Executive director Jill Doucette of the non-profit Synergy Sustainability Institute holds reusable mesh bags at West Coast Refill to bring vegetables and fruit home from the store. The Synergy Sustainability Institute has designed an new incubator for eco-minded businesses to stimulate a circular economy on Vancouver Island. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Project Zero aims to create circular Vancouver Island economy

Incubator to stimulate necessary changes to economy

Zero waste starts with something as simple as a reusable mesh-cloth bag used to carry vegetables home from the grocery store.

It’s all part of the “long haul” humans are in for, said Jill Doucette, executive director of Synergy Sustainability Institute.

“We’re looking at supporting how to buy things that are made of locally up-cycled material, to foster a zero waste lifestyle, and businesses that contribute to that idea,” Doucette said.

READ MORE: Less beef, more beans in newly proposed world diet

Enter Project Zero, an incubator run by the Synergy Sustainability Institute and supported by VanCity. The new initiative is hoping to spur Vancouver Islanders into living a zero-waste economy.

In a Project Zero vision, Vancouver Islanders share more than they own, freeing income and sparing resources. Products are made and repaired locally, rather than being shipped in, and economic equality is the new norm, where where one’s waste is another’s resource.

“It’s quite a transformational shift to look at a circular economy, the supply chains and goods, and what happens with our waste,” Doucette said. “One of the first steps to building a circular economy is ridding of the single-use plastics, they’re so low grade, they’re hardly worth including in the recycling economy, rather, we need more valuable materials that can be endlessly recycled.”

Using a mesh bag for a visit to the grocery store, for example, uses a few less single-use plastic bags. Now if that mesh bag can be created here on the Island, even if it’s up-cycled from previously created non-sustainable materials, that is step one in the circular economy that Vancouver Island is going to need.

Locally, the Project Zero incubator hopes to capture and support people who have the entrepreneurial resources, spirit and innovation to help further a zero-waste, circular economy, Doucette said.

Entrepreneurs and businesses have until Feb. 22 to submit their proposals. Eight applications will be accepted to receive free training and education over an eight-month period. The training is designed on developing a business plan to a pitch-ready state.

Applications for the Project Zero incubator are rolling in. Beyond the selected businesses, Project Zero’s first step is to engage with partners across Vancouver Island in a round table to share the initiatives with local governments, non profits, and other partners needed to create a circular strategy.

“We’re looking for new ideas to turn waste into resources, and it starts with impact policy at the top,” Doucette said.

Look no further than the City of Victoria’s zero waste strategy as one example of a local partner with a seat at the Project Zero round table.

Other examples of businesses making moves in an eco-friendly circular directions are U.K. grocery stores with plastic-free sections or the recently released ‘world diet’ in the Lancet journal prioritizing foods that are healthy and earth friendly.

Here in Victoria are new businesses such as West Coast Refill on Broad Street and the Zero Waste Emporium, both which opened in the last year.

Of course, it’s not all about where to shop but also how.

“One challenge we’ve been promoting is to cut your blue box fill in half,” Doucette said. “For most families its two to three full bins. We’re saying, can you reduce that by a bin each cycle, either through grocery shopping by using refillable or reusable containers and bags, and buying less plastic.”

reporter@saanichnews.com

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