Sunday 22 September 2019

Cutting Down on Waste: Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council

In 2012, Saskatchewan generated 881 kg of waste per capita, way above the national average of 720 kg. All that garbage takes up a lot of space, but it’s worse than that. Plastic waste doesn’t decompose and is accumulating on land and in our oceans, killing birds, turtles, and many other creatures. Toxic chemicals in the waste can poison our land, water, and air and cause serious health problems.

The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council (SWRC) has been spearheading initiatives to cut down on waste since 1991. A non-profit organization, their board of directors is comprised of both industry and consumer representatives. Some of their activities, such as the fall workshops, are designed to support the waste recycling and composting industry, while others are aimed at sharing information and promoting waste reduction on a personal level. (They maintain a very useful guide to where and how different items can be recycled.)

Two current initiatives – repair cafés and waste-free events – provide individuals and communities with valuable opportunities to reduce the amount of garbage sent to the landfill.

Province-Wide Repair Cafés 
Waste Reduction Week is held annually across Canada with a different theme each day of the week to encourage the adoption of waste-reducing habits. This year’s Waste Reduction Week will be held from October 21-27 and the Council is organizing Repair Cafés on October 26 right across Saskatchewan.

Do you have a broken toaster or a skirt that needs mending? Lots of things can be repaired, but not all of us know how. At a repair café, fixers with the practical knowledge help people repair broken household items. There are now over 1500 repair cafés world-wide. A volunteer group has been hosting a monthly repair café in Prince Albert since the spring of 2018, and the SWRC hosted a repair café in Saskatoon last year during Waste Reduction Week.

This year, the SWRC plans to establish repair cafés in Saskatchewan’s 16 cities during Waste Reduction Week. Working with members and contacts, they are identifying local people who will take responsibility for organizing a café and hopefully keep it going in the future. Locations have been confirmed for almost all cities but many organizers are still needed. (The EcoFriendly Sask Calendar provides links to all the October 26, 2019 Repair Cafés).

SWRC has signed up with Repair Café International and is using their manual to organize the cafés. “It’s a fair bit of work,” explains Joanne Fedyk, SWRC’s Executive Director. “In addition to finding fixers and volunteers, you need to buy supplies – glue, plugs, all the things the manual recommends you have on hand.” Fixers usually show up, although they could have used more sewers in Saskatoon last year, but they also need volunteers to oversee the check-in procedure and serve coffee and snacks while people wait their turn. If you would like to help, contact

“We hope the cafés will self-perpetuate,” Joanne says. “We hope people will ask themselves ‘Can it be fixed?’ when something breaks.”

Waste-Free Events 
The garbage bins at large community events tend to be full to overflowing. Affinity Credit Union, with SWRC providing technical support, is attempting to address the problem by working with event organizers and concession owners to reduce and recycle waste.

The first waste-free event was the 2018 Food Truck Wars. In 2019, there were four waste-free events: Food Truck Wars, the Saskatoon Marathon, the Children’s Festival, and the Fireworks Festival.

Zero-waste tents were set up in prominent locations with a full range of bins for composting, recycling, and garbage. Volunteers were on hand to help people put their garbage in the right bin. SWRC also worked with vendors to let them know what was and wasn’t allowed. Styrofoam, foil, plastic wrap, plastic straws, and plastic cutlery were all out. Vendors at the Food Truck Wars were allowed to sell plastic water bottles, but the event organizers identified one business on each block that was willing to fill up people’s water bottles. Sandwich boards identified the participating businesses.

Organic waste went to Loraas new composting facility, which has more advanced technology than the City facility. In addition to collecting compostables from event participants, each vendor received a small bin so that they could collect any food waste created behind the scenes.

There have been some valuable takeaways from Saskatoon’s initial waste-free events. First of all, you need a lot of volunteers. Secondly, the zero-waste tents need to be highly visible and participants need to know where to look for them. Thirdly, planning a waste-free event is easier when people buy food on site rather than bringing their own. “You can control what is available for purchase,” Joanne says, “but you have no control over what people bring with them. A lot of parents brought their own lunches to the Children’s Festival.”

The zero-waste events program will continue in 2020 and SWRC hopes it can be expanded to include additional events.

See Also
Repair Café Prince Albert 

Event Planning with a Difference (a 2015 article about various groups’ experience with waste-free events)