I happen to believe that language is essential in creating the images we use to understand our environment, our context, our reality really. Think for instance of how marketing carefully selects words that elicit distinct images in our mind.

If I were to tell you that I was going to get a hair cut, you might not give too much thought about where I was going to do that. If I say I am getting a hair cut at a barbershop, immediately your mind will flood with very selective images related to the word "barber".
Maybe an old man standing beside a worn leather chair. In his hand he might be holding a straight razor or a lathering brush. The outside of the shop is adorned with one of those telltale swirling blue and red tubes, reminiscent of a candy cane.

But what if I said I was going to get my hair cut at a salon? I'll bet the images conjured up in your mind are markedly different from the barber shop. Maybe it is cleaner, with more lights and more mirrors. The stylist has a blow-drier in one hand and she is sporting a modern haircut. The shop smells of product and has some very youthful music playing in the background.

Words are important because they shape what we think we know about the world. Our descriptions of things are mired in the context of our lives. So it is with this in mind that I wanted to write about waste in the context of the deconstruction of a building.

This past week, the famed CUBE building was 'demolished' at the University of Ottawa. This 60 year old building was brought down in order to make space for the new STEM building (future post about this to come). Facilities has posted a video about the event.

I don't like the word demolished because it makes you think that the building is going to be brought down in a series or coordinated detonations, or that a giant wrecking ball is going to swing in and bash the building into pieces.

I choose to use the word deconstruct because it shifts your thinking about how the structure is being treated. As you watch the video you will notice how there is is no wrecking ball; instead there is a sophisticated machine with a claw taring slowly at the building. The claw is ripping apart the pieces of metal rebar embedded in the concrete. Although this is all sped-up in the video, the operator is taking a lot of time to selectively attack various parts of the structure.

As the video continues, you'll notice that the materials are being carefully placed into large piles. These piles represent different categories of materials... metal... aggregate,,,, gypsum... etc. And why are all these materials being separated? Simple, we are going to recycle the building.

Deconstructing CUBE uOttawa
Concrete block pile from the CUBE deconstruction.
You see, it is that simple change in wording from 'demolish' to 'deconstruct' that helps shift the paradigm. If I said we were going to recycle building, you would have had a bunch of questions about how that could even be possible. With all those materials sandwiched together, it doesn't seem possible. But there in lies the problem, a demolished building is hard to recycle.... but a deconstructed building isn't. In fact, after watching the video, it is hard to imagine doing it any other way.

I wanted to talk about the deconstruction of this building to make a point... there is no such thing as waste. It is a social construct that we have invented that doesn't really serve a purpose anymore and I believe the notion does more harm than good.

Let's play another paradigm word association game.
What comes to mind?

And now another.
Now what comes to mind?

All the pieces of the CUBE will be used as resources for some other project. The metal will be melted down and used again. The aggregate (rocks) will be crushed down and used again. And so on and so on. 90% of the building will become something else.

This isn't the first time we have done this. The old Child Studies building, which was replaced by the FSS Building, was also deconstructed and recycled in a similar fashion. This is a requirement for the LEED certification of the new STEM Building. A detailed report will be authored about all the recycled components of the building and this will help the project assert some of its environmental features.
Deconstruction of the Child Studies building
A huge pile of metal wires and rebar from the deconstruction of the Child Studies building in 2009.
But this is the important part, the message you should take home.
The next time you are walking around with some 'waste' in your hands and you are about to throw it in the garbage bin, think twice and put it in the right bin. Because if we can recycle an entire building, whatever you're holding in your hand can probably be recycled too.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

As much as it pains me to say it, summer is finally coming to an end with the start of school right around the corner.  For many people including myself, this means moving time. For those of you not familiar with moving time, it can be defined as: That last minute scramble trying to figure what you have, what you don’t and how you’re going to fit it into a tiny SUV to transport it to your new home.  It’s a stressful and exciting time all at once but we at the Free Store have a few suggestions to make your experience a little less daunting.

  1. Understand your living arrangements.
    I know it may sound obvious but think carefully about where you’re living and with whom. If you’re living in a traditional residence such as Thompson, Stanton or Marchand you probably won’t need any kitchen supplies as you’ll be spending a lot of your time in the dining hall especially during the first few weeks. Even if you’re an avid baker and want to show off your culinary prowess you probably won’t have much time for it until later in the semester once you’re settled. However, you will have tonnes of time to check out the Free Store (located at 647 King Edward) where you will likely find all the supplies you will need to become the next MasterChef.

