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Battling plastic

With the almost-existential crisis that plastic pollution presents to the natural world, credit unions are finding ways to decrease dependence upon this environmental scourge.

Garbage – especially plastic waste — has become one of the most dire threats facing society as well as the natural world. Urban landfills are bursting at the seams while plastic waste is clogging the ocean and killing animal life, from the smallest plankton to the biggest whales. The office is a significant source of waste, with piles of paperwork, countless single-use items and energy-sucking electronic devices. What are some of the simple things businesses can do to help reduce waste?

Some common practices include reselling or gifting old furniture and hardware that’s no longer needed to employees while encouraging everyone to recycle. Yet aside from these more obvious solutions, some credit unions are devising other innovative ways to help reduce their daily production of office waste.

Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (535,000 members, $23 billion in assets) has long been involved with sustainability initiatives and environmentally friendly projects, from a commitment to being carbon neutral that started in 2008 to a recent partnership with Vancouver’s bike-share program, which encourages residents to use Mobi bicycles rather than cars. Vancity has also created a recycling program in its offices. One head office has built-in recycling next to all its coffee stations. “Our initial recycling set-up was for paper, plastic, glass, metal and batteries; over the years we’ve added compost as well,” says Jeremy Trigg, director, facility and environmental management at Vancity. “We recycle at about 90 percent by weight and the remaining 10 percent of our waste goes to a waste-to-energy plant in Burnaby, BC,” Trigg says.

In addition to the extensive recycling program, Vancity is also conscientious about its carbon footprint by encouraging employees to commute using more sustainable transportation methods. “We offer discounts on transit tickets to encourage our employees to leave their cars at home and partial reimbursements for those who buy bicycles or electric cars,” says Trigg.

Another credit union closely involved with environmental programs is Assiniboine Credit Union (126,064 members, $4.7-billion in assets), which has been working closely with Compost Winnipeg on waste diversion. Compost Winnipeg is a social enterprise of Green Action Centre, a non-profit NGO that promotes green practical solutions in communities. “We first assisted them with becoming a social enterprise,” says Dennis Cunningham, manager of environmental sustainability. “We have a granting program that helped them find their footing and grow into what they are today.

They’ve been collecting from our head office location since 2016 and our waste diversion percentage has increased since then,” Cunningham says.

Alongside branch level efforts, another “simple” way to help reduce waste — not just in the office but generally — is to cease mailing out bank statements to members. This past May, Jessica Brandon-Jepp, advocacy and government relations advisor with the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), served as a witness at the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, alongside officials from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Department of Finance Canada, to discuss important changes to the Bank Act. The changes CCUA is advocating for will allow credit unions to further digitize, saving on paper by not having to mail out members’ bank statements.

Ottawa is also encouraging business and individuals to be more mindful of the waste produced and to help find solutions, specifically regarding single-use plastic. The federal government estimates that Canadians will throw away about $11 billion worth of plastic materials every year by 2030. To begin mitigating this Brobdingnagian problem, government will start to ban single-use plastics — plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks — as early as 2021. Credit unions can get a head start on this collective effort by following suit or even declaring their offices and branches plastic-free zones before this date. ◊