These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Tyler De Sousa has a mission to make zero-waste living the norm for all Canadians.
As co-founder and COO of Circulr, this 24-year-old Kitchener resident works with grocery store brands in the Toronto and Waterloo-Wellington regions to create a reuse platform to reduce a communities’ collective environmental impact.
In 2022, Starfish Canada named him one of Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists under 25.
Tell us about your project.
Consumers simply return rinsed glass jars of soup and other goods from our participating brands to a Circulr bin in their local grocery store, enter it in the Circulr app and receive a deposit or reward. We collect, wash and send clean containers back to the brand to be refilled and put back on store shelves. It's a similar business model to the wildly successful beer bottle return campaign in various provinces.
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Since our launch in early 2022, our clients have collectively reused over 20,000 glass jars and avoided more than 2,250 kilograms of CO2-equivalent emissions from glass production.
How do participants benefit?
Consumers get a small but important reward for their efforts. Stores get increased walk-in traffic and brands have a financial incentive from reusing existing jars. These are all important, but it must be said that a major motivator is the opportunity to be active participants in reducing waste and carbon emissions without additional effort.
For a company to be successful in this space, we have to accept that most people have not organized their lives around effortful sustainability. We make it easy to integrate it into existing patterns of shopping, packaging and selling.
How did you get into this work?
I met my business partner, Charles Binks-Collier, at university. After graduating, we both enrolled in the entrepreneurial development program Next 36 and really hit it off. He had already had an idea for a zero-waste food delivery program. Our research allowed us to morph that into our current model. We currently work with 18 brands and are ready to grow.
Tell us about your background.
My parents started their own successful business. I was raised to believe if I worked and studied hard, I could achieve anything. They also taught me that you could have crappy days and still carry on.
I was always curious about the non-human world and joined environmental clubs in high school. In the business program at Wilfrid Laurier University, I got interested in food security and pitched ideas like using insects as food sources and getting food that would otherwise be wasted to people in need while volunteering with Enactus Canada, which supports students to build sustainable social enterprises. It seems so wrong to me that there is so much waste when so many do not have enough. Plus, our planet cannot sustain human life if we continue to throw away $100 billion of reusable packaging every year. Circulr is a natural extension of these concerns.
What makes your work hard?
There are lots of days when I don’t especially look forward to washing jars. We are growing fast by some standards, but I am in a hurry. The pace is frustrating, both because of the enormity of the problem and the ready examples of successful similar programs. The beer bottle reuse program has a better than 90 per cent success rate here in Ontario. In places like Germany, where they take the need for a circular economy seriously, public policy uses the right combination of carrots and sticks to great effect. In order to achieve scale in Canada, all three levels of government will have to be involved, but mobilizing this often seems like a cacophony of impenetrable bureaucratic machinery.
What do you see if we get this right?
Zero waste will be the norm, not the exception.
What would you like to say to other young people?
Try to grow your empathy for people who seem to move too slowly or even those who get in your way. Everyone has a reason for their behaviour. If we are going to win, we need everyone to be allowed to be a hero in their own story.
Small actions are more important than you know. Right now, young people have more influence than they might think. Talk to your employer about aligning your work with your values. They might surprise you.
Don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities that do not align with your values. In university, I was offered a place in a pitch competition sponsored by Shell Oil. Turning it down was hard but aligned with my values, and alternative opportunities popped up straight away.
What about older readers?
It is hard hearing from older people that my ideas are “too different” when to me, they are both so easy to implement and so necessary. My frustration is shared by many in my generation.
The world has changed so fast in your lifetimes. More change is coming. Embrace it and work with us, not against us. Catastrophic climate change is the future we face, so let us lead. And remember, we will be in charge of yours, too, one day. I jokingly remind my parents that we will be choosing their nursing homes. Give us a reason to choose nice ones.