It’s a Matter of Doing it Together

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Walk down Toronto’s trendy Roncesvalles Avenue, chockablock with boutiques, bars, and restaurants, and you’ll spot a green-and-white sticker in many windows. The Roncy Reduces stickers show that vendors — from international chains, like Tim Hortons and Starbucks, to independent artisans — are happy to let customers use their own reusable bags, cups, and containers.

“We know that it can be awkward to go into a restaurant or deli and say, ‘Could you please use my reusable container?’ People weren’t getting over that hump,” says Roncy Reduces creator Tina Soldovieri, who grew up in Germany and moved to the neighbourhood in 2002. “So we thought, why not have a sticker in the window to make it a bit easier?”

Roncy Reduces was launched in January 2019. Tina, who recently earned her master’s degree in environmental education, was looking for full-time work and decided to devote her time to making her neighbourhood less reliant on single-use plastic. She spoke to a few neighbours, who in turn put the word out: today, the RR Facebook group has more than 350 members, and nearly 60 businesses on the street have signed on.

Tina and her fellow volunteers have spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with local vendors. It’s not, she says, simply a matter of walking into a store and asking them to slap a sticker in the window. “Business owners are busy,” she explains. They need time to figure out how waste reduction fits into their business model and day-to-day operations. “We never preach. It’s a matter of saying, ‘Do you guys want to do this together?’” Sometimes, vendors need several conversations with RR folks before they feel comfortable joining.

“It’s real work, but it’s good work,” says Tina, whose three kids support their mom’s efforts: Pascal, 14, has offered to babysit so that neighbourhood parents can attend Roncy Reduces meetings; while Antonia, 21, has begun to ask local businesses to participate in the initiative.

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Tina (l) with Sha, a Toronto sewist who makes reusable bags for produce.

Word is spreading: Tina receives at least a couple of emails a week from residents who are interested in replicating Roncy Reduces in other Toronto neighbourhoods — and she’s always happy to share resources. She hopes that the group’s efforts will eventually translate into a real reduction in waste. In the meantime, she’s enjoying the unexpected benefits of the initiative: a connection to her adopted community.

“I feel more open,” says Tina. “Before [Roncy Reduces], I knew some neighbours, but I never felt as though I was in the inner circle of the community. I’m a first-generation immigrant, and I still felt new. But that’s changed.” At RR meetings, members of all ages and backgrounds share stories about their triumphs and challenges in reducing plastic. “My neighbour has started making her own ketchup because her son eats so much of it and she doesn’t want to buy it in plastic bottles anymore. This morning she brought me over a little glass jar of homemade ketchup. The group has really connected me with people in the ’hood.”

On Wednesday, June 5, 2019, Roncy Reduces will present the documentary The Clean Bin Project, followed by a talk by Toronto waste expert Charlotte Ueta on achieving zero waste and a circular economy. Click here for more information.

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