    Also think about the people you will be living with.  If you’re living with roommates in Brooks, Hyman Soloway or in off-campus housing, it doesn’t make much sense for you and all three of your roommates to each bring a microwave.  Be sure to discuss through with your roommates what each person plans on bringing to avoid duplicate items taking up extra room in your cupboards that could be better used storing Kraft dinner.  If you do discover there are some items no one already has on hand, before you head out to Walmart take a quick look through the Free Store. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by what all you can find there from kitchen items, to bedding and towels to even home décor items.
  2. Trust me you won’t need as many school supplies as you think.One of the most common problems students face is thinking they need the same amount of stationary items as they used in high school. For many students who have one, your life= your laptop, which you will use for taking notes in class, studying in the library and watching YouTube videos when you know you should be writing that paper.  If you suspect you may be one of these people don’t worry about bringing ten different notebooks for each class, you won’t need them.  If you do end up realizing later on that you study better off paper, we have notebooks, binders, pens and pencils always in abundance at the Free Store.  Also if you don’t think you’ll be doing that much printing, skip buying the stapler and printer and just use those at the library. Printing with a student card costs less than 10 cents a page and there is a communal stapler and hole punch located near the service desk.
  3. Avoid using cardboard boxes when you can.
    If there is one thing I will encourage you to buy it’s durable plastic storage containers like those you can find at most stores like Canadian Tire or Walmart. Trust me, these are going to be life savers! Not only are they larger and more durable than cardboard boxes, but they can last for years! They’re great for storing your summer clothes during Ottawa’s frigid winters, organizing you’re closet and they’ll come in handy the next time you decide to move.
  4. Meet your neighbours.
    One of the great things about going to the University of Ottawa, especially if you’re living in residence or in Sandy Hill is making awesome connections with other students living around you. Not only may these people prove to be lifelong friends but they can sometimes help you out when you’re in a jam; especially when there are items that you need for a specific day or occasion that you may only need to use once. This is where neighbours can help! Don’t have cards but need them for games night? Ask next door! Forgot a muffin tin but are really craving some homemade baked goods? Check with your neighbours! You’d be surprised how friendly and willing people will be to share especially if you offer to give them food in return.

  5. Free Store! Free Store! Free Store!
    Oh yeah did I mention we have a FREE STORE, where you guessed it everything is FREE to students. Be sure to come check us out for all your clothing and household good needs! 

 ~ lauren - free store coordinator
moving to uOttawa

On ne peut pas se le cacher l’université  recommence et tous les travaux avec approches!  Pour plusieurs, tout comme moi, ceci implique qu’il est temps de déménager.  Pour ceux qui ne sont pas encore des adeptes du déménagement préparez-vous à gérer le stress de trier, de mettre en boîtes, et de tout entasser vos trucs dans une fourgonnette en direction de votre nouveau chez soi. Ce stress est à la fois excitant, mais à La Gratuiterie nous tenons à vous donner quelques conseils pour prendre le temps d’avoir un déménagement vert et responsable.

  1. Connaissez votre nouvel appartement.
    Ceci peut vous sembler ridicule, mais être conscient du nouvel espace dans lequel on emménage est nécessaire pour éviter d’amener des choses non utiles. Pour tous ceux qui déménagent dans les résidences conventionnelles, comme Marchand, Stanton et Thompson, il ne vous sera surement pas nécessaire d’amener des choses pour cuisiner. Avec la nouvelle cafétéria. Si jamais vous êtes mal pris et qu’il vous faut un  bol ou deux visité la Gratuiterie!

    Il faut aussi penser au gens avec lesquels on emménage. Dans des résidences comme Brooks et Hyman Soloway, éviter d’amener chacun les mêmes items, vous ne pourrez pas faire grand choses avec 3 bouilloires. Vous verrez que la communication dès le début sera bien efficace et vous évitera des achats inutiles. Si jamais une fois installé il vous manque des items, la Gratuiterie sera bien plus proche que le Wal-Mart pour vous dépanner!

  2. Et tout ce matériel d’école ? Oubliez- les !
    Ce qu’on doit tous changé dans notre mentalité d’étudiants universitaires, c’est de pensé que nous avons besoins d’autant de matériels scolaire que lorsque nous étions au secondaire. Vous remarquerez rapidement que votre ordinateur portatif deviendra votre meilleur ami, que ce soit pour étudier ou procrastiné.  Il se peut que vous ayez besoin de cahier de note, mais pas de stress la Gratuiterie peut vous dépanner. Ah oui et cette imprimante que vous pensant avoir besoin, sauvez-vous de l’argent en papier en encre et papier. L’université vous permet de faire vos impressions pour moins que 10 cent la copie. Il fournisse même l’agrafeuse!

  3. Une boite de cartons versus un bac de plastiques.
    Évitez les boites de cartons vous les jetterez au recyclage dès que vous serez installé. Achetez un bac en plastique d’entrepôts chez des grand détaillant et vous serez équipez pour votre vie (ou presque)! De toute façon il va bien falloir que vous entreposé ses vêtement d’été pour affronter l’hiver d’Ottawa.

