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The road to zero waste is paved by fresh cut fries

In this week's Midweek Mugging, follow Carole Mackenzie down the road to zero waste
Carole and James MacKenzie are the owners and operators of The Chipper on Sunset Point in Collingwood. This year, they have invested thousands to switch from plastic containers, cutlery and cups to biodegradable materials. Erika Engel/ CollingwoodToday

This is the story of a little fry truck out to save the world.

The Chipper first arrived in 2007 as a fry truck owned by Carole and James Mackenzie. Since then they’ve rebuilt a permanent structure on the waterfront where they run their take out restaurant and ice cream shop with a view.

“My husband takes me to the park everyday,” said Carole.

“I’m so romantic,” said James.

The couple has been married 33 years, and both work at the Chipper seven days a week while it’s open between May and September.

This year, Carole and James have committed getting as close as possible to zero waste inside and outside of the restaurant. They’ve invested thousands of dollars to switch to biodegradable materials, and set up waste stations that include recycling and compost bins instead of just trash bins.

“I really want the whole park to go green, but the human race isn’t quite there yet,” said Carole. “I feel responsible as a business owner to make a change.”

Carole and James were inspired by their daughter, a geography teacher, who is teaching her students about plastic waste in oceans and the impact to our environment from disposable items like straws, cutlery, bags and take out containers - all things used at The Chipper.

“She made us look at it,” said Carole. “As a generation we know better now … If we all make a start then there won’t be anymore bad.”

The investment made by Carole and James to convert their disposable items to biodegradable materials was significant.

The new bins for compost, recycling and trash complete with signs to educate the customers on what items go in each bin cost $800. But they are working. On Tuesday afternoon this week, next to a nearly full green and blue bin is a black trash bin containing one cigarette butt and one small plastic wrapper. The staff have also been donning gloves and sorting through the trash to further reduce waste and make sure the proper items are recycled or composted.

As Carole and James have discovered, biodegradable materials cost more up front.

Plastic forks used to cost about $12-$13 for 1,000. To have the same number of biodegradable forks delivered is costing them $90. It’s triple the price for Carole and James to buy biodegradable bowls for their ice cream.

The fry forks and ice cream scoops are made of wood and can be added to the green bin.

They are not passing the increases on to the customer by raising their prices.

“Yeah, we invested quite a bit of money, but if it can start a movement, then that’s a great thing,” said Carole.

The Chipper is now straw free. Carole has sourced a special biodegradable milkshake straw for the ice cream side of the business, and there are recyclable cups available by request for beverages bought at The Chipper.

“One-hundred-million per cent we should get rid of plastic straws,” said Carole. “There are other alternatives.”

Not only has there been a monetary investment to make the switch to a near-zero waste facility, but it’s taken a lot of effort on the part of Carole, James and their staff to make the commitment.

Since there’s currently no way to rent an industrial-sized green bin to leave on site for a truck to pick up, James takes all the compost to the dump every morning by loading the green bags into his pickup truck after close. James and Carole are hoping to work with the county for a better system by the summer when the crowds arrive at Sunset Point and volume of green bin material is much higher.

Carole and her staff have started saving the plastic bags from bread products for a local woman who collects them and uses them to weave plastic mats for people in third world countries. There’s a compost bin in each bathroom for paper products. The Chipper subscribes to a used cooking oil recycling service, and other than two types of candy, everything they sell comes in a biodegradable or recyclable container.

Carole has also started calling her suppliers to encourage them to stop using plastic in their packaging. James teases her for taking on big supply companies. But he smiles with pride as she talks about calling the president of Coca Cola to tell him to stop adding plastic wrap on the cases.

It’s a far cry from the first year The Chipper was parked at Sunset Point when there wasn’t even a blue bin on the waterfront. The Chipper brought in their own recycling program for cans and bottles.

To really make the switch, one of the biggest challenges has been educating staff and customers on what material goes in which bin. Every time Carole serves a customer she lets them know the container or the fork or the bag they are receiving their food in is biodegradable and can be put in the green organics container. Her staff do the same.

“To make this change, you need management that cares,” said James. “Carole is here everyday repeating the program and training staff.”

But coming from Carole, it’s not a drill sergeant pushing for precision, it’s an excited pioneer leading the way to a brighter view.

“I look at it like people coming into my kitchen,” she said. “It’s not a business, it’s personal.”

Carole and James came to Collingwood from Sarnia. They fell in love with Sunset Point, then a quiet and relatively unknown spot.

“This is like a little piece of heaven,” said Carole. “The energy in the park is so happy. People make you feel so good, and they become our regulars. It’s like a family.”

Carole has a view of Georgian Bay every day. The Great Lakes, like all the world’s bodies of water are threatened by plastic waste. She hopes her passion for reducing waste and leaving plastic behind inspires others in the area to make some changes and help save the oceans, lakes and waterways, and reduce the load on local landfills.

“I hope other businesses make change and at least get rid of the straws,” said Carole. “I would love to show them the avenues and tell them everything I had to go through.”

The Chipper is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. In the summer, they are open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for food and until sunset for ice cream.

Click here for The Chipper website.

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter, photographer and community editor. She has 12 years of experience as a local journalist.
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