Canadian companies have become adept at turning trash into treasure, taking throwaway materials and converting them into new mainstream products for consumers looking for eco-friendly alternatives.
Think notebooks made from animal excrement. Ink cartridges created from plastic throwaway bottles. And old banners recycled into padfolios - promotional portfolio writing pad holders.
Canadian recyclers process between 16 million and 18 million tonnes of scrap metal each year, with similar numbers for fibre products from the forestry sector, and plastics and chemicals from the oil industries, says the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries, which represents more than 260 companies.
For industry leaders, gaining consumer loyalty and satisfaction goes beyond ensuring the products they purchase help the planet, including gaining big steps in reducing the carbon footprint.
Although the Alternative Pulp and Paper Company has been making stationery, journals, photo albums and other paper products out of elephant, horse, cow and panda dung for about 15 years, "we still get weird looks, but people definitely remember us," company founder Michael Flancman, who is originally from Toronto, said in an interview from Thailand, where Poo Poo Paper products are manufactured.
Sold in retail stores across Canada, at the Toronto Zoo and also marketed as promotional giveaways, Poo Poo Paper products generally sell for less than $20.
"We're taking material which is of little productive use and turning it into something functional, and useful and conveying a message of sustainability," Mr. Flancman says. "Our product conveys hope and the possibility that if you can take something like poo and turn it into paper without cutting down trees, what other things can we do to chip in and waste less and consume less."
Bottles to ink cartridges
A far cry from the uncomplicated, local waste-gathering and production process in Thailand by Mr. Flancman's company, the special closed-loop plastic recycling system used by inkjet print cartridge maker HP Canada turns recycled plastic from sources such as water bottles and ink cartridges into cartridges with 70 to 100 per cent recycled content.
"Consumers today are very concerned about price and quality, and those are the first two drivers of the items they purchase. If [safety to]the environment is in there and it wouldn't affect cost, it may be a differentiator," says Frances Edmonds, HP Canada's director of environmental programs, from company headquarters in Mississauga, Ont.
The retail price for recycled inkjet cartridges ranges generally between $12.99 and $43.99 each, depending on the type for various printers, whether the cartridges are sold individually or in bulk, and whether they are normal-sized or extra large.
"The holy grail of electronics recycling are the plastics - the plastics are the hard part because they're typically mixed and are very difficult to separate," she says. "By introducing a closed-loop process, we have gotten over those technical hurdles of plastic degrading, and we're using Canadian know-how to do that."
Denise Taschereau is a co-founder of a Vancouver company that specializes in making promotional products for companies and organizations. Clients of Fairware Promotional Product Ltd., which is in its fifth year and serves clients across North America, include Aveda, Ben and Jerry's, and B.C.'s Science World.
Ms. Taschereau says companies with sustainability "missions" turn to Fairware to make "swag" - giveaway items to clients and for contests and other purposes - that "helps them walk the talk."
Among Fairware's novel products are old banners, such as those adorning the exterior of Science World, that the company "repurposes" into padfolios, which cost $26-$27 each, and other promotional goods.