in the newspaper a few times was that Western Rubber recycles all the car tires in BC,” said Chow. “They will process it, meaning they will remove all the steel and all the fibre, and get it down to just the rubber, so I wondered can we use rubber in its raw form?”

For a manufacturer like Plascon Plastics, making a good quality product that is also cost effective is key. What has been keeping them competitive in the market is using a waste stream that has little or no value to it. For Plascon Plastics, rubber is a dream come true. The rubber has decreased their cost of material so significantly that they are able increase production in BC all the while shipping to more distribution networks across North America.

Commercial recycling is not limited to just industrial production either. Take Growing City, for example. Its goal is to bring urban composting to businesses in Vancouver. Growing City collects the organic waste from offices, apartment buildings, events and other spaces not set up to deal with organic waste. The waste is then turned into a valuable product, in partnership with Enviro-Smart Organics, when it is converted into compost and distributed to local communities.

“There were so few people who knew what composting was, or what kind of impact it could have on the community and the environment,” said Lisa Von Sturmer, Founder and CEO of Growing City. “Since the green bin program started, people are actually seeing a tangible effect, and that is very important to people because that makes them feel connected to a solution.”

A significant amount of Metro Vancouver's waste comes from the commercial and industrial sectors which are not set up to handle organic waste. By providing recycling services to this sector, Growing City has diverted more than a 130 tones of waste the equivalent of 340 metric tones of CO2 in the last two years.

Making compost is a science that requires a balance between the oxygen, carbon and nitrogen-rich materials and working with the right microorganisms. Von Sturmer mentioned that Growing City collects a lot of nitrogen-rich materials due to the majority of customers producing wet waste like coffee grinds and apple pits; thus some effort has to go into balancing out the materials. However, even with all that is known about composting, educating the public is still a major focus of Von Sturmer's business.

“There are still a lot of people who are surprised that we can compost paper towels, fruit pits, and hair.”

On the other hand, contaminated organic material does not make for good compost. “The key for most people to remember is if it was once alive at some point then yes you really can compost it,” said Von Sturmer. “People would never think about throwing a pop can in garbage because recycling has become part of our culture. Organics recycling really should be part of that culture.” 

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