Sustainability Office hosts Zero-Waste Workshop

Taking “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to the next level

In the past three months, the University of Guelph Sustainability Office’s composting coordinator, Alyssa Winkler, has produced enough rubbish to fit into a small Kilner jar. At the Sustainability Office’s Zero-Waste Workshop, held on Feb. 9, 2016, Winkler spoke at length about the zero-waste challenge she put to herself.

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Alyssa Winkler and her small Kilner jar of trash

The workshop offered students the chance to learn about the idea of leading a zero-waste lifestyle. In addition to Winkler, speakers, including Paul Caruso, the Sustainability Office’s recycling coordinator, and Dr. Kate Parizeau, from the Department of Geography, talked to students about what “zero-waste” means.

According to the Sustainability Office, zero-waste is a philosophy that aims at redefining the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” cycle to ensure that all products are reused. No garbage or food waste is produced and no resources or items are sent to the landfill.

“My definition of waste is things that are unwanted and you can’t use,” said Caruso, at the Feb. 9, 2016 workshop.

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Paul Caruso speaking at Sustainability workshop on what waste means

Caruso explains that waste isn’t just garbage or trash that we throw away, but also unused resources and items that we think are waste. He used peanut butter to explain what he meant.

Imagine you want to buy peanut butter. You can go into a grocery store and pretty easily find it stacked in nice little rows. But what you might not have really considered is that you didn’t just buy that peanut butter—you bought the plastic container which holds it. When you need more peanut butter, you want more of the food, but you don’t really need the plastic container that holds it.

“This is just one example,” said Caruso. “If I got rid of all my trash, what would the world look like? It’s a tangible and really cool thing to think about!”

Tangible, and necessary. Canada’s waste diversion rate—the figure that represents the quantity of the waste deposited in blue and green bins—currently stands at approximately 33 per cent. The number isn’t incredibly high, but a lot of the items that are thrown into blue bins are not recycled. Examining food waste, it’s often found that a lot of items thrown out are actually fresh and consumable.

Talking about waste and why it matters, Parizeau used her own research findings with hospitality, food, and tourism management professor Dr. Mike von Massow and agriculture professor Dr. Ralph Martin to illustrate the problem.

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Prof. Parizeau speaking about her research

Using curbside weights, surveys, and audits, Parizeau and her colleagues found that the households that they evaluated in Guelph had about 4.5 kilograms of food waste per week, 11.6 kilograms of recycling and 7.1 kilograms of other waste.

“About two-thirds of that food was edible or possibly avoidable waste,” said Parizeau, at the workshop. “Almost half of the food waste was fresh fruits and vegetables; which means we are throwing out a significant volume of some of the healthiest stuff in our households.”

When one considers the nutrition of public health, this fact can be somewhat alarming.

According to Parizeau, convenience is a huge reason why so much food is wasted. Other issues include food literacy barriers and family or lifestyle constraints.

Winkler, and some of the attendees of the workshop, voiced these constraints when they talked about their own challenges while maintaining a zero-waste lifestyle.

“Going home is really hard,” said Winkler, at the workshop. “I learned that pretty fast. Living on your own, making your own choices and buying your own stuff makes life a lot easier. To have your parents trying to give you gifts or things, especially around Christmas time, makes you produce a lot more garbage quickly.”

In spite of these challenges, Winkler continues to challenge herself towards a zero-waste lifestyle and the Sustainability Office has extended the challenge to all students and members of the community.

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Discussions with students after workshop

The challenge they propose is over two-weeks and can be broken into two components: observation and action. The first week encourages individuals to collect and document the materials thrown into trash. The second week’s goal is to reduce produced waste, while reflecting on the previous week’s trash.

This week, from March 7th to March 13th, marks the second half of the challenge for those who signed up for the event. The challenge, however, remains open for those who want to try it on their own to see what it means to lead a zero-waste lifestyle.

The Sustainability Office encourages individuals to photograph their progress and deliver pictures to the Sustainability Office.

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Link to Sustainability Office Zero-Trash information page: https://www.uoguelph.ca/sustainability/waste/zero-trash

Post written by Joanne Pearce

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