Leafy Thoughts: “Shift Zero” Waterloo

Gabrielle Klemt - 4A Geological
Posted on: November 14, 2019

One popular saying of the Zero Waste movement has long been that the planet doesn’t need a handful of people living perfectly sustainable lives, it needs everyone to try their best. It was reading a similar sentiment in an Instagram post last year that made me realize I had weird resentment towards the Zero Waste movement because it felt so exclusive. I’m a student; it’s impossible in this day and age to be a student without creating garbage, I just can’t be zero waste so stop making me feel bad about myself! When I read that the world doesn’t need those perfect zero wasters right now, that it needed me in all my imperfect glory, I felt included at last, because I try to reduce, reuse, recycle… but I could be better. So, from there out, I pledged not to be perfect but to be a little bit better. Honestly, sometimes I think coffee tastes better out of a paper cup than a travel mug, hot take but someone had to go there.

I might be a little late to the megaphone here, and no doubt if you live in residence you’ve heard all about this already, but over the last few weeks I’ve noticed little signs across campus about “Shift Zero”. Ever since, I’ve been meaning to look into just what they’re all about, but you know how school is: one week it’s all Netflix and no assignments and the next you’re drowning because you have four group projects, a lab exam, two midterms, and three assignments all due at the same time… It took me a while to sit down at my desk but here I am at last.

In 2017, the University made it a goal to be a zero waste campus by 2035. It sounds like a long time from now, but also, it’s incredibly soon. Not to mention, this is the entire university we’re talking about here, there is a LOT of trash produced every hour, not to mention annually. This fall, the school kicked off part of its “engage and train” approach to the shift. In my opinion this is the most important of all the approaches because you can change the waste diversion infrastructure all you want, but if students don’t care about how they’re disposing of trash and how much they’re making, you’re not going to change anything. Residences are encouraging students to buy a re-usable container to receive a 20¢ discount on purchases (although to be fair, this did start last year), and once the SLC is done the food court there will offer this program as well. Plus, everywhere you bring your travel mug on campus ow gives you a drink discount, though most places have done this for years and the Environment CnD only sells drinks in re-usable mugs, I’ve had spotty acceptance of the 10¢ discount at campus Timmies many times. And, the school is trying to really encourage people to bring their own water bottle to campus instead of using disposable plastic ones – they might have more success with this if they made all drinking fountains into water filling stations (*cough* first floor E2 *cough*).

On top of these three sustainable initiatives we can all participate in without too much hassle, they’re encouraging students to really think about what bin your waste goes in. I know it can be annoying, but honestly it only takes three extra seconds to read the labels on the bins! And, the school has put together an A-Z sorting guide for anything you might possibly think of tossing from keyboards to textbooks to writing utensils, it’s all in there! (Just Google “sorting guide UW”).

We’ve already missed Zero Waste Week, which was the second last week of October, but it’s not too late to take the pledge to do your best for our campus and for our planet. Just like one vegetarian isn’t reducing carbon emissions, one zero waste campaigner isn’t going to fix the Pacific garbage patch; it’s when everyone works together that good things can happen!

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