Legal pot can do a lot of things — entertain, excite, destress — but it’s not often that you get to do some good for someone else, someone who really needs help, just by smoking up.
Superette, the startup Westboro dispensary that has been raking in the praise (and awards) within the cannabis world, is setting out to change that by teaming up with the Ottawa Food Bank to turn recycled packaging into donated food.
“Starting in December, and throughout 2020, we will be matching every unit of cannabis packaging that is recycled and brought back to the store with a unit of non-perishable food,” the store’s founder, Mimi Lam, announced to a group of supporters, neighbours and media on Friday morning.
The store is initially committing to at least 5,000 items of food per month, and aiming for 60,000 by this time next year. That’s just a minimum, though — if more people recycle their pot packaging, more food gets donated.
It will, admittedly, mean that the cannabis users of Ottawa — or at least Superette’s customers — need to up their game in the recycling department. Most people don’t know that cannabis packaging is, generally speaking, recyclable — the catch is that you can’t just throw it in with the cans and bottles and old newspapers, since the cannabis residue inside, however slight, renders it trash in the eyes of regulators. All recycling is done by TerraCycle, a private recycling company who teamed up with Tweed, in Smiths Falls, to develop a cannabis recycling program after a cacophony of complaints about excessive packaging at legalization’s outset.
Right now, Superette gets “a couple hundred packages” returned every week. “We’re hoping that the people who aren’t currently recycling will jump on this initiative,” Cressida Firth, the store’s manager, told OttawaMatters. “We have everybody on the floor pushing it.”
"It's like the feel-good version of bringing your empties back to the beer store," said one customer, Jane, in passing.
The relationship between Superette and the Ottawa Food Bank has been developing for some time. “We were thrilled to receive an email from the team here to say they wanted to support us,” said the Food Bank’s Samantha Ingram. “It helps, amazingly. This is an incredible goal.”
The overall target of 60,000 cans, spread over the next 12 months, will do a lot to help the Food Bank budget their supply. 60,000 cans, Ingram says, is nothing to shake a stick at when 39,000 people use the food bank every month. “If they meet their goal,” she said, “there is the potential, mathematically speaking, that they will reach every single one of our clients.”
It’s good timing for the program to launch.
For one thing, it’s the high season for food bank donations, with about 60 per cent of the entire year’s food donations coming in the holiday season. (“After New Years, donations drop off dramatically,” said Ingram.) For another, it’s a good way to help the community and make the holiday dinner with your in-laws a bit more bearable, and in the process, helping someone who might not have had one at all.
As they head towards their first birthday, the folks at Superette seem to be putting their corporate philanthropy into high gear. Earlier in the summer, the team spent some time at the Food Bank’s farm in the city’s west end, picking carrots. They pay their staff for volunteer hours worked at community organizations, and are looking around for a “hyperlocal” way to support people in Westboro.
“We’ve been able to prove ourself to be pretty good partners, pretty reliable,” Lam said. They are keenly aware that, as a cannabis store, they are inherently polarizing to some people, and through sheer force of will, are out to prove that pot shops can be community cornerstones, too. “We’re doing our best. We didn’t want to UFO ourselves in, and then not care about the people around us.”