Jason Adams on recycling, reFUSE and food waste
This post published on November 14, 2014
As soon as we started planning our Nov 19 screening of JUST EAT IT in Victoria, Sidney and SaltSpring Island, reFUSE Resource Recovery founder Jason Adams contacted us to offer support and sponsorship for the community building event. Nice! So we decided to find out more about what motivates Jason’s passion and drive for recycling. Please join us Wednesday November 19 to meet him live or online!
OC: Tell us about reFUSE Resource Recovery
JA: reFUSE Resource Recovery is a 7-day per week, 365-day of the year operation, servicing Southern Vancouver Island, and Salt Spring Island. By foot, by Bike, or by Truck, we capture more than 25,000 kgs. of Food Scraps, Paper and Cardboard, Soft and Rigid Plastics and Styrofoam, Scrap Metal, Glass, Light bulbs & fixtures, E-Waste, Batteries, and lots of other stuff. We beneficially-recycle these materials, and keep a pile equivalent to one very full 53-ft tractor-trailer being buried at Hartland Landfill everyday of the year.
OC: How did you become involved in the recycling business?
JA: Early work experiences at grocery stores, large department stores and car plants gave me insight into how much waste our society produces. While studying International Business at University of Victoria, I completed a summer co-op term with a company called The Rubbish Boys (the small Vancouver company that went on to become 1.800.GOT.JUNK). I ended up working the JUNK trucks year-round for my remaining 2 years at UVic. I was recycling a tonne of stuff, but also dumping a lot of garbage into the Hartland Landfill. It was here that I came to appreciate that I didn’t feel good about profiting at the expense of the environment.
Still being young and naive enough to think I could change the world, I incorporated reFUSE on January 11, 2002 I hit the ground running with a cell-phone, laptop and an old garbage truck, and 12 years later I’m living proof you should be very careful what you wish for!
OC: What different types of things does reFUSE recycle, reclaim or rescue?
JA: Our unique collection model uses pickup trucks and cube vans, not conventional garbage and recycling trucks. This allows us to take a wide-range of different recyclables at the same time, and not send multiple trucks to a location. This saves significant vehicle emissions, stops big trucks from crushing the pavement, and to the pleasure of growing populations of downtown Victoria condo residents, reduces the number of noisy, early-morning dumpster slams. Most importantly, keeping the recyclables source-separated keeps them cleaner, and easier to sort and process which helps maximize their resource value.
Part of reFUSE’s uniqueness is that with each pickup, we exchange full Compost totes with freshly-cleaned totes, making it very pleasant for our customers by reducing the negative affects of odour, maggots and fruit flies. Emptying each full tote individually at our warehouse location also helps us sort out contaminants that we don’t want in the finished compost. Also, consolidating the loads into large bins further reduces the number of truck trips to the compost facility.
- our Food Scraps are combined with 100% recycled Yard Trimmings to produce reSOIL. This premium finished compost is marketed in recovered coffee bean bags, and brewery grain bags.
- Styrofoam is sorted and densified into bales that get processed back into resin pellets to make new Styrofoam.
- Soft Plastics get shredded and washed and are also made into pellets that help produce new plastic products.
- Wood pallets are re-used or sent as woodwaste to the Harmac Mill in Nanaimo to help produce heat and power in their operations.
- We’re experimenting with converting recycled paper hand towels into pellets that can be used in pellet woodstoves, as animal bedding, and as a carbon source in backyard composters.
- Bike tires and tubes we collect from area bike stores get turned back into rubber mats, and playground bases.
- We are also facility partners with many product stewardship programs to recycle batteries, e-waste, lightbulbs and fixtures.
OC: Who are some of your favourite customers? How are they leading by example?
JA: We’re especially proud of the partnerships we have forged with more than 1,600 local business, schools, and homes.
- Starting in 2002, Royal Roads was our first customer ever and remains one of the most progressive institutional customers.
- Large hotels like the Delta Ocean Point and the Fairmont Empress divert huge amounts of Food Scraps.
- We help 63 area schools recycle Food Scraps, Styrofoam, Soft Plastics and Foil-Lined Packaging – we provide reSOIL to schools to sell in bags to support fundraising efforts that have raised more than $10,000 since 2010.
- Customers like Red Fish Blue Fish live sustainability in every aspect of sourcing their fish, and we helped them source environmentally-friendly food trays and utensils that allow them to produce less than 2 small garbage bags per week during the peak busy summer season.
OC: What can we all do to be less wasteful?
JA: We all have to quit using single-use disposables. Our busy lives push us to put convenience ahead of minimizing waste, and changing that is the most critical step toward a Zero Waste future. My biggest waste nemesis right now is paper coffee cups, which no matter what the claim, don’t really compost, or recycle that well. We’re currently working with large music festivals to move to a re-fillable cup model that will reduce the amount of disposable beverage cups that get wasted.
We need to lower our expectation on how perfect we expect our fruits and vegetables to be from the grocery store. We see first-hand the incredible volume of waste produce coming out the back of large grocery stores simply because they don’t want to discount the blemished yet still very edible produce that cannibalizes the higher profit margins they realize from premium produce.
The trend we’re seeing is that most people value their scarce time, and are becoming less willing to sort their waste. And it’s safe to say that Government and Social Enterprise operating budgets will only continue to get even leaner. Closed-loop recovery systems need to be based on re-use and dealing with waste our locally. We must go to great effort to maximize the value of every ounce of recycling commodity. Programs that foster entrepreneurial innovation and create meaningful ‘living-wage’ jobs for locals will be critical to helping solve some of our Region’s social issues, such as homelessness and poverty.
OC: What change or progress do you hope to see during your lifetime?
JA: The most important change I expect to see in my lifetime is new technology and behaviours that attempt to recover 100% of the resource value of all materials, so that one individual’s or business’ excess becomes another’s input.
There’s no doubt commodities like clean water, and fossil fuel are going to be more scarce, and we need to not take it for granted. Our current global economy isn’t sustainable, with free market capitalism simply giving consumers too much choice. Products aren’t built to last, and see almost instant obsolescence as we are programmed to always want the latest and greatest consumer goods and experiences.
It’s going to take a monumental shift in every aspect of our global economy, but I am confident Mother Nature will be the very strong motivating force in our future. She always wins and I am going to make sure I’m on her team.