It's curtains for straws, other plastics at the NAC

The National Arts Centre is replacing the 500,000 plastic containers and utensils it goes through each year with compostable versions that will help fertilize a new rooftop garden.

National Arts Centre replacing single-use plastics with compostable containers, utensils

Single-use plastics such as drinking straws will soon be a thing of the past at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It all started with the growing anger over plastic straws.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) was suddenly inundated with calls from patrons urging it to stop using the Earth-unfriendly utensils.  

Now the Ottawa institution has gone further, banishing not just straws, but also plastic cups, plates and cutlery from its intermission kiosks and at banquets.

The change will keep 500,000 containers a year out of the landfill, the NAC said.

The plastic containers and utensils will be replaced with plant-based ones that are not only compostable, but will be used to fertilize the NAC's new rooftop herb garden, providing very locally grown ingredients to the arts centre's culinary team. 

These cups and glasses will be composted and used as fertilizer in the NAC's new rooftop herb garden. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

'An easy answer'

"We knew we had to do something because we are a big, big user of plastics," said Nelson Borges, the NAC's general manager of food and beverage. "It was an easy answer."

Using the used containers to grow food was an extra step, but an important one, Borges said.

"We needed to take it a step further to minimize our environmental impact."

The NAC worked with Tomlinson Organics of Ottawa to test various plant-based food containers. Tomlinson's process requires the material to disintegrate by at least 90 per cent in just over two months.  

The NAC now has a line of beer cups, wine glasses, bowls, plates and cutlery that meet the standard, turning into dark brown compost within a matter of weeks.

Nelson Borges is the NAC's general manager of food and beverage. (CBC)

Expensive, but worth it

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was on hand for the NAC's announcement earlier this week. 

"Plastic pollution doesn't know any borders," she said. "This is a perfect example that the NAC is doing. It's showing how we can do a lot better and how we can own it."

I'm very excited to show how this can be done.- Susan Antler, Compost Council of Canada

The NAC also consulted the experts at the Compost Council of Canada in selecting its containers.

"I'm very excited to show how this can be done," said the council's executive director, Susan Antler. "There is a lot of greenwashing out there, but these containers have gone through laboratory and field testing so they will work in that compost facility."  

It's not cheap: the NAC says each compostable wine glass costs 12 cents, double the price of the plastic ones. But they're vowing to absorb the cost instead of passing it on to patrons.

"I constantly hear it's too costly, but by doing this simple act you are returning those materials back to the earth, and they will feed not only you but generations to come," Antler said.

The NAC hopes to have the new containers in use by July after it finishes building new bins for the compostable material. 


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