A rendering of uOtawa's new dining hall

A while back, I want to say maybe 5 or 6 years ago but I am a little fuzzy on the details, my colleague Brigitte and I resolved to create a very lofty goal for ourselves. We resolved to become a zero waste campus! What I am not fuzzy about was the reaction. Essentially laughter and disbelief.

The Conversation
Well here we are some time later and I am sitting in a meeting with the Director of Food Services and we are talking about the new Dining Hall. Patrick, he's the director I was talking about, is all excited about what he's got in store for the space. He's talking pasta bar, like fresh pasta bar, like there's a machine in the background making the pasta from the raw ingredients; he's talking a game room, like a bunch of new PlayStations or X-boxes set up for people to relax and enjoy themselves; he's talking a space where you make your own food... no joke, pots and pans and a pantry overflowing with food for you to do as you please.

Now Patrick is going over all these details and I am kind of impressed and so he leans over and says, "Did I mention that we are going to be 95% waste free?"
Patrick leans back and waits for my reaction. I flash a face that tells him I am impressed and we sit there and nod for a minute or two. Then we get into the details.
How are you going to deal with plastic utensils? - There won't be any
Same for plates and bowls? - Yep
What about fountain drinks? Those cups are a pain in my ass! - Gone, only real stuff
Yeah but coffee creamers? - Strait from the jug baby

I was started to get very very interested. So Patrick and I go back and forth on a couple more details and then he asks me to sit on the consultative committee which of course I agree to.

The Back and forth
Cool factor aside, there are some details about the Dining Hall that I know some people won't be happy about. First, the meal plans in some residences become mandatory. I can see how some people are going to be mad about this and I can also see how some will be happy.

Also, the Dining Hall is designed for you to come in and sit, Harry Potter style. Large tables and lots of seating. No taking things away to eat somewhere else, no packing things up and saving it for later. The whole place is like a slow food movement space come true. So this is bad for people who want to rush off to class and great for people who want community and meaningful meals. By the way, this 'staying in one place' is why I keep saying Dining Hall instead of cafeteria... the experience is 100% different.

The Dining Hall is a 24/7 space so if you want to stumble in at 3 in the am, no one is going to say a word. And the menu is different too, more healthy choices and sensible portions. If you want more stuff, take a second helping but things are portioned appropriately. There is a dietitian on staff and there are some legit stations for gluten intolerances, allergies, and vegans… not salads… real vegan options.

If anything, I am actually a little worried that there won't be enough space. There will be hundreds of places to plug in your laptops and phones, and there are going to be some great views... I mean the space is essentially a glass box looking out over some o the campus' best green space. I predict crowding.

A rendering of uOttawa's new Dining Hal
The final straw
Fast forward a couple of more months and we are at our fourth or fifth consultative meeting. We've gone over coffee providers, we've talked about food rotations, and now we are down to the dirty details.... we are talking trash bins. The way I see it, we don't really need trash bins. All the food and napkins are compost and there won't be anything else really. We got rid of any bottles, any plastic, any metal, so we don't really even need recycling. The cleaning crew will clean up any stray bottles (like ketchup or something) and so what's the need? We even decided to ax dining trays to help reduce over consumption.

And then someone says it... "What about our straws? We need to put them somewhere!" I suggest we just get rid of straws and that solves our problem. I don't know why but this intense discussion breaks out about how we CANNOT, with a capital C, do without straws. So there it is and we decide that we are going have a super huge bin for compost and a super tiny one just for strays.

Without those straws, the Dining Hall becomes an actual ZERO WASTE space. I can’t tell you how much sleep I lose over this. I start conversations with strangers about how having a bin just for straws is going to confuse people. I design small replica garbage bins with the tiniest opening just for straws. I start sketching posters with tag lines about how straws are the enemy and we all need to “Do our part!” I start getting kinda weird.

And then out of the blue Patrick calls me up. He is talking about the time table for the project and out of nowhere he blurts it out… “Oh yeah, I am getting rid of straws. It just makes things easy.”
I am flipping out. this is absolutely amazing! I get this sensation like my soul is jumping out of my body, doing a couple of fist pumps and then settling back in. I respond to Patrick, "Cool". He says he has to go and I get to deliver the good news to my team that zero waste is on.

So why is this so important? A couple of reasons.
One, my office really didn't do very much. We didn't have to drag Food Services into this kicking and screaming. They did all the heavy lifting and they deserve all the credit. More and more, people on campus are talking sustainability into their own hands and this is a good thing. In my mind, everyone should be a sustainability vigilante.

