My two cents on sustainability at UW

Although the University of Waterloo boasts sustainability initiatives, primarily that the Faculty of the Environment buildings are LEED certified, there are basic sustainability practices that are non-existent in the University of Waterloo residences.

Here’s another post that I wrote a long time ago but never got around to publishing.

For context, I lived in a dorm style residence with a central cafeteria. All residents were required to purchase a meal plan. Each residence house had one bathroom per floor, shared by all residents on that floor, up to 18 people.

August 2013: Residence, The Problems

I’ll admit, living in residence is convenient – only a 10 minute walk to class, with a cafeteria that has food on demand, and friends close by.

The one huge downside? It’s hard to be sustainable and environmentally conscious! Here are a couple of reasons why, and how I’ve been trying to do my part to avoid these environmentally unfriendly practices:

1. The food. No compost. All food waste goes directly into the garbage.

My quick fix? I ask for smaller portions if I know I won’t finish everything.

2. Paper towels. All of the bathrooms have paper towels. Although the product is made from recycled material, at the end of the day, they are still thrown into the garbage.

My quick fix? After washing my hands in the floor bathroom, I shake, then run back to my room and dry them with my towel. Easy as pie!

3. The disposable wrapping and plates. Of the 5 main food stations at the cafeteria, 3 stations automatically serve your food in disposable wrapping or on disposable plates. The other 2 stations give you the option of “for here” (melamine or ceramic plate) or “to go” (disposable plate).

My quick fix? I take a melamine/ceramic plate when the situation allows, and only accept a disposable plate when a melamine plate is not available at the station. And I try and minimize my eating from the stations that don’t give the option.

4. The lights. At the beginning of term, I noticed the lights in the shower room were consistently being left on when there was no one in the shower!

My quick fix? Putting up a very effective sign! See my post here.

There you have it, the 4 big sustainability problems I have personally encountered during my time in residence. Of course there are surely more, but these four were the most apparent.

July 2014: Residence, The (Simple) Solutions

So, some of the most basic ways to promote and incorporate environmentally sustainable practices into our everyday lives are not getting done at the University of Waterloo in the main campus residences. The solutions are hardly new concepts.

1. Compost (check out UBC’s compost facility)

2. Reusable hand towels (even the mall in Waterloo, Conestoga Mall, has a “Hand Towel Program” in place where they provide washable hand towels which get washed and reused)

Conestoga Mall Hand Towel ProgramPhoto: Maddy Ewins

3. Removing or replacing disposables from the cafeteria (substitute in compostable plates and cutlery, encourage students to bring their own, and maybe provide a discount for bringing your own dishes. Even Starbucks has a discount program for bringing your own cup, why can’t Waterloo residences for bringing your own plates and cutlery?)

Starbucks Bring Your Own Cup ProgramPhoto: Starbucks

4. Timer light switches (the amount of money the University would save on the electricity bill likely outweighs the cost of replacing the bathroom light switches with timers)

July 2014: The bigger picture

Don’t get me wrong… I may be painting the University of Waterloo in a bad light here. There are many things I have seen that need improving. But there are also many sustainable campus initiatives run by different groups at the University of Waterloo, and there are people that work very hard to create change in this area (students, faculty, departments). To name a few:

But change is slow and the results are few and far between, especially when you compare the University of Waterloo with other University campuses in Canada and around the world.

For example, take UBC’s Sustainability Initiatives. UBC has a centralized webpage devoted to sharing what they are doing to promote and improve sustainability on campus. And yes, UBC has a plethora of LEED certified buildings and then some.

Google defines an initiative as a fresh approach to something new. But the fact is that these problems are not new. The solutions are not new. They just need to be implemented. The “fresh approach” we need is for these sustainable campus projects and initiatives to become priorities. We need change, and we need it faster and in much larger steps, starting with the 4 solutions I’ve outlined.

Small Fish, Big Pond

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the key ingredients in bringing sustainability to the forefront of large academic institutions, and on being a small fish in a big pond (student vs. the institution). Although, hopefully many small fish can make the pond feel a little more manageable!


One thought on “My two cents on sustainability at UW

  1. Your suggestions should not offend anyone; I am sure the University will be grateful for your initiative in suggesting ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. Well done Maddy and good luck!

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