Back in August, Ucluelet Co-op staff joined representatives from Eco-Growth Environmental and Assured Renewables for a hands-on training session. The team learned how to use their new food waste converter and what they can and can’t throw in the machine. (Westerly File Photo)

Ucluelet Co-op nominated for sustainability award

“We need to take care of where we live and a lot of the members feel the same way.”

Green steps taken by the Ucluelet Co-op haven’t gone unnoticed by Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) of Western Canada.

The small town grocer was recently nominated by the massive Co-operative Retailing System for a sustainability award. General manager Laurie Gehrke and board president Gordon Dunsmore will travel to Saskatoon at the beginning of March for the awards ceremony, joining representatives from over 200 retail co-operatives in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

This is the first award the Ucluelet Co-op has ever been nominated for by the FCL, according Gehrke.

“It’s a pretty big deal for us. It’s a good thing,” she said. “Co-op is rocking it.”

In the spring of 2017, Ucluelet Co-op teamed up with Surfrider Pacific Rim Foundation to phase out single-use plastic bags at the till. They replaced the plastic bag option with free cardboard boxes, paper bags for ten cents or reusable cloth bags for one dollar.

“There has been push back for sure. Every step of the way there is going to be push back,” said Gehrke. “People thought it was a money grab, but it’s not. If anything it’s costing us more.”

READ: Plastic bags nixed at Ucluelet Co-op (Apr. 18, 2017)

In the summer of 2018, Ucluelet Co-op became the first business in B.C. to own a food waste digester. Dubbed ‘EGOR™’, the machine can process up to 500-pounds of organic waste per day, including items like coffee cups, wooden stir sticks, bamboo cutlery, and even small bones and deep fryer grease.

Gehrke said, much like nixing plastic bags, the transition to using the new green technology wasn’t straight and it wasn’t easy.

“Because we’re the first out here, we’ve had issues. We’ve cooked the motor in it twice,” she said.

READ: Ucluelet Co-op receives B.C.’s first food waste converter (Aug. 12, 2018)

The support of the board and staff make staying optimistic and on top of the changes much simpler, Gehrke notes.

“We need to take care of where we live and a lot of the members feel the same way. Most of our members are surfers, hikers, and environmentalists who really love this area so you have to protect it,” she said.

Surfrider chapter manager Lilly Woodbury said they are thrilled about the Ucluelet Co-op’s nomination.

“Our relationship with the Ucluelet Co-op has been instrumental to our efforts since they led the way in eliminating plastic straws and bags, and through these actions, they demonstrated this change was achievable to this region’s business community. The Ucluelet Co-op continues to green their practices, from water conservation to composting and diverting waste from landfill. Through their dedication to sustainability, we know that the Ucluelet Co-op is a key partner in creating a single-use plastic free Ocean Friendly Corridor by 2022,” said Woodbury in an email to the Westerly.

VIDEO: Surfrider invites Tofino council candidates to cigarette butt cleanup (Sept. 24, 2018)

Also worth noting is the reclamation car wash at the Ucluelet Co-op gas bar.

“It re-uses the water,” said gas bar manager Michelle Martin, adding that the sustainable car wash was installed about six years ago.

“We just felt it was a good way to save. You’re not using the District’s water and that. We just try to help out how we can,” she said.

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