Two, this zero waste space is the first of its kind on campus. Remember back at the start of this post when I said stuff about, and I quote, "laughter and disbelief"? Well  no one's laughing now. This is a real space and it gives people hope. And no I don't think I am exaggerating when I say hope. People need to see something like this with their own eyes. Sometimes it is easy to dismiss a concept like "zero waste" because you can't imagine it in action. This Dining Hall will let them see exactly that. It will let them see that vague concepts of sustainability can be reality and that we as a species can create something better.

I don't really know what's next. I mean I can imagine right. Maybe paperless offices and free bicycles for everyone. Maybe the president's office will ban suits in the summer time to reduce on air conditioning and maybe we'll cover our roofs with vegetable gardens. But I want you to think about something... next time you hear someone say "carbon neutral campus" or "car free campus" or "100% renewable energy", I want you to think about how those are actually things and with your help, we'll make them happen.

In the meantime, uOttawa, I would like to introduce you to Zero Waste Dining.

  ~ jON - campus sustainability manager
A student runs through the community gardens carefree

Packing to move to university can quickly turn into a Tetris-like nightmare. Fitting your life into one minivan isn’t easy- how about fitting all those essentials into a suitcase and carry-on, a challenge presented to many international and out-of-province students each September?

What if I told you you’ll be able to find almost everything you’ll need once you arrive, available right on campus, for FREE?

Let me introduce you to your new favourite place - the Free Store, a converted house where donated items are cleaned, sorted, and offered back to the university community, free of charge.

Though you can downsize all you want, there are still certain items you’ll need whether moving into a university residence or an apartment off-campus. Here is a list of the top things you’ll need during your time as a student- but should NOT pack!

Basically any kitchen items
Most incoming students will benefit from the all new Dining Hall and will realize they have hardly any need for their own kitchen supplies. But for anyone who still needs pots/pans/utensils/an eclectic collection of mugs, plates, and bowls- we’ve got it all! We spent weeks washing all of these kitchen essentials for you- because we love you.

Bags and bags of clothes
I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a trendy new back-to-school wardrobe. But you SHOULD go on your shopping spree at the Free Store! The shop is full to bursting with clothes in all sizes and styles to get you through every temperature drop this city will throw at you! Come put together an entirely new outfit every day if you want- all for free while producing zero waste!

A reusable mug/water bottle
Firstly, all uOttawa food vendors offer discounts on hot beverages for those who bring their own reusable mugs. Muggy Mondays, another student service, has got your back every Monday morning, giving free caffeine kicks to everyone with their own mug.  Secondly, uOttawa has water fountains all over campus pumping out the freshest water around. These two items will be your best friends and lucky for you, we’ve got you covered!

Though many students have replaced binders and notebooks with laptops and tablets, you still need a place to stash those assignments and handouts. The Free Store has enough binders in every size and colour to outfit every incoming student and still have some to spare!

The Free Store will be open September 1st and 2nd exclusively for international students and then every following Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for the entire uOttawa community. This list doesn’t even cover half of the treasures we have!

~ erin j - free store coordinator

The University of Ottawa is now an official member of the CaGBCThe University of Ottawa just became an institutional member of the CaGBC. What does this mean? Well for the most part it means that we are entitled to get cheaper rates for training and certifying our buildings. But if you dig a bit deeper, it means that we are putting our support behind a program that understands how buildings play an immense role in building a better world.

As it stands, uOttawa only has one LEED certified building on campus, the FSS Building. But, as we all know, quantity doesn't always tell the whole story.

In early 2000, the SITE Building was the latest and greatest thing on campus. The building even won a couple of awards for its environmental design. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out according to the design once the building was up and running. This wasn't necessarily anyone's fault but it did spur the University to take a harder look at their buildings.

 In 2012, a deep energy retrofit of the SITE building succeeded in reducing electrical consumption by 20%, heating by 77%, natural gas consumption by 36%, and eliminating the need for humidification completely.

In 2012, the university completed a deep energy retrofit of the SITE Building which dramatically improved energy performance

By 2005, when the BioScience Complex was completed, we had learned a couple of tricks and these buildings were also awarded with some distinctions as some of the most energy efficient labs in Canada. So when the Desmarais Building was under construction in 2006, someone had the idea that maybe we should try to get LEED certification on the building.

Unfortunately we had already started construction on the building and thus we would not be able to achieve some of the prerequisites required to get certified (and rightfully so, LEED should be considered early in the planning phase of a building). The Desmarais Building was built to LEED standards but did not seek certification.

This is where the story gets interesting. Many people say, "Let's just build the building to LEED standards but not actually pay all those fees to get it certified". This conversation was had many times around the halls of my office. Finally, after a presentation to the Board of Governors in 2008, the University took the decision to seek certification for the FSS Building, and in 2013-14, it was awarded LEED Gold.

So what was the key argument that encouraged the University to go for certification? Well, let's think of it this way. Saying that you will do something is fine and dandy, but actually having someone looking over your shoulder to make sure that you are doing it is a whole other story.
LEED certification forced us to account for all of the construction waste, the origin of all our wood, the limitation of how much energy we could use, etc. It's easy to just say something is "too hard" or "too expensive" and let it slide. Knowing that you jeopardize your certification if you compromise on your job gives you that extra boost to see things through.

So a few weeks ago, Facilities Service took the monumental step of making sure that any building uOttawa builds over 10,000 m2 will seek a minimum certification of LEED Silver. This is not only a commitment to the environment, this is a commitment to our people. The public tends to overlook the fact that LEED standards place a strong emphasis on Air Quality and comfort for building occupants. Better air quality equals happier and healthier workers.

There are two new buildings on campus that are seeking LEED Certification, the ARC Building and the Learning Centre. With the introduction of the new uOttawa Master Plan, the University anticipates a lot of new building developments in the coming years. This makes commitments to be good environmental stewards all the more important. And that's why care so much about LEED.

 ~ jon - campus sustainability manager

students look over some of the offerings at the uOttawa Free Store
Penny pinchers and waste reducers rejoice- the Free Store has reopened for the summer!

For a month and a half, we had to shut the store’s doors so that we could put all of our effort into Dump and Run, the massive task of collecting, cleaning, and organizing all the items students left behind after move-out. The donations filled two basement storage spaces and every inch of the store- you would have to see it to believe it!

But now, every Wednesday from 10am-3pm during the summer, the Free Store will be open to fulfill all your needs- from a new outfit for that music festival, to a great summer read, to some kitchen gadgets for your new apartment.

Opening day was a huge success- regulars returned and new comers flipped through the racks in awe. Customers left, arms loaded with sneakers, framed art, televisions, you name it! Volunteers were flying around, constantly reloading emptying shelves with treasures.

An employee climbs over a pile of donations at the Free StoreWhether you’ve loved the store since the beginning or you’ve never had the chance to visit, summer is the time to come! Let me remind you, we received MOUNTAINS of new donations- we definitely have what you’re looking for.

See you next Wednesday!

~ erin j - free store coordinator
Dump and Run 2015 at the University of Ottawa
Another year, another Dump and Run!
Every year, we tell ourselves, “we can’t possibly collect more things than we did last year!” And every year, we do end up collecting more things than we did last year.

Whoops, where are my manners. I didn't explain what I am talking about. The Dump and Run is an event that targets people moving out of the residences at the University of Ottawa. Our group, the Office of Campus Sustainability, organizes the collection of unwanted (but still functional) items and food to then donate them either to the Free Store (for other students to use) or to local charitable groups.

By collecting stuff what I mean is recuperating things that students leave behind when they move out of our campus residences. There are good reasons why people leave stuff behind. Some people are moving in with other people who have too much stuff, some people are going home and have no space, and some people are taking an airplane our of town – do you have room for that comforter or kitchen set in your suitcase? Nope!

This year was different. The University acquired a new residence building which increased greatly the amount of donations. We got some air time on CBC news, TFO, in the Metro newspaper, and we were on the CBC morning radio show. So much media attention (thank you for the positive stories!). This means that more people know we exist, are thinking about us, and ultimately end up donating their unwanted things.

Did I mention that we ended up collecting 10.6 metric tonnes of goods!
This is almost double our haul from last year which was 6.2 tonnes. More than 3 tonnes were donated directly to the Free Store (our donation box exploded more than once), and the rest was brought to donation tables, or left inside the campus housing spaces to be thrown out. Just on campus move-out day, we were able to recuperate and donate 1.2 metric tonnes of unwanted food to the Ottawa Mission, that would otherwise have been sent to landfill.

Ikea donated 50 bags to the Dump and Run in 2015

So this is a great time to thank Ikea for donating some awesome reusable bags that were really helpful for collecting stuff from the residences. And we can't forget the 40+ people who helped out with this year’s Dump and Run. Over the entire month, they contributed more than 1200 hours of their time!

This awesome project would not be possible without you! Thanks everyone!

~ brigitte - recycling coordinator