UBC Undergraduate Research

Zero Waste and Circular Economy Planning : Innovations in Food Systems Brown, Madison; Lai, Taphy; Lehto-Borich, Stefan; Starink, Nico; Sandhu, Anisha


In 2014 the University of British Columbia developed a Zero Waste Action Plant (ZWAP) with the goal of becoming a zero waste institution and diverting 80% of waste by 2020. Initially, UBC had largely focused on waste diversion through waste sorting from the separation of waste into garbage, recycling and organics. However, this strategy came with many issues. One being the reliance on an individual's knowledge and ability to properly sort waste and unfortunately the 80% diversion target was not met. This project moved away from the diversion approach and focused rather on the approach of circular economies through reusable foodware materials to progress UBC towards being a zero waste institute. The government of Canada defines a circular economy as “a new way of doing business that extracts as much value as possible from resources by recycling, repairing, reusing, repurposing, or refurbishing products and materials—eliminating waste and greenhouse gas emissions at the design stage” (Environment Canada, 2021). This approach allows there to be harmony in finding a balance between environmental and economic sustainability working to prevent waste from happening in the first place. The overall purpose of this project was to identify the best practices in circular economy planning to propose strategies for UBC’s upcoming Zero Waste Action Plan 2030. Part of our research included investigating UBC’s small-scale circular economy within the Green2Go reