uOttawa, waste bucket challenge, sustainability, recyclemania

We often like to blame our wasteful ways on businesses. Why do they have to have so much packaging? Why do they waste so much during production? Why can’t they make things more durable? These are all very undoubtedly valid points, but we often have trouble taking a hard look at ourselves to see why on the consumer end so much is going to waste.

If there is one thing I learned from my Waste Bucket Challenge, it is that my nemesis was never businesses putting this or that thing in 10 inches of plastic packaging, rather my nemesis was my own tendency to live life in a big rush. Always busy! Always on the go! It was always very possible to avoid garbage but as soon as things started getting busy that went out the window. I forgot to tell my waiter to leave the straw behind, I stopped by the corner store for a snack, I went to get groceries but forgot to bring bags. All of these things happen to me on a regular basis but I only realized how wasteful that busy lifestyle may become, even as I was in this rush to get to work on time at the Sustainable Development Centre. Give yourself time! Don’t over commit to things!

I also have a bit of a confession to make about my Waste Bucket Challenge. I was being lazy at one point cause I did not want to empty the very full dish rack and so I thought it was a good idea to stack on a couple more dishes by balancing them quite precariously. CRASH! Down goes a massive Pyrex dish and smashes into a thousand pieces. Dang... That’s going to add to my Waste Bucket... I simply left it out, justifying in my mind that it was the dish rack’s fault. Take time for simple things! Don’t be lazy!

Another important realization that I truly enjoy up to this day is how I had to activate all sorts of long lost creativity to find solutions to my waste problems. Like when I forgot my grocery bags, I realized on my way there and managed to scrounge cardboard box from behind the store in order to carry my groceries home. There is not even a thought of creativity when you toss something in the trash. It’s automatic.  Creativity and waste reduction go hand in hand!

Almost in equal proportions to my production of garbage decreasing, my production of recyclables increased throughout the challenge. Since, the recyclability of plastic is questionable at best in both how it makes its way to recycling facilities, but also how it is oftentimes downcycled into lower grade plastic. Ideally, I would try to cut out some more of that plastic and focus on reuse even if the plastic I’m using can go in the recycling bin. Reusing is better than recycling!

Waste Bucket Challenges are a tremendous way to get a grasp on how much you produce in a week. The goal of it is in one part to try to reduce but also so that the things that you throw out are there for you to see instead of hidden away in your trash can. That way, you can see what the most common sources of your waste are where progress can be made!

~geoff - sustainability centre coordinator
The University of Ottawa celebrates RecycleMania with the launch of toilet paper, uOttawa raises awareness about food waste

RecycleMania has launched at the University of Ottawa, and indeed around North America, and this year we are using a new tactic that we picked up from our friends over at Penn State Sustainability. It's called Toilet Paper. Basically every 2 weeks we are posting infographics about food waste and recycling in the washroom stalls around campus.

The beauty of this approach is that we basically have a captive audience. The downside is that we get complaints about using paper to promote recycling. But rest assured that we did do a lot of thinking before we decided to post paper... Here are our findings.

Large Posters vs. Small Posters

We considered using large posters to spread the word about food waste and found that because of their positioning on the walls, the visibility of most posters is low and they are rarely read. Numbers vary wildly, but it could be assumed that between 4% and 8% people that pass by a poster will read it.

Conversely, nearly 100% of posters posted in washrooms are read by the occupants. You are kind of stuck in this space with not much else to do... a captive audience as it were.
That’s a potential 25 fold difference in effectiveness!!!
And in terms of paper, we can produce 2 – 3 small posters for each large poster so in order to have the same effectiveness, the small posters win hands down.

We also have the problem of wanting to convey a lot of information about food waste. This usually requires a bit of concentration and having posters in a space where you aren’t going to be doing much else makes more sense. Reading an infographic while walking through a hall likely won't produce the desired retention of information.