  4. Vos voisins peuvent vous aider
    Si vous êtes étudiants à l’université vous aurez sois l’avantage de vivre en résidence ou vivre dans le quartier d’étudiant de Sandy Hill.  Le réseautage commence avec tous étudiants que vous allez côtoyer. Connaitre des gens peut être pratique pour garder une vie sociale active, mais aussi vous dépanner. Et oui, qui dit que le partage se limite avec nos colocataires. Vous avez besoin de cuisiner ses cupcakes d’on vous raffoler, mais pas de moule à muffin? Un voisin peut peut-être vous dépanner. Il existe aussi des bons groupes d’échange comme ‘’Buns’’, où vous payer vos items avec de la bouffe ou d’autre item, on s’approche du troc d’il y a longtemps!
  5. Gratuiterie ! Gratuiterie ! Gratuiterie !
    On ne peut pas le mentionner assez, mais la Gratuiterie est là ici sur le campus au 647 King Edward.  Le nom le dit tous est Gratuit! Tous ce que vous avez besoin est votre carte étudiante et un brin de curiosité. Nous avons de tout, passant de vêtements à des articles de cuisine !
~ lauren - coordonatrice de la gratuiterie
K-Cups in a zero waste bin

So I got a lot of comments on my first post about going waste free. Thanks to everyone for all the questions and ideas. I think that the one that kept surfacing the most was around the theme of what is zero waste actually?
I thought maybe this would be a great place to start the next installment of this series... If we want to be zero waste, well... "what is waste?" seems like a great place to start.

If you have ever had the misfortune of attending one of my presentations you might remember me saying that there is no such thing as waste. This is technically true but not quite practically true.
Take Bill Gates and his project to recycle nuclear waste. I think that we could all agree that nuclear waste is pretty high on the list of "difficult things to recycle"... but it is not impossible to recycle or reuse, nothing is given enough time and money.

But we aren't really interested in fringe waste, we are interested in the everyday stuff like gum wrappers, broken umbrellas, or cigarette butts. A lot of attention has been paid lately to disposable coffee cups and why they can't be recycled. Actually coffee cups are a great example because although they can technically be recycled, it is impractical to do so.

When I say impractical what I really mean is expensive. Look at the company TerraCycle for example. They are a great organization who work with companies to recycle basically any product you can imagine. The catch.... they are pretty expensive. Let me give you an example.

If I want to recycle a bunch of paper, like an entire bin full of it, I could do that for about $45 dollars. That includes the pick-up of the bin and the tipping fees (which are non-existent for recyclables). When you work it all out and exclude the labour costs for the University, we are taking about something like maybe $100/tonne for paper to be recycled.

Folding coffee bags so that they can be recycled at the University of Ottawa
If I want to recycle an equivalent volume of K-cups from the office coffee machine, that'll cost you $171 (for a large box). The last box we sent weighed about 42 kilos so my quick math tells me that it costs about $4000/tonne to recycle K-cups. This makes sense given the volume of K-cups people want to recycle and the cost to transport them via the Post Office. But it also means that because it is so expensive to recycle them... very few people will actually do it. Don't get me wrong, even though the program is expensive I still use it.

So let's move this conversation over to the definition of Zero Waste... Is it really what it sounds like and is it even possible if some things cost a bazillion dollars to recycle? Isn't material waste just the cost of living in our modern world?

The common consensus is that zero waste means that you have an end of life strategy for all your resources (note the word resources because waste doesn't exist, right... there is only stuff that isn't useful to you). Sometimes that means composting, recycling, reusing - and sometimes that means giving it away for someone else to use or selling it as feed-stock for another process. Whatever the case, most people would agree that going zero waste doesn't actually mean that there is zero waste at the end... people tend to hover around the range of 96% to 99% diverted from landfill.

So I guess a working definition for zero waste will be "the thoughtful endeavour to manipulate resource life-cycles so that they emulate natural cycles an therefore, as much as possible, send no waste to landfill". 
You can find a million wonderful definitions of zero waste on Wikipedia.

Some of the most coveted waste diversion programs in the world still fall short of the zero waste ideal. San Francisco's Recology is a comprehensive waste management program that achieves an 80% diversion rate (not bad by any standards). And I am sure that you have heard tales about those Norwegian countries that have eliminated their waste by burning it. Of course the problem with that is that they aren't really getting rid of their waste, they are just creating new waste in the form of ash (albeit it a ten-fold decrease in volume). So zero waste isn't as easy as it sounds.

The Ontario government recently passed the Waste Free Ontario Act, a neat little piece if legislation that will help make it easier for municipalities to pay for their Blue Box programs by taxing the producers of packaging, thus reducing packing or financing the means to handle that packaging.

But there is another very interesting part to this act that many people overlook; the second part of this Act is called "Building the Circular Economy". I think that this little nugget is much more interesting than the zero waste part because it frames waste in the context of a resource waiting to be harnessed.

Building a circular economy implies the notion of cradle to cradle, the thought that there is no such thing as a final resting place and that everything we create and use will be used again and again and again...

But we aren't in a circular economy yet, so what can we do today to get closer to zero waste?
Well that's my cliffhanger phrase, you are going to have to wait until next time.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager
A customized recycling centre at the University of Ottawa
The Waste Free Ontario Act was passed on June 1st and so it is time to start thinking about how the University of Ottawa is going to become a waste free campus.

For the faithful followers of the Office of Campus Sustainability you will know that we have been plotting a waste-free campus for years now. Over the past decade, the campus has increased its recycling programs to the tune of a 20% increase in the diversion rate. Lots of cool programs and some pretty decent results across the board.

But lately, our campus diversion rate has stagnated. There are a couple of good reasons why the needle hasn't moved on the diversion rate recently. Let's look at a couple of these reasons so that we can figure out a path to becoming a zero waste campus.


The University of Ottawa is reducing more; instead of purchasing things, we are reusing more stuff or simply not buying it in the first place. This is exactly what happened in the 2014-15 fiscal year whereby the overall stuff consumed dropped by 4%, This sadly makes our overall diversion look less good. Think of something like our Paper-less campaign; the more paper we avoid using, the worse our diversion numbers appear to be.

Here's an example
Let's imagine the University generates 2,000 kg of waste every year. If 1,500 kg of that is recycled, we would have a diversion rate of 75%.
Recycling / Total waste = Diversion Rate
So 1,500 kg / 2,000 kg = 75%

But imagine that we implement the best paperless office program ever and we are able to prevent the need for 500 kg of paper. That means the University would generate 1,500 kg of total waste and only 1,000 kg of recycling (because we aren't recycling any of that paper anymore.
Recycling / Total waste = Diversion Rate
So 1,000 kg / 1,500 kg = 66%

DAAAAAMMMMMMNNNNN, diversion went down even though we did much better for the planet. We have implemented a bunch of great programs which are reducing the amount of stuff we are producing but this translate to sad looking diversion numbers. Don't get me wrong, I will take a lower diversion rate if it means we produced less stuff being consumed any day.

The University of Ottawa's diversion graph for 2015-16


Another thing that keeps hindering our diversion numbers is the total number of students on campus... the number keeps going up! So this is all well and good for our income from tuition (more people = more money) but it doesn't really help our waste numbers (because more people = more stuff).

I know that the number of people you have doesn't necessarily track with more waste but it is an indicator that we use to predict our total waste. What's really tough isn't just the greater number of students on campus, it's the greater number of students living in residences. This year, uOttawa opened a new residence on Rideau Street and added a couple more hundred beds to our housing mix. You need to understand that a student living in residences is very different from a student living off campus. All the waste that the student off campus generates is internalized when they live on campus.

So if you are a commuter student, maybe you eat a couple of meals on campus and maybe you recycle your course notes, but a student in residences produces way more stuff. They cook their own meals, they grow out of their clothes, they have pick up random magazines and flyers. All this is now stuff that the campus has to deal with.

Oh, and let's not forget that there is also a bunch of atypical items that don't usually show up in the normal campus waste stream. Think socks, and toothbrushes, and Halloween costumes, and broken appliances, etc... This isn't the kind of thing that shows up in our commercial waste.


This last one shouldn't be much of a surprise. Contamination is the bane of every recycling coordinator's job. It seems that no matter how well we plan to eliminate waste.... there is always some contamination lurking in the shadows waiting to damped your spirits.

Contamination comes in many many forms. What really sucks about it is that there are so many sources. Sometimes it's because of packaging (everything is wrapped in cheap plastic these days, including bananas and other such egregious items), sometimes it's because of laziness (can't find a recycling bin?.... just toss it), and sometimes it is because the item you have just can't be recycled (like the infamous disposable coffee cup).

You'd be surprised how often recycling bin placement determines how much stuff gets recycled. For instance, a recycling bin in a class room might as well be a garbage heap. Put it right outside the classroom and bam, recycle-rama! But I'll get to that in another post.

Donations flood over the University of Ottawa's Free Store


So here we are sitting at 60% or so and now we need to figure out how to get to zero waste. Impossible? Maybe, but if you know anything about us, you'll know that we always have a few cards up our sleeves. The first thing we are going to talk about is bans... but not until next time.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager