Solid Waste & Recycling


Partners in Project Green: From Coca-Cola Barrels to Bamboo

Canada has set its sights on developing a circular economy model to drive waste minimization across the country.

In a traditional linear economy, material follows a one-way street from extraction, manufacturing, and consumption to final disposal. In a circular economy, by contrast, there exist mechanisms throughout the waste hierarchy to ensure that material is recaptured over and over.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, “a circular economy aims to eliminate waste—not just from recycling processes, but throughout the lifecycles of products and packaging. A circular economy aims to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving the design of materials, products, and business models. A circular economy goes beyond recycling, as the goal is not just to design for better end-of-life recovery, but to minimize the use of raw materials and energy through a restorative system.”

Until recently, there have been few working examples of a true circular economy. Partners in Project Green’s Material Exchange platform is helping to change this.

In this month’s column, we highlight two case studies that illustrate how material generated by one organization can be sent directly to a second for re-use – turning trash into treasure! – without need for an intermediary solution provider or hauler.

Croft Lane residents upcycle Coca-Cola barrels into laneway planters (Toronto, Ontario). (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation)

Coca-Cola syrup barrels

Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada is committed to introducing more sustainable practices throughout its business but particularly at its manufacturing centers.

In the beverage manufacturing process, the barrels used to hold Coca-Cola syrup are made from HDPE. While this material is recyclable locally, Coca-Cola aims to promote reuse and upcycling.

In the past, these containers have been converted into rain barrels and distributed to local communities across North America. Recently, Partners in Project Green and Coca-Cola embarked on another project to assess the feasibility of converting these barrels into backyard planters. Using relatively simple instructions created by Toronto Zoo’s horticultural team, Partners in Project Green developed a simple instruction guide for conversion.

In spring 2016, Coca-Cola used the Material Exchange platform to see if local community groups might have interest in using the barrels for this purpose. Partners in Project Green facilitated the exchange and identified the David Suzuki Foundation as a candidate to receive barrels for their community garden events. Coca-Cola provided transportation services to help get the barrels into the hands of end users.

Thanks to Material Exchange, Coca-Cola and David Suzuki Foundation successfully upcycled 50 syrup barrels, representing approximately 500 kg of plastic material. The barrels were provided to Friends of Roxton Road Parks and the Harbord Village Residents Association, which converted them into 100 planters for beautifying their backyard laneways.

“Material Exchange allowed us to find an inexpensive way for residents in Croft Lane to begin transforming their laneway. While traditional planters would’ve been very expensive, after a coat of paint, the syrup barrels became great, durable planters,” said Jode Roberts, senior strategist at David Suzuki Foundation.

“Recycling and waste diversion are important sustainability goals of Coca-Cola Canada,” said Joel Longland, manager of sustainability for Coca-Cola Canada. “As a part of our sustainability strategy we look for these mutually beneficial opportunities that allow us to divert waste and add value to the communities in which we operate. Across Canada we have donated over 6,000 syrup drums to enable groups to take positive steps to improve their local environments.”

Toronto Zoo bamboo

Toronto Zoo sustainability staff faced a major waste generation challenge with the much-publicized arrival of its giant pandas in 2014.

A giant panda typically consumes about 50 kg of bamboo every day. And pandas only eat parts of the bamboo plant—in fact, they eat different parts at different times of year. What to do about the leftovers?

As Nia Gibson, co-ordinator of education at Toronto Zoo, explains, bamboo can’t be sent to a traditional composting facility because it is highly fibrous and takes too long to decompose. “Our industrial composters won’t accept it as material,” she said.

Toronto Zoo turned to Partners in Project Green for help in coming up with a solution for end-of-life management and diversion. Through the Material Exchange platform, Partners in Project Green succeeded in connecting the zoo with a local farm capable of reusing bamboo.

Cavaleiro Farm in Schomberg, Ontario uses the bamboo to create windrow piles for preventing soil erosion. Since 2014, 120 tonnes of material from the zoo has gone to Cavaleiro Farm for end-of-life management.

“With Partners in Project Green’s Material Exchange Program we were able to take a waste item at the Zoo and create a resource for someone else,” said Kyla Greenham, curator of conservation and environment, Toronto Zoo. “This waste diversion initiative with Cavaleiro Farms is the perfect example of sustainable actions the Toronto Zoo strives for.”

“Our partnership’s been great,” said Gibson. “Before, we were sending 100% [of the bamboo] to landfill. Now we are diverting 100% of our bamboo.” Check out this video for more details.

To learn more about the Material Exchange platform, please visit


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