Winner of FCM’s 2022 Sustainable Communities Awards' waste category
tons per year of waste will be diverted from landfill and recycling
GHG reduction within three years
A challenge facing many municipalities is how to divert more waste from landfill, both to lower GHG emissions and to reduce their need for landfill space. In Quebec’s Lac-Saint-Jean region, communities and waste management have teamed up to create Réemploi+, an organization that is creating a system for waste diversion and reuse while also developing skills training opportunities. Residents’ donations are sorted and prepared to be sold in special hardware stores that hire local workers and bring in revenue to help fund the program. The result: a more circular economy and a local culture that values lower-waste living.
The Régie des matières résiduelles du Lac-Saint-Jean (RMR), or Waste Management Corporation of Lac Saint-Jean, is an intermunicipal organization that serves Lac Saint-Jean and Mashteuiatsh, Quebec. The region includes a population of 108,629 spread across 36 different municipalities.
As in many regions, the RMR has been facing the challenge of limited landfill capacity. For this reason, as well as to reduce GHG emissions from landfills and waste management as part of the fight against climate change, the organization was looking for innovative ways to reduce waste and the overconsumption of disposable goods. It was also hoped for these initiatives to have a social component, to benefit the community at multiple levels.
There are many ways to divert waste from landfill. One of these is reuse: finding a second life for materials that would otherwise be thrown out. It’s with this goal in mind that the RMR created a new social economy organization called Réemploi+, which translates to “reuse plus” in English. The idea is to encourage residents to donate usable items rather than sending them to landfill, and then sort these items for resale. The environmental benefits are twofold: not only can the quantity of waste be reduced, but the number of new goods coming into the community can be reduced as well.
Of course, this kind of program requires staff, which is where the secondary focus of the Réemploi+ concept lies: creating work, training and integration opportunities for residents isolated from the labour market. In addition, the RMR believed that Réemploi+ would help strengthen the community by empowering citizens to participate in a local project that’s making a difference.
The RMR launched Réemploi+ in 2021 with four pillars of action:
- Create reuse sorting stations in all seven regional ecocentres.
- Create three reuse hardware stores to sell refurbished goods and generate $3 million in annual sales.
- Develop reuse workshops where high-potential goods can be fixed, mended and repurposed.
- Create training and opportunities to help people boost their employability and job skills.
Sorting stations accept a wide range of goods, from nails and screws to large items such as fences and gazebos. Wood is anticipated to make up 70 percent of materials received; its reuse will make a large dent in GHG emissions. Shoppers at Réemploi+ hardware stores can expect to find a wide range of items — think toilets and sinks, hardwood and vinyl flooring, and electrical goods — at a lower cost than buying new.
The team has overcome a number of challenges:
- Due to the pandemic, the implementation of deposits and donations was slower than anticipated, which delayed revenue-generating opportunities.
- It was difficult to project the specific kinds of materials residents would donate and thus what the project’s storage and transportation requirements would be. Once donations were underway, the team was able to adjust expectations and needs accordingly.
- Because of a lack of available space and difficulties with the procurement process, the first store didn’t open until November 2021, which was later than anticipated.
- Human resources have been an ongoing challenge. It has been difficult to find the right candidates to manage the development of this new organization and its operational activities, while sustaining employee commitment. Two general directors were hired in one year.
As of November 2022, Réemploi+ has achieved the following:
- Established sorting stations in six ecocentres
- Set up a primary 9,000-square-foot warehouse and a secondary smaller warehouse for storing donations
- Set up repair and repurposing processes for collected items
- Run a series of work programs to help people develop employability skills
- Filled 33 staff positions, with additional openings available
- Opened two hardware stores, with plans for a third to open in spring 2023
When complete, the project will:
- Divert 5,000 tons per year of waste from landfill and recycling
- Reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent within three years
- Increase the landfill diversion rate from 64 to 67 percent
One key focus of Réemploi+ is on developing jobs and skilled workers. When the project is up to full speed, revenue from sales of diverted materials will fully fund 35 jobs. As part of this, it has the potential to train 200 people per year.
In addition, while the project has strong direct environmental benefits, it also has the potential to shift the local culture toward one that values reuse, a circular economy, buying local, and collective entrepreneurship. This is helped by the fact that residents can purchase goods from the Réemploi+ hardware stores at a lower cost than buying new.
The biggest lesson the team has learned is that this kind of project needs to be flexible, so that staff can try different things and learn from what works. Consumer interest in the local community is what will influence the direction future reuse and repurposing programs go in.
The Réemploi+ team continues to implement its original strategy with modifications made as needed. Future goals include:
- Open all three hardware stores
- Integrate electrified transportation of donations and reused goods to further reduce GHGs
- Fully ramp up the training and employment component
“The Réemploi+ project is more than just a financial commitment. It’s a moral commitment to a collective and innovative solution for waste reuse that leverages the skills of the people of Lac-Saint-Jean.”
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