Plasma Screens

We considered posting the messages on plasma screens and found that not only are they also rarely read, they produce more carbon on average than a printed sheet of paper.
Screen = 7.6 g of CO2 / hour of electricity used
Paper = 6g of CO2 per sheet (the piece of paper + the printing process)

*A 2013. 50" plasma screen consumes 0.19 kWh according to Energy Star
*The Ontario Electrical grid produces 40 g of CO2 for every kWh

Over the course of a day, a screen in the Dining Hall will produce 182.4 g of CO2. That means we could produce 30 posters a day and still be on par with just one screen.

We intend to leave each poster up for 2 weeks so while the one screen will have produced 2.55 kg of CO2, the 200 posters we intend to print for the entire campus will only create 1.2 kg of CO2.

*This doesn’t include the energy required to recycle the paper vs the screens at the end of their lifecycles.

Do Nothing

We also considered the idea of doing nothing. I mean why not, seems like it would be the best for the planet, right?

Even though we have a zero waste Dining Hall, that doesn't mean that people aren't wasting food by composting a bunch things they should be eating. Well, approximately 771 kg of food is wasted in the Dining Hall each day. Let’s be generous and say that 50% of that stuff is just things like fruit rinds and napkins (and this is a very generous number). Then we have about 385 kg of food waste a day.

If these posters can save:
  • 1 kg of Beef = 27 kg of CO2 = 4,500 posters
  • 1 kg of Potato = 2.9 kg of CO2 = 483 posters
  • 1 kg of Lentils = 0.9 kg of CO2 = 150 posters
If the 385 kg of food waste produced every day were just lentils, we would be able to produce 57750 posters a day and still create less CO2.

* http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~lungj/blog/?p=6

Ideally, I don't want to have to create any posters to raise awareness about food waste. But, as it turns out, I am not as smart as I wish I was. So if you have any ideas about what we can do to be more environmentally sensitive while raising awareness, I want to hear them. I am certain that we can work together to create a world where food waste and paper waste are a thing of the past.

~ jON - Campus Sustainability Manager

The University of Ottawa has been ranked as the 27th most sustainabile university in the world for 2015. uOttawa is ranked second in Canada for sustainability.

Every year, the UI GreenMetric University Rankings for sustainability loom over my head. It is kind of a strange feeling really. I know that uOttawa is a leader when it comes to sustainability but sustainability is a broad topic and depending on how you want to measure sustainability, the results could vary.

Let me give you an example. uOttawa has amazingly low GHG emissions. Compared to other campuses of our size, we are a third to half the emissions of others. But when it comes to the number of courses that we offer related to sustainability... well we have some but a place like the University of British Columbia or Dalhousie have us beat hands down. Or what about green space? uOttawa has a dense urban campus, meaning that we have a very small energy footprint, but we aren't like Royal Roads who have over 300 hectares or natural forest setting... Which one is more sustainable?

I worry about what our score will be not because a bad score will reflect poorly upon our office, but because I don't want the campus community ti lose faith in the effectiveness of our programs. We do good work and the people in my team deserve to be recognized for their tenacity, grit, and sacrifice.

Well I am not going to dangle you on a hook and not tell you how we did until the end of this blog post, I mean the title probably gave you a big hint. This year the University of Ottawa ranked 27th in the world, and second in Canada for sustainable institutions! You can check out the overall rankings on the UI GreenMetric website.

No we weren't number one in Canada, that honour goes to the University of Sherbrooke. We did improve a lot since last year though. In 2014, we ranked 126th in the world and 8th in Canada (I contend this was because of a clerical error but c'est la vie). In prior years, uOttawa has been ranked as high as 14th, but the competition increases every year with dozens of more institutions getting ranked. Not to mention that new criteria are added every year.

When you break the numbers down, uOttawa does pretty good in a lot of categories. We are top 20 in transportation, water, and waste. We are a little further down this list when it comes to Infrastructure (346) and Education (134).

uOttawa UI GreenMetric breakdown for 2015. uOttawa ranked favourably in Waste, Water, transport, and energy & climate change

The GreenMetric rankings have been criticized for a couple of things that are worth mentioning. First, there is very little transparency and accountability. An institution could conceivably lie about their performance and no one has the capacity to check up on them. Second, it is hard to see how the scoring works and which points are valued more. As I mentioned, uOttawa doesn't have as much forest cover as other institutions, but we do have a cornucopia of community garden spaces.... shouldn't that count for something?

But then again, there aren't any other groups out there trying to measure sustainability at this scale. The Cool Schools Rankings by Sierra Club are starting to make some headway, but it is still mostly just a United States thing. The UI GreenMetric ranking has representatives from dozens of countries.

Of course, all this might be moot because it is impossible to accurately measure sustainability, especially for the purposes of ranking institutions. Every place has its unique physical, social, and political characteristics that mean that one person's reality is completely unrealistic somewhere else.

That being said, I am more than happy to take this victory for now and thank the dozens of people who have made the University of Ottawa one of the most sustainable universities in the world.

~ jonathan rausseo - campus sustainability manager
Food waste at uOttawa

I am going to talk today about something that happen on the university campus that really frustrate me every time I see it and which is the food waste at the caff by the students.

Last year, university of Ottawa renovated the caf and it became open buffet dining hall. All the students were really happy when they found out, but there is something that a lot of people don’t realize and it is the amount of food waste that is coming out of the dining hall!

Student are either part of the meal plan or they pay at the door to get in. They get access to an open buffet and they typically put so much food in their plates that most of it ends up in the compost. People are over-consuming, and over-consuming leads to an unsustainable environment.

This issue makes me sad and mad at the same time for so many reasons. One of those reasons is that in my religion, and I think in many other religions as well, wasting food is something we are simply not allowed to do.

Another reason is that there are a lot of poor countries out there that only dream to having half of the food that we throw away. So many children in Africa die every single year because they don’t have enough nutrients and enough food to eat.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in fouris undernourished. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under 5 years of age - 3.1 million children each year. ~United Nations World Food Program
I don't know about you, but to me, that is a very scary number.

In my opinion, we should not be allowed to waste that much food. Frankly, something should be done to help stop food waste on our campus.

First of all there should be programs or people out there to help inform/teach students about sustainability. We can put up signs in the dining hall that shows how many people are suffering every year from hunger; hopefully that will help students realize how wrong it is to throw out food and maybe they will start taking smaller amounts of food and thus stop throwing it out.

Another thing that could be done is to make a new rule in the dining hall which would make people pay money if they throw out food or if they don’t finish the food in their plates. This is a popular tactic used in many restaurants. The amount of money they have to pay will depend on the amount of food they are throwing or wasting. This way people would be encouraged to take smaller serving sizes and more reasonable portions.

In the end, all I want to say is that we should all help each other, we should all think about each other, and by doing all that, it will lead us to a better and more sustainable environment.
Let's make this year the year we deal with food waste!

~ salem abdallah, guest blogger

the University of Ottawa has eliminated disposable fountain drink cups

It is official; there are no more disposable fountain drink cups being sold at uOttawa!

These have been one of the many items that posed such a challenge since they are not recyclable; they are composed of several different materials and (unlike coffee cups) there is no cost-effective way of separating/reusing them.

Not only were they not recyclable, but people often thought they were, which led to them contaminating the metal/plastic/glass category in the recycling stations at food service locations.

When there is simply too much of the wrong item in the bin (50%+), we sadly end up throwing it out; either the company leaves it in our garage or the employee just doesn’t have time to go through the bags of recycling and sort the items inside the recycling stations. But as of September 2015, we no longer have to worry about these cups! (Thank you Food Services!)

When you aren’t on campus, and do end up coming across a location that still uses these (most fast food locations), why don’t you just ask them if you can fill your reusable bottle/mug?

~ brigitte - waste diversion coordinator