Going plastic-free in Aylmer
By Sarah LaBrecque
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning at the corner of rue Principale and Frank-Robinson and Cafe Mulligan is buzzing. Enjoying the autumn sun, people sit outside, chatting and sipping, and inside, a line snakes around the main counter. I wait patiently and eventually a friendly face pops up from behind the stacks of vegan treats, greeting me. “I’m writing a story for the Bulletin d’Aylmer about reducing plastic,” I say. “Would it be possible to speak to the manager to get her thoughts?”
“Oh! We’re so busy right now but take a seat and she’ll be right with you,” says the woman.
As I make enquiries in preparation for writing this piece, something becomes abundantly clear. Small businesses in Aylmer are busy. Really busy. After a few minutes, Isabelle Benard, co-owner of Cafe Mulligan, joins me and my daughter, 10-month old Layla. I’ve embarked on a two-week plastic-free challenge, and I want to know if Aylmer businesses are similarly concerned about the global plastic waste crisis. “We’re definitely going in that direction,” says Benard. Take-out lunches are given in paper bags, for example, and she is in the process of finding compostable take-out containers for salads. Customers are also encouraged to bring their own travel mug. “If you bring in your travel cup we’ll give you a large coffee but for the price of a small...I find that it’s an easy way to reduce plastic,” she says.
Across the street at bakery, Aux Deux Frères, I chat with co-owner Étienne Lavoie, who is so busy he talks to me while slicing dough for scones, lifting the plump, floury triangles onto trays ready for baking. He tells me they previously trialled charging 10 cents for plastic bags, with mixed results. Some were very supportive but others were not happy, feeling as though the bakery was doing it for extra cash. “That was really not the point,” Lavoie is quick to explain. He says they’ll soon implement the policy again, but this time, also give a discount of 10 cents for those who opt out of a plastic bag. It’s positive reinforcement, he says.
If my plastic-free fortnight means I must enjoy my chai latte on Mulligan’s pretty terrasse instead of taking it to go, or score an extra dime at Aux Deux Frères, the next few weeks aren’t looking so bad after all. But, alas, I cannot survive on baked goods - I must do groceries! On the Sunday before my challenge begins I stock up on fruit and veggies from the local farmer’s market, and later on at Marché LaFlamme, discover I can buy organic milk in a glass bottle.
Snacks for my little one are a challenge, though. I attempt to make teething biscuits from scratch, instead of buying the individually-wrapped wafers she loves. Two recipes and a bunch of stale, uneaten biscuits later, I admit the store-bought variety are far superior, at least in Layla’s opinion!
As my challenge comes to a close, I reflect on the impossibility of the task. With almost every item in the grocery store encased, shrouded or sealed in plastic, we have a long way to go before we become a post-plastic society. But I take heart in the attitude of local businesses that are doing what they can to make our little corner of the world more environmentally sustainable.