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Canadian grocers join forces with Circular Innovation Council to tackle single-use plastic waste

The pilot program is set to launch in Ottawa in mid-2024.

The Circular Innovation Council has unveiled a pilot program to tackle single-use plastic waste in collaboration with Canadian grocery retailers Metro, Sobeys, and Walmart Canada.

With a mission to expedite Canada’s shift to a circular economy, the national non-profit organization is on track to lead the nation’s largest collaborative reuse program. It will work with partnering grocery companies and receive funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Reuse is a critical pathway to transitioning Canada to a circular economy and eliminating single-use plastics. The cooperation and collaboration between our participating grocery retailers and the Government of Canada is truly unique and demonstrates their commitment to addressing the plastic waste crisis,” Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of Circular Innovation Council, said in a statement.

How the reuse program works

The first step involves the development of a unique reusable food container pilot, set to launch in Ottawa in mid-2024. The program seeks to find scalable ways to reduce plastic packaging intended for single use.

Customers will be able to buy certain food items in reusable containers at participating supermarkets and other food service establishments; the containers will be distributed for free.

Then, consumers can return these containers through various options, including neighbourhood drop-off locations. Reusables.com, a technology service partner, will supply smart return bins and track container movements through washing and distribution, a statement reads.

“This is an industry-leading initiative that’s set to revolutionize packaging, and we are honoured to provide our technology for ending single-use waste and driving the circular economy,” said Jason Hawkins, CEO and co-founder of Reusables.com.

Ownership of the reusable containers will be shared among the grocery retailers and other food service pilot participants. The grocery giants will collaboratively manage the containers, ensuring proper sanitation, meeting food safety requirements, and coordinating transportation and logistics. The lessons learned from the Ottawa pilot will inform the development and expansion of reuse programs across Ottawa and other regions in Canada, according to a statement.

“In launching this innovative reuse program, we’re not just working towards eliminating single-use plastics; we’re reshaping #TeamOttawa’s approach to business,” said Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change minister.

Pilot program launched in conjunction with Circular Economy Month

Participating grocery retailers also shared their enthusiasm for the initiative.

“Metro is proud to be part of this innovative pilot project, testing the use of reusable containers in our retail stores,” said Joe Fusco, senior vice president at Metro.

Meanwhile, Kristi Lalach, senior vice president of legal and sustainability, Empire Company Limited, representing Sobeys, said, “Sobeys has a goal to make it easier to live plastic waste free. We have the reach and responsibility to explore new and innovative ways to eliminate even more plastics from our supply chain.”

Moreover, John Bayliss, chief operations officer of Walmart Canada, and Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, echoed similar sentiments.

The launch of the Ottawa pilot program builds off October’s Circular Economy Month campaign, which encourages Canadians to embrace circular solutions and take action to address environmental challenges.

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