Kicking the plastic habit

Why local businesses are re-embracing traditional and sustainable packaging

Lauren Marshall credits her Real Fake Meats staff for supporting the switch from plastic to paper packaging. - IAN SELIG
ian selig
Lauren Marshall credits her Real Fake Meats staff for supporting the switch from plastic to paper packaging.

  As a plant-based butchery, Gottingen Street's Real Fake Meats is far from a typical butcher shop. But if there's one tradition co-founder Lauren Marshall believes is worth preserving, it's wrapping her products in old-fashioned butcher-shop paper, not plastic.

It hasn't always been that way: when the shop opened one year ago this month, most of its products were vacuum-sealed in plastic, ready to grab-and-go. But all that hard-to-recycle single-use plastic never sat right with Marshall. "I had guilt knowing over the last year I could make this change, and it was just kind of weighing on me," she says. So, recently, Marshall started selling her plant-based products in more traditional, sustainable packaging.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, with the umami smell of simmering seitan in the air, Marshall's team was busy scooping Mozza Balls, heaps of Sun Parma and thick globs of Cream Cheeze into glass bottles. Other employees were plating decadent logs of cranberry-rolled "Goatless" Cheeze alongside juicy slabs of veggie steak, fat veggie sausages and thin slices of veggie ham. These were all destined for the display case, to be weighed and wrapped up for customers, or tucked away into paper boxes first thing the following morning.

Real Fake Meats isn't the only new local business becoming more mindful of its contribution to the single-use plastics problem. Neighbouring restaurant, Springhouse, recently started offering a $0.30 discount for customers who bring their own containers. A few months ago, Luminate Wellness Market opened its doors in Bedford, offering plastic-free produce and a "refillery" bulk section, where customers can, and are encouraged to bring or buy reusable containers.

Finally, in 2018 The Tare Shop on Cornwallis Street became Atlantic Canada's first package-free grocer. "Over the last two to three years, we've seen new businesses crop up that are going completely plastic free," says Marla MacLeod, director of programs at the Ecology Action Centre. "In general, there is just more awareness of just how much plastic waste we create."

MacLeod says that recent changes in public policy will set the bar higher for those who have yet to catch up. Last October, the Nova Scotia Legislature adopted the Plastic Bags Reduction Act, a pending province-wide ban on some single-use plastic bags that is set to come into effect this October. There is also recognition of the plastics problem at the municipal level, with the city's Beyond 3 Rs Program, which launched late last year. That program seeks to highlight businesses doing their part to reduce their plastics footprint.

But reducing plastic creates new challenges. While Real Fake Meats' refrigerators are now largely free of plastic packaging, the to-go freezer is still packed with towers of vacuum-sealed products. Unfortunately, says Marshall, it "makes the product kind of better," sealing in moisture and flavour while protecting it from freezer burn, and extending its shelf life without added preservatives.

Marshall also admits to a bit of concern that making the customer's experience less convenient—such as waiting for an employee to wrap up a purchase rather than just grabbing and going—could lead to a dip in sales.

Regardless, Marshall is pleased with the change, and while she's glad to see plastic reduction becoming a priority of government, she says her real inspiration for cutting down plastic waste comes from her employees.

"We'll always have meetings and speak with our staff and ask them what they think," she says. When she mentioned making a change, and felt her staff was behind her, "That was where I felt the influence [the] most, from the people that I spend the most time with."

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