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Q+A with Denis Huneault about CIMMYT’s No-Plastic Initiative

On June 5, the United Nations is using World Environment Day’s theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”

to challenge people around the globe to reduce their usage of single-use plastics by following the motto: If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.

Learn how the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is going ‘zero plastic’ in 2018 in the following Q+A with director of business services, Denis Huneault.


What does the no-plastic initiative look like at CIMMYT?

The plastic initiative is a replacement of all one-use plastics for the dining areas, plus a review of what can be done to replace all plastic bottles.

Eventually we will look at any other use of one time plastic, but for now, we just want to look at what we can do differently and how we can reduce our use of one-time plastic in the containers we’re using every day in the food products.

CIMMYT is already involved in the no-plastic initiative in Nairobi because the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) initiated such a program in their HQ, where our CIMMYT-Kenya office is located. The Government of Kenya has banned all use of disposable plastic, so now we are to follow suit here in Mexico.

Do you know what our current usage rates are for plastic here at CIMMYT?

Yes, we’re using around 140,000 pieces of plastic per month. So it’s a huge amount. It includes plastic bags, plastic containers, plastic utensils, plastic bottles of all kinds – it ends up being around 1,700,000 pieces of plastic per year.

So what’s the plan? How are we reducing this?

We’re going to introduce a permanent container that we will distribute to all CIMMYT employees. This container can be washed and reused. We’re going to introduce fresh, warm food at the café that we’re going to transport from the dining room, and there is a heating system being installed in the café to keep the food warm.

People will be served in their container, and then they will be responsible for washing their own container. We know that people may forget their container, or may not want to wash them, so we will have also environmentally-friendly disposable containers made from maize and wheat residues compressed into the form of a plate or a cup, and people who use these instead will be charged a little bit extra.


We are looking now at different types of containers and will ask people to vote on them. This is just in good time because we intend to use them for Science Week [an upcoming internal event that will bring roughly 200 visitors to CIMMYT].

Instead of boxed lunches at Science Week, we will provide reusable mesh bags that don’t disintegrate and that people can keep afterward to carry groceries, reducing the use of plastic bags there also.

When do you expect CIMMYT to be fully weaned off plastic?

We are looking at the end of the year because the biggest investment is in water. CIMMYT has a good well with good quality water that we test on a regular basis. It is free of pathogens and heavy metals and is actually already being used at the moment to refill the big water cooler jugs that we have. The water is treated and filtered, so now what we want to do is to install water fountains close to all the bathrooms. They will be connected directly to our wells, and there is an internal filter system in those fountains. We hope this will reduce the number of plastic water bottles used, plus we are going to introduce this into meeting rooms. So for like a Board meeting for example, instead of handing out water bottles, it would be cups of water and a pitcher.

We have to look at all these so it will take a bit of time. But we’ve already started with the warm food distribution; we already bought the equipment to provide the warm food, so we now need to install it. It should come together relatively quickly, but we need to have good communications to explain why we are doing this and what the impact is.

We will be accelerating in the next six months. Our goal is that by the end of the year we should have introduced all those measures. Installation of the fountains may take a bit longer since our campus is fairly large. In fact, once those are in place, we will have very good water — better than drinking from a plastic bottle because it is proven that there is plastic residue in your water when you use plastic bottles.

Have you had any reactions from the CIMMYT community so far about this initiative?

We ran a survey, and most definitely, people are interested. They are willing to make the necessary compromise in order to reduce our use of plastic.

And people are willing to pay more if they forget their containers?

Yes…most of them.


Plastic pollution is a defining environmental challenge for our time, be a part of the solution. Learn more about World Environment Day and how you can personally contribute to the global push against plastic pollution here.



Denis Huneault has been the Director of Business Services at CIMMYT since May 2016. In addition to managing the business services units at HQ, he coordinates the support services delivery in CIMMYT’s country offices around the world. Major responsibilities also include process improvement and risk management. Before joining CIMMYT, he was the Director of Administration and Finance at AfricaRice from 2012 until 2016. He has a long international career managing the administration of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Canadian Red Cross delegations in Sri Lanka, Russia, Sudan, Indonesia and Haiti from 2000 until 2012. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from HEC Montreal (1986) and a M.Sc. in International Business also from HEC Montreal (1994). During the 1990’s, he contributed to the Canadian public sector by working for the House of Commons, the Ministry of Industry of Quebec and for the implementation of a Canadian International Development Agency project in Indonesia.