NAC turns to compostable containers to keep 500,000 items from landfill

The NAC is bringing in bees and composting containers.

Now this is the bee’s knees.

The National Arts Centre has teamed up with Tomlinson Organics, the Composting Council of Canada and some federal and provincial agencies to keep some 500,000 food and drink containers a year out of a landfill and into a rooftop herb garden at the centre. 

The plan was unveiled Thursday by the federal Environment minister Catherine McKenna.

The NAC will be using plant-based food and drink containers that decompose in into rich compost. 


The federal Environment minister Catherine McKenna and the NAC’s general manger Nelson Borges get their hands dirty and plant some herbs Thursday. Photo: Fred Cattroll

The summer a slew of wine and beer glasses, coffee cups, plates, utensils, straws, and take-out boxes will start breaking down, the NAC said in a media release. The containers are used by the NAC restaurant and banquet operations, intermission bars and in the employee cafeteria.

The herb garden is also now the home for two beehives. It will provide fresh ingredients to Executive Chef Kenton Leier’s kitchen.

The new compost program was developed by the centre’s food and beverage department with Environment and Climate Change Canada, The Compost Council of Canada, Tomlinson Organics and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ).

The NAC spent the last year selecting and, with its partners, testing plant-based food containers. The containers are certified for compostability according to standards set by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). To be certified compostable, a product must disintegrate by at least 90 per cent within 84 days.

The NAC worked with the Compost Council of Canada and their waste management team, Tomlinson Organics, to test the products. The NAC will also put in place  containers that will encourage the collection of the compostable products, along with signs explaining the bins. Certified compostable products will be collected and processed at Tomlinson Organics.

The announcement was timed to be part of International Compost Awareness Week.

“Canada is moving toward zero plastic waste to get rid of unnecessary single-use plastics from government operations, and is working with provinces and territories on a national strategy to cut plastic pollution,” McKenna said in a statement.

“We at the NAC believe it is our responsibility to minimize our environmental impact and give back to the earth whenever we can.” said Nelson Borges, who is the general manager of the centre’s Food and Beverage department. he got the ball rolling on this effort.

The NAC says it is also moving on other fronts to reduce its carbon footprint.

•  Seventy-five per cent of its lighting has been upgraded to state-of-the-art technologies such as LEDs;

• The centre is recycling light bulbs. Last year some 1,645 were recycled redirecting 224.6 kg of glass, 27 kg of plastics, 9.72 kg of metals and smaller amounts of phosphorous, porcelain and mercury from landfills;

• The NAC brings outside air in to cool the building to avoid running ventilation systems;

• It has installed more energy-efficient doors;

• Ventilation fans have be fitted with variable frequency drives to ensure efficiency.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.