Eco-minded food vendors on Salt Spring are increasingly turning to compostable containers and utensils to serve their products, but the end-game for such packaging may not have the intended result.
Yuki Shibata recently opened community discussion on the topic, after feeling frustrated about options at the Tuesday and Saturday markets in Centennial Park. Shibata and her husband serve organic vegan, gluten-free and hemp foods at both markets from their Vital Kitchen booth.
“Ever since we started our business we have heard numerous complaints from our customers that there are no public compostable garbage bins nearby,” Shibata told the Driftwood. “I completely agree . . . Even though we try our best to be environmentally friendly, our food and eco-containers are thrown into the regular garbage bin. Something is wrong with this picture.”
The terms under which the markets are permitted to use the Capital Regional District park require that users provide their own waste and recycling collection. Many food vendors, like the Shibatas, do provide receptacles and encourage customers to bring their waste back. However, none of the vendors have seating at their stalls. People who bring their food into the park to eat may not be willing to trek back with their empty containers.
Compostable packaging that goes into the garbage bin and hence the landfill defeats most of the purpose. It may replace non-biodegradable plastics, but degrades slowly in the anaerobic conditions and produces methane while it does. But compostable plastic packaging can’t be deposited in regular plastic recycling bins (either flexible or rigid). Diverting organic materials into compost could be one solution.
Salt Spring’s CRD director Gary Holman said he would be interested in speaking to parks and recreation manager Dan Ovington and Rob Pingle, manager of the Saturday and Tuesday markets, about the possibilities.
A Driftwood survey of local food trucks in 2016 found that most owners had already switched over to compostable products. Alex Lyons of Al’s Gourmet Falafel and Fries was a forerunner, and has eliminated single-use plastics almost entirely by this point. (He’s currently working on getting rid of water bottles, the last product.)
Lyons supplies a recycling bin and compost bin for customers who eat at his Rainbow Road location and takes the waste home to process. He said he would be willing to pay from $20 to $40 a week to facilitate compostables being collected and sorted at the market.
“I would love to see something happen there, because we’ve got to get away from plastics,” Lyons said, adding, “The number of garbage bags they collect on a Saturday is astonishing.”
Peri Lavender of Salt Spring Apple Co. said she would also be interested in on-site composting collection for market vendors. Although her business doesn’t produce much in terms of food waste or containers, she does take home and sort any waste collected.
Having public receptacles in the park seems more difficult to manage, though, especially if PARC would expect market vendors to fund the service.
She suggested the market advisory group could add composting to their fall meeting agenda to start the conversation. In the meantime, vendors could initiate a more assertive campaign asking customers to bring their containers back to the purchase point.
“Then we would know if that’s working and what might be possible from there.”