Food, Waste, and the Circular Economy

By Erin Moir, Education Director, EcoSuperior



Superior Outdoors


Restaurant take-out has boomed. While the COVID-19 pandemic had us staying home for longer than most would have liked, that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy our favourite local fare. Take-out gave us all a break from hibernating and helped to support local restaurants, farmers, and producers. It also fed our souls. Even before the pandemic, take-out food was common. Unfortunately, so was the waste. We started to see a shift in thinking about to-go habits—reusable travel mugs were popularly accepted at cafes, some restaurants were offering BYOC (bring your own container) programs for takeout orders, and there was even a take-out container exchange program that emerged in one forwardthinking food establishment. Additionally, the federal government made a commitment to endorse a ban on single-use plastics by the end of 2021. When the world turned upside down, there was little to no clear direction addressing the risks and potential impacts of using reusable containers in the face of COVID-19. We saw a huge surge back to individual packets for condiments, individually wrapped veggie sticks in school programs, use of plastic grocery bags, and a mountain of takeout containers. But let’s face it—the fear was real. Fortunately, over the last two years, we have also learned a lot about reusables in retail settings. We can get back on track to our forward-thinking, sustainable habits (see Opportunities for Reusables in Retail Settings During the COVID19 Pandemic in Canada: A Review of Guidance and Evidence, a 2021 report from the National Zero Waste Council). According to the Ontario Waste Management Association’s (OWMA) most recent 2021 Landfill Report (State of Waste in Ontario: Landfill Report, January 2021), “Ontario’s available landfill capacity is expected to be exhausted in 12 years, by the year 2032.” Long story short, we are running out of space to put our waste. Now is the time to rethink not only waste, but our designs, packaging, and behaviours. EcoSuperior is passionate about helping local food establishments to eco their eatery. As the food scene continues to grow in Thunder Bay, so does the need to increase awareness about single-use items, particularly plastics. The goal is to cocreate a circular economy: a system where we use and reuse materials instead of sending to the landfill or to be recycled. The circular economy model helps with waste diversion but also reduces the need for further resource extraction, such as oil, trees, and freshwater. In Thunder Bay, gitchigami (Lake Superior) is an important part of our home, ecosystem, and economy. As the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in the world, we have a responsibility to keep Lake Superior swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for future generations of all species; which in part can be achieved through initiatives like the circular economy. How EcoSuperior can help: • We sell paper straws to help make the permanent switch from plastic ones easy and affordable • We encourage practicing “refusing” when someone asks “do you need a fork with that?” We also sell reusable cutlery kits to keep in your purse, glove compartment, or backpack • We are actively developing a reusable take-out container system and mug exchange program in our city • We promote and support litter prevention and waste reduction, along with city-wide and shoreline clean-ups with our partners, community, and funders • We’re just a phone call away! We encourage everyone to rethink how they shop, package, and create waste. When you throw away, there is no “away.” All our waste can remain in a circular system or become “food” for other species (think: compost). This is how we build a healthy future for people and the planet. Meet Jamie Baratta, owner of Norteños Taqueria in downtown Westfort. Jamie and his brother Dillon opened the restaurant in October 2020. For most, opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic would seem like a barrier, but for Jamie, it was an opportunity. Jamie was away in Mexico for almost 10 years cooking, teaching English, and even helping to start a couple of hostels. However, due to the pandemic, he came home to Thunder Bay. Once here, Jamie noticed the lack of authentic Mexican food in Fort William and he decided to open the restaurant. Being able to plan ahead, the restaurant started out as just a take-out spot, and now, with restrictions lifted, there is seating both inside and on their patio. Jamie is also expanding, and recently purchased the old Apollo Bar with hopes of bringing more authentic Mexican flavours to the downtown north core. To keep up with Norteños Taqueria, follow them on Instagram or Facebook @nortenos.taqueria. Q & A with Jamie What inspired you to launch your business? The inspiration behind Norteños Taqueria is Mexican street food. Having lived there, I have always felt that a taqueria would be successful in Thunder Bay. We try our best to bring the flavours of Mexico to Thunder Bay while keeping the price point relatively low. Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you were first starting out? I think that all of the problems we encountered when we opened helped us grow as a restaurant and as a business, so I don’t think I would have done anything differently. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become an entrepreneur? I would tell someone that they have to be 100% committed. They are no longer on a set schedule, so they can expect to be working every day, especially in the first six months. Focus on putting out the best possible product and don’t try to cut corners. Also, I think that it’s better to over-staff, as there are always problems coming up, and an extra set of hands can be extremely valuable. What are you working on now? We have recently purchased a new building in Port Arthur and are working on opening a second location, Norteños Cantina. The menu will be more or less the same as in our Westfort location, but we will offer a bigger variety of beer, wine, and cocktails, as well as live entertainment. Is there anyone specific you would like to thank? There are far too many people to list.