Brad Thom

Recycling Renaissance: Bradley Thom’s Bottle Depot Dreams Add Up and Make Cents

Paying it forward instead of adding to waste is Bradley Tom’s philosophy in business and life and the way he puts that into practice is an inspiring story of incremental growth. He is from Deh Gáh Got’îê First Nation near Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, Dene on his mom's side and Métis on his dad's side. He went to the University of Victoria, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Indigenous Studies. It took him six years to graduate and afterwards, he worked and continued learning in community. 

Thanks to education funding, he was able to focus exclusively on his studies without having to work. He felt fortunate to be able to go down south to get an education and come back to his community. Over the course of his studies, he noticed a gap in his learnings, realizing that politics weren’t the only influence on society, that business also played a role.  

“I went for political science, but I left school knowing that business plays a big role in society. I felt like I wanted to learn more about that and I was able to learn more about that from the skills that I learned at university to complete my political science studies. I definitely wouldn't have been here today if it wasn't for those learnings and teachings that I had along the way,” he reflects. 

Something that he did when he was in high school was help run the bottle depot and he noticed that the local bottle depot was only running sporadically, every other month or so. He reached out to the band and expressed interest in taking it over the next time there was a competitive process to bid for the opportunity. It turned out they were just waiting for someone to apply but the administrative process would take some time. He put his name in and six months later he was able to run his first bottle depot. 

Since that first bottle depot, he’s had his first full year of operations and has taken his staff out to celebrate. The local school has allowed him to operate from their property but he’s looking to expand in the community in his own space. He would like to be able to expand into regular recycling and to be able to compost. He and his brother tried to build their own composts but found store-bought was a better option. “Seeing a need in the community and then having an opportunity to get my foot in the door is how I got to be here today when it comes to Green Tree Recycling and Holdings,” Thom explains. 

"Seeing a need in the community and then having an opportunity to get my foot in the door is how I got to be here today."

With the help of a pitch competition and crowdfunding, Thom has been able to make some headway towards expansion which is much needed. They need more space to be able to operate more given their recycling isn’t picked up as often as they would like and they are competing for dumpster space. 

While the business provides a needed community service, Thom is also mindful about contributing back from profits to the community, giving between 10 and 20 percent of profits to local First Nations community organizations to be able to support local initiatives. 

Giving back is important to Thom because, as he explains, “a lot of businesses… get wealthy… but leave the communities behind. That's definitely a big part of the extraction economy and that has happened for far too long in our communities.” He wants to be part of what he sees as more equity coming into Indigenous communities and a movement away from what was normalized as part of the fur trade and the resource and mining industries. 

“As the business starts to become more operating at a higher level and scale, then it more gives back to the community and community grows with it as well,” he dreams aloud, hoping his commitment over the long term adds up to a larger impact.

One of the challenges Thom faced in university was securing housing. He had trouble finding someone to rent to him so when he finally found a place he kept it for three years, paying through the summer even when he wasn’t staying there so he didn’t have to start over finding a new landlord. 

If he could give advice to students who are going into post secondary in the future it would be, ”it's definitely going to be a time to rediscover yourself, it might be a bit hard, but stick it out. It gets better, and just keep learning through the hard kind of stuff.” What he wishes someone had told him is, “don't be afraid to ask for help.” He’s had the support of counselling services when times got tough and found it helpful in finding tools and strategies to keep things from getting too intense or spiraling out of control.  

To maintain his mental health, Thom found being part of the Indigenous student union and having that sense of community has been helpful, along with regular physical activity. He finds the endorphins and getting the blood flowing helps him feel better. 

For inspiration, Thom looks to the book Dune by Frank Herbert. He loves listening to the audiobook and the ideas it brings to the surface of his consciousness. Another source of inspiration is his relationship with nature that he has living in a small, rural and remote community. He recognizes he still has a lot of modern conveniences and strives to find balance in that connection. 

Reducing waste and maximizing impact, Bradley Tom is putting into practice the way he looks at life. Avoiding extraction, instead taking action, he’s giving back to his community one bottle depot at a time. Knowing business can make a difference, Thom is determined to be a part of it, creating opportunity and finding a way forward in his hometown.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    April 15, 2024
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  • Discussion Guide
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