Category Archives: Waste

DBIA doing its part for a greener downtown Peterborough

Cig-urns are sprouting in downtown Peterborough.

Not familiar with the term? It’s the accepted shorthand for cigarette urns, where smokers who have been banished to street corners and alleyways can deposit their butts.

Their appearance downtown is an example of the challenges and opportunities the Downtown Business Improvement Area faces.

The DBIA represents more than 400 businesses and building owners, by far the largest collected mass of retail and office space in the city. Downtown has been described as both the heart and the face of Peterborough.

But even if there is one heart and one face, DBIA members don’t operate with a single mind. They are independent business owners and that independence can manifest as a degree of mistrust of government and reluctance to join collective ventures.

When Terry Guiel, the DBIA’s executive director, outlines the cig-urn program during an interview in his bare-bones Water St. office he touches on all those themes, intentionally or inadvertently.

The cigarette litter problem is a government creation, he says.

“The health unit and the government decides its going to ban smoking. I did 25 years, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year in smoke-filled bars so I was the happiest guy around when they did that,” says Guiel, a longtime local bar circuit staple as a singer and guitar player.

“But there was no residual plan. What happens to cigarette butts? Now everyone is standing just outside the patios or on the corner of the street and cigarette butts are everywhere. Now we have to clean it up.”

His solution has been to attach 21 cig-urns to the sides of buildings. That helped, but created a secondary problem of its own: Who cleans out the urns and where do the toxic butts go?

“We hope the owners of the buildings take it over,” he says, although that hasn’t been happening to the degree he’d like. “We kind of put the cart before the horse because we had to do something right away to start tackling the problem.”

Stage two will be the addition of another 20 urns on downtown lamp posts. A cleaning crew the DBIA pays will look after those, he says, as long as he can work the extra cost into his budget.

Not a perfect system, but a practical attempt to deal with litter that is both unsightly and damaging.

Another project was easier to implement.

After he was hired three years ago Guiel noticed that food vendors at DBIA-sponsored events like Ribfest and Taste of Downtown were dumping waste liquids, including grease, down the drain.

The solution was to provide grey waste bins to collect the liquid. The organization got some positive publicity over that initiative when a Trent University graduate student, Jessica Correa, shot a video and featured it on her Random Acts of Green website.

“I wasn’t thinking I was doing anything green, I was just thinking this is illegal and it shouldn’t go in the water,” he says.

“But when you think about it these are all little steps that improve the quality of life and we should be doing these, everything we can. It’s the right thing to do, thinking of the bigger picture.”

Education, which Guiel likes to refer to as “edification,” is another DBIA focus. A representative of Peterborough Utilities Inc. has spoken twice at monthly breakfast meetings, explaining how business owners can cut electricity consumption and take advantage of subsidy programs.

Promoting cycling lanes and downtown trails, and the now annual Pulse event where a stretch of George St. is closed to cars, are also a high priority.

Pulse is a co-operative venture with Peterborough GreenUP, a partnership Guiel hopes to expand.

“The more these synergies happen, the more positive impact its going to have on the community,” he says. “We’ve got to stop looking at green people as tree huggers, and I think that mentality is shifting thanks to organizations like GreenUP.

“We’re seeing that we’re all in this together, and that there’s only one planet.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, September 24, 2016.

Business through a sustainable lens

The thick countertop at Green Eyewear has the unmistakeable lustre of old wood, but customers who routinely comment on it might be surprised by its origin.

The planks come from a Hamilton factory that supplied munitions for the Canadian Army in both world wars. It was also home to Studebaker Canada’s assembly plant.

At some point during an expansion years ago, old-school industrial shipping crates were broken down and the inch-and-a-half thick, 12-inch wide boards were repurposed as flooring, explains Shane Palmer, co-owner with Amanda Palmer of the eyewear store at Hunter and Aylmer streets.

The last Studebaker made in Canada rolled out of the plant in 1966 but the aging factory building survived. Two years ago it was was torn down and a Grimsby demolition company ended up with the flooring.

Rob Bianco, a cabinet and furniture maker in Warsaw, acquired the wood. At the same time the Palmers were moving Green Eyewear from George St. to its current location. Bianco supplied them with some of that planking to fashion the countertop that became a focal point of the store.

The re-use triple play – packing crates to flooring to countertop – reflects the Palmers’ low-environmental-impact approach to everything about the business. The rest of the counter is barn board that was used as shelving in their former George St. store, barn board that Palmer bought from a farm in Keene a decade ago.

“I got a really good deal on it because a lot of it was rotten but the lady made me take it all,” he recalls. “She told me I could go back to the big city with nothing. I told her I was from Peterborough.”

Other sections of what had been barn board shelving were cut down and hung vertically on the new store walls. Instead of sitting on shelves, glasses are suspended on metal rods down the middle of the boards.

“We just try to re-use stuff, you know like old chairs . . . as much as we can.”

Two vintage red 1950s chairs in the store were made by Nightingale Corp. in Toronto, still a major Canadian furniture manufacturer.

But their main “green” focus is the products they sell. One supplier, Tipton Eyeworks, provides a line known as Vinylize Eyewear. The frames are made of recycled LP vinyl records and all the metal in them is also recycled. Another style of frames is fashioned from repurposed camera film. Film is made with cellulose acetate and has a base of plant fibres, not petroleum.

The Palmers have also made a commitment to local production. Many of their frames are designed by Paul Storace, founder of Alternative Eyewear and Plan B. Storace has lived in Millbrook for more than a decade and the edgy, internationally competitive eyewear company’s offices are in Ajax.

Storace hires his marketing expertise in Peterborough and subscribes to the “buy local” philosophy whenever possible, Palmer says, which helps Peterborough’s economy. His frames are not as environmentally friendly as the Vinylize line so Green Eyewear donates $2 to Peterborough GreenUP for every pair sold.

The Palmers met more than 20 years ago while both were at university in Ottawa. Ten years ago they decided to go into business for themselves and to do it in Peterborough, which they saw as a good place to raise a family.

In 2014 they moved the store from George St. to a new building developed by Ashburnham Realty. Part of the attraction was the building philosophy of the firm’s principals, Paul Bennett and Rob Fisher. “They probably build more environmentally focused than most people do for commercial buildings,” Palmer says.

The walls of the four-storey, mixed residential and commercial complex are constructed of foam blocks filled with poured concrete. The method, known as ICF, produces insulating factors in the R-19 range and makes the building nearly soundproof.

Now well-established commercially and settled into an environmentally friendly building, the Palmers’ vision of a unique “green” Eyewear business has come fully into focus.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, September 10, 2016.

Trent is cleaner, greener

Painted and costumed in their college colours, hundreds of first-year Trent University students will soon cap off Orientation Week with this year’s version of the loud and proud Great Race.

A recycling relay is one of the events.

“Students love it,” says Shelley Strain, Trent’s sustainability co-ordinator. “Upper-year students tell me they remember it.”

For the relay Strain puts together a miniature version of one of the dozens of recycling stations found on Trent’s campus. Team members run to the mini-station, a piece of cardboard, plastic or some other recyclable item in hand. They have to read the directions and figure out which receptacle it goes in.

“Invariably people coming from a different municipality will get something wrong, but they’re going to fight tooth and nail that they are right, because it’s right in Hamilton, or wherever they come from. Which is exactly the point,” Strain says.

“It really highlights the differences in the systems and then you get more people paying attention to adjusting to how we do things here.”

It matters that Trent students understand how recycling works on campus, and in Peterborough. Just over 1,500 of them will live in residences this year. Total enrolment is nearly 8,000.

Orientation Week is a tailor-made opportunity for Strain to make new students aware of their role in fashioning an eco-friendly campus. Waste diversion is her main theme.

Friendly reminders and hands-on lessons start the day students arrive. They have packing materials, cardboard boxes and other waste to get rid of. Volunteers show them where each college’s main recycling station is (outdoors, at the rear of the building) and explain what goes where.

Composting is also explained early and often.

“Something that is unique to Trent is that we compost on campus,” Strain says. “Whatever we produce on campus we are able to compost on campus.”

The 37 tonnes of compost produced last year was also used on campus, primarily in gardens.

Trent’s composting facility will be one stop on an eco-tour that is also part of orientation week.

“That’s more of a get-to-know-your campus initiative, but we put a green spin on it. We show them: ‘This is where your compost goes. It’s not for naught, we are actually doing something with it.'” Strain says.

“It’s important for people to see that.”

Another tour stop is the renovated P.S.B. Wilson athletics building. The spacious addition, which includes the coffee shop where we are doing our interview, was designed and built to a

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standard. The Life and Health Sciences building is LEED Gold.

First-year students also get an explanation of a blue box program run by Community Living volunteers. Anyone can toss used printer cartridges or obsolete cell phones into a blue box to be collected by the volunteers, taken to the mail room for packaging and sent off to be recycled.

Community Living receives a small donation in return for each recycled item.

Strain put together the partnership with Community Living in 2008, shortly after she left her position as Peterborough County’s education and training officer to take on the newly created sustainability co-ordinator job at Trent.

“Second life notebooks” are another aspect of the partnership. Community Living volunteers bind paper that has been used on only one side into notebooks and hand them out to students to use as scrap paper.

A behind-the-scenes program students will be exposed to is the school’s Energy Performance Contract. Swapping out old lights for LEDs and incorporating efficient new boilers in the heating and cooling system will help reduce annual energy costs by $1.5 million.

But pointing students toward better recycling and reuse habits is the biggest opportunity to get them involved in sustainability progress. Strain believes that is true whether students live on campus or off.

“I think people’s approach and behaviour and choices probably dictate much more how much waste they generate than where they live does,” she says.

“They have a great opportunity. We just help them realize it.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, August 27, 2016.

Rainwater reservoir helps Robinson Place stay green

Homes with a rain barrel connected to the downspout are fairly common today, saving up nature’s own water source for use watering gardens and washing cars.

But 20 years ago a rain barrel was a sign that whoever lived there was on the cutting edge of eco-awareness.

So to with Robinson Place, the massive but elegantly designed building at Water and Charlotte streets commonly referred to as “the MNR office.”

When it opened 20 years ago Robinson Place had a hidden resource down in the basement: a 35,000-litre rainwater tank, equivalent to a 24-by-12-foot swimming pool, eight feet deep.

Water from the tank is used to flush toilets. A seven-storey, 350,000-sq.-ft. building that provides office space to more than 1,000 provincial government employees has a lot of toilets.

David Burns didn’t know about the rainwater system when he signed on as building manager at Robinson Place. Nor was he aware of the large natural area, waterfall and vegetable garden tucked away on the Otonabee River side of the building.

Burns works for CBRE GCS Canada, a property management company hired by the province. Robinson Place is the largest of several buildings he is responsible for in Peterborough and area and his own office is there.

Designed as the provincial headquarters of the Ministry of Natural Resources (now Natural Resources and Forestry), it was originally used solely by MNR. Today it also has offices for six other ministries.

In eco terms, the building’s defining accomplishment is achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum status two years ago. Most LEED Platinum buildings were built with the exacting standard in mind. Robinson Place is one of just 12 in Canada to qualify in the “existing building operations and maintenance” category, and the first government building.

Technical upgrades that pushed the building into the platinum circle included magnetic bearings in the compressors of huge cold water “chillers” that drive the air conditioning system. Using a magnetic field instead of mechanical shafts reduced energy use, Burns explains.

Across the board, energy consumption has been reduced by 31% over the past decade, he says. Aggressive recycling promotion has steadily increased the rate of diverting waste from the city/county landfill site. In 2012 the diversion rate was 62%; for 2015 it was 77%.

Features like the vegetable garden also contribute to LEED success, Burns says. We walk from the bright, sunny lobby out to a rear stone courtyard. Off to the right is a gate, latched but not locked, in a tall fence covered with vegetation.

Inside the garden area, roughly the size of large backyard, we sit at one of several picnic benches. It’s a natural area without trimmed grass or landscaping. Seven raised vegetable planters, each six feet by four feet, are the most noticeable feature.

The planters overflow with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, melons, lettuce, spinach, onions, beets and carrots. Burns and 10 to 20 others who work at Robinson Place and tend the gardens each summer deliver their harvest to the nearby Lighthouse Community Centre at St. John’s Anglican Church.

Another hidden resource that contributes to the “green” aspect of Robinson Place is a bicycle parking area in the underground garage.

“We have a very high percentage of staff that bicycle to work,” Burns says, “in the range of 80 to 100 bicyclists.” Several garage parking spaces were converted to bike racks and a bicycle repair station.

The vegetable garden sits on top of the parking garage entrance. We go back out the gate and stroll alongside the waterfall, which more closely resembles a gently descending set of rapids. The quiet burble of tumbling water makes for a soothing little oasis.

It’s a popular lunchtime retreat, one that Burns and many of the building’s workers appreciate.

“I have people come up here from Toronto, consultants, and they say, ‘Oh my God, I wish I worked here.’ And I say, ‘Sorry, you can’t, because I am.’”

Employers take note: good, green design can help attract, and keep, good people.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, July 30, 2016.

Quaker curbs waste loss

Up on the third floor of the century-old Quaker Oats plant, Stephen Loch points out a set of doors next to a panel of high-tech measuring devices.

This is the brain of Quaker’s waste measurement and control system. Steel “containment vessels” brought from production lines two floors below hold waste material from a run of Quaker Oats, granola bars or whatever was being produced.

Each container has an RFID tag, a radio-frequency identification device similar to those inserted under the skin of cats and dogs.

When the doors open the container is pushed into a set of arms, picked up and weighed. The measuring device records the weight and reads a radio signal from the tag that identifies what production line the container came from and the product it was running.

“Then we would enter it in our tracking system,” explains Loch, the plant manufacturing manager. “So then we understand where our waste losses are coming from.” RFID tracking helps cut production costs. It also helps make the plant more sustainable, says manufacturing director Terry Labrash, a Peterborough native whose parents still live in the south end of the city.

“We strive to be what we call a zero landfill site,” Labrash says. “Less than one per cent of our total waste goes to landfill. Part of that is our strategic partnerships that we have with our food waste byproduct stream.”

Food waste includes oat hulls and “fines,” powdered material that Loch defines as “basically different grades of flour.”

Eight years ago Quaker invested in a new building attached to the 12 large grain silos at the back of the plant. Trucks from Quaker’s waste management partner, SPB Solutions Inc., drive in and are loaded with hulls, fines and “wet” waste from the chewy granola bar and Instant Quaker Oats lines.

SPB Solutions, a national company with a local location in the Pido Rd. industrial park, processes the material for use in animal feed.

During an interview in his office Labrash sketched an overview of the company’s current modernization plan for its oat milling process, which he describes as a “substantial investment.” Milling oats is still the heart of the operation. Oat grains are hulled and the seeds (the hull is a husk; the seed is a groat) are cleaned, sorted, separated, graded and processed with heat and steam.

“We are going to take 68 pieces of equipment and replace them with nine pieces of equipment,” Labrash explains. “And there will be a significant reduction in our energy consumption.”

The plant has cut annual energy use by five per cent (1.7 million kw/hours) and water use by eight per cent (nearly 10,000 cubic metres) over the past five years. Modernizing milling operations will significantly improve those numbers, he says.

It is easier to grasp how 69 machines can be reduced to eight as Loch takes us through the plant. On one milling floor, wood frame “aspirators” continually shake the grain while blowing in air to help sort it. Each is about four feet high and four feet wide.

On another floor a new stainless steel Buhler aspirator is waiting to be assembled. About two-thirds the size of one of the old wooden machines, it will replace six of them.

Some of the old, single-function milling machines date back 80 years. The modern replacements are multi-taskers. Loch mentions that one of the new energy-efficient processors will replace 18 old pieces of equipment.

Another step toward conservation is the application of ideas from a “resource conservation summit” that brought experts from within the company – Quaker is owned by beverage and food giant PepsiCo – and outside consultants to Peterborough last year.

“We just blitzed all of our processes in the entire facility looking for areas of opportunity on conservation,” Labrash says, “and identified some 160 action items that we are now prioritizing for execution.”

As that happens Quaker will further reduce the amount of water and energy it uses, and the waste it produces, while continuing to help feed the nation.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, July 2, 2016.