Surrey brothers want to make local Vaisakhi 'foam free'

Two brothers from Surrey hope businesses and families who serve up free food at this year's Vaisakhi parade find alternatives to Styrofoam to cut down on the waste headed to the landfill.

Bal and Sarj Sabharwal are hoping people serving free food at the celebration avoid Styrofoam

The Sikh celebrations around Vaisakhi mark the annual harvest festival and commemorate the establishment of the Khalsa. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Two brothers from Surrey are hoping businesses and families who serve up free food at this year's Vaisakhi parade find alternatives to Styrofoam to cut down on the waste headed to the landfill.

With two weeks to go before the celebration, Bal and Sarj Sabharwal have begun putting posters up along the parade route to draw attention to their campaign, which has the goal of eliminating Styrofoam waste from the event within five years.

"Some of the biggest attractions to Vaisakhi is the food," said Sarj Sabharwal. "All the food is served on Styrofoam plates and, also of course, the tea which is in Styrofoam cups. So those two things — if you do the math — 400,000 plus people that attend yearly, if everyone gets even a few samples of that, we're talking about millions of items."

Sabharwal noted that polystyrene products are difficult to recycle and contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

His brother, Bal Sabharwal, suggested people sharing free food could switch to paper and compostable dishes, like paper plates.

"You can also buy cutlery that is cornstarch," said Bal Sabharwal.

Bal (left) and Sarj Sabharwal are asking people who serve free food at Surrey's Vaisakhi parade to consider compostable alternatives to Styrofoam. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

The city of Surrey has no policy about the type of material people can use to share food and drinks at the parade, although city councillor Mike Starchuk, who chairs Surrey's Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, said that's not the case for events run by the city.

"With Vaisakhi there's not an all-encompassing policy that's around it, because for a good part of Vaisakhi, it's the homeowner where the parade is going in front, and they set up a tent and they bring out their food they want to share."

Starchuk said what the Sabharwal brothers are doing is a great idea, and the city is a partner on the initiative, contributing $5,000 for things like posters or leaflets.

He said his advisory committee wants to eventually move toward a ban of Styrofoam products for events like Vaisakhi, which would be aligned with Metro Vancouver's goal of reducing the amount of the product that ends up in landfills.

Surrey's Vaisakhi parade takes place April 21.

With files from Meera Bains.