Interview with Zero Waste Canada
Zero Waste Canada interviews John Down
ZWC: Recently you have made the decision to pursue certification of your business with Zero Waste Canada , Christopher Norman Chocolates, as a Zero Waste business, why do you think it is important to establish that your business is a Zero Waste business?
"I have been recycling since 1974. Our community at the time set up a small recycling depot for newspapers, cardboard, glass, and tins. At a young age, my mother was concerned about the environment and the impact that environmental issues had played on people’s lives. She was a public health nurse.
I moved from Vancouver to Toronto in 1985 and lived on the East Side, where, only a few blocks away there was a large-scale garbage incinerator. I could not believe that such an operation would exist in Canada. Our community formed a small group with the help of a few city officials, whose efforts resulted in the shut down of the incinerator and a call for a wide spread recycling program.
Waste has always bothered me. I was brought up never to leave a light on in a room unless I was in it, not to mention, leaving a window or door open to, “heat the great outdoors” as my mother would say!
My first trip to New York City was in 1980. Two things made a big impression on me other than the great city itself, with tremendous museums, art galleries, opera and concert halls, architecture, culture and cultures. One of the impressions was the long lines piled high on the sidewalks of the New York Times Sunday Edition being thrown out. Keep in mind, that at the time, each newspaper was about half the size of the City of Vancouver’s phone directory! The other thing that shocked me was that not only was there no recycling but that a lot of city’s garbage was floated on barges out to sea and dumped.
The garbage issues were not enough of a deterrent though. I ended up moving to New York City, met my partner and lived there for twenty-five years. I am happy to say NYC has an extensive recycling program now and no longer dumps trash at sea. What happens to all that recycling? Well, like many things there, you really do not know!
During that time, I was exhibiting my paintings, Joe was an agent for opera singers and by a funny set of circumstances we founded a chocolate company, which took off internationally. We incorporated our environmental concerns and practices into our “corporate culture”. We were socially responsible entrepreneurs. We participated in community outreach, especially after 9/11, had intern programs with various schools, did fund raising and the like. We instilled in our employees the importance of zero waste and not just because our ingredients, packaging and everything that went into making our products was so expensive we had no room for waste, but also because waste is not right."
ZWC: How do you organize your facility to reduce waste?
"We were also known by our “operating room” cleanliness, especially by the Department of Agriculture, which we were licensed under in the New York State. There was a tremendous amount to keep track of. Everything coming in had to be labeled and dated then stored in the appropriate location always-rotating stock including packaging. We had upright recycling cans for papers, glass metal and rigid plastics were collected as one, and cardboard was bundled for recycling.
Now, here in Canada, we have virtually no waste and thank you to Barbara we can now recycle our latex gloves and hairnets.
An older friend told me when I was young that “organization was the key to success”. That too has stuck with me! In production, waste has to be eliminated in every aspect; otherwise it is very hard to compete, especially when the product is very labor intensive."
ZWC: As a company that is making a food product have you faced any waste issues related to safe handling of food products?
Except a couple of occasions in NYC, I can proudly say No. Twice we had a water pipe burst in the building we were in during the winter. Some product was destroyed and had to be thrown out. Another time was with all the post 9/11 construction going on our block. The building next door was not doing construction to code on a weekend, and, as a result, our HVAC system sucked in all this black dust that the filters could not handle. The dust was vented through out our facility causing $70k of damage. We had to close for a week to clean up and the entire fall product that was just about ready to ship to various catalogs had to be destroyed. We were fully insured, except as we found out, good luck collecting from Travelers Insurance in the US."
ZWC: Packaging is a very complex issue for manufacturers. What are the challenges you face as a company that would be buying ingredients for your chocolates and a manufacturer who needs to package your product?
Yes, there are many considerations when it comes to packaging. Today, we as manufacturers, have the option of going “green;” although, one has to be mindful of costs associated with the various types of packaging choices. At Christopher Norman Chocolates, I designed all of our packaging. Our products were packaged and shipped in house. Once we went off shore for our packaging needs, but it did not sit well with ethics other than the price difference!
ZWC: How does the method and material that you package chocolates in affect marketability of the product?
Historically luxury brands and products have been known for their excessive packaging and brand identity. You have to stand out in the crowd, but you can do so without being excessive. The consumer is also at fault by its demand for excess packaging to help feeling good about their luxury purchase! The large shopping bags over the shoulder come to mind….
ZWC: Do you think businesses can help lead us to Zero Waste?
It is everyone’s responsibility to help undo the wasteful practices we have all inherited, learned and contributed to. Zero waste is a common sense approach to living and we must all work to achieve as much as common sense as possible!