Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2020.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who made environmentally conscious choices including biking instead of driving to campus and bringing a water bottle to class. But when it comes to food, it can be easy to forget how buying and eating relate to sustainability.
I started thinking about what I, as a student, could do to support the earth’s future and thought: what better place to begin than campus, where many of us eat, sleep, and study.
As a first step, I decided to see if I could go waste-free for a week and then share tips and tricks that I picked up along the way. So, in this post, I’ll show you how I went without single-use plastics for 5 days, including how I chose meals or snacks on campus.
Taking steps to reduce your individual waste can seem daunting, but I hope I can give you some ideas on how to start! With that said, I proudly present my attempt to live a week on campus without throwing anything into the trash.
Packing & preparation
To get started, I needed a trusty bag of tools to get me through my adventure. I tried to use items that I already owned (as my student budget left me no room for $200+ metal straws). I packed the following kit for the week:
- A metal water bottle
- Reusable straws
- A reusable tote/cloth bag
- Container for food
- Metal utensils from home
I realized that my avoidance of groceries on the weekend had caught up with me and it was time for a trip to the local grocery store. I packed the essentials—a couple of grocery bags, as well as a few extra small bags to put my produce into.
To avoid plastics, I stayed away from the inner aisles at all costs (even though the lure of cheap instant ramen was calling my name). In order to be zero waste, I bought mostly fresh produce from the fruit and vegetable sections.
Pro tip: Most of the unpackaged items can be found on the outer edges of the grocery store while the perishables and packaged foods are stocked within the aisles.
Breakfast: Agora Cafe
I’m not a breakfast person; however, the food at Agora Cafe is perfect for any meal or snack. Agora is a student-run business that encourages the use of your own containers and promotes healthy, sustainable eating. I ordered the creamy cauliflower soup along with some toast and put the food in my pyrex container!
While I sat outside enjoying my soup, I noticed some soup spillage on my shirt. I am someone who is constantly spilling drinks and food in between class and hunting for napkins. I included a “handkerchief” in my list of zero-waste essentials, which made it easier to deal with my messy eating habits without burning through stacks of napkins.
Dinner: Residence dining
Having lived in residence back in my first year, the residence dining halls are old friends of mine. So I swung by Gather at Vanier and picked up one of their veggie burgers.
UBC Food Services ensures that 60% of their ingredients are sourced locally (within 400 km), so eating at their locations is a great way to align with my goal of living more sustainably. The dining halls also have a new climate-friendly food labelling system, which helps you make informed decisions about what you eat.
If you live in residence, check out more ways you can contribute to sustainability on campus on the Residence Life Blog.
For Friday, I got my lunch from Sprouts in the UBC Life Building. Sprouts is a student-run initiative that aims to provide sustainable, healthy, and affordable food for students. Every Friday, for a small donation, Sprouts hands out a home-cooked meal as long as you provide the container to put your food into!
I lined up with my container at lunch, and they filled up my bowl with fresh salad, yams, potatoes, and noodles. This was my favourite moment of the week as students sat down after getting food and socialized in Sprouts with their sustainable meals.
Pro tip: While you line up for your food, Sprouts has boxes filled with produce for you to pick out as needed! I came home with a few yams and was excited to save some products that may have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
To my surprise, making zero-waste food choices wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and I was able to completely eliminate single-use plastics that week. I discovered that living zero waste really comes down to preparation and putting conscious effort into packing Tupperware and dishware.
UBC has numerous programs (including many student-led initiatives!) that provide plenty of resources and opportunities to reduce individual waste.
One notable initiative is UBC’s Let’s Choose to Reuse initiative, which aims to create a zero-waste future for food and beverage on campus. This initiative includes the following changes:
- Fees for single-use items like coffee cups, to encourage the transition to reusable dishware
- More sustainable materials for single-use items, including discontinuing certain items such as foam cups, plastic straws, and plastic bags
As UBC makes these adjustments for a zero-waste future, I hope my week-long journey gave you a few ideas on how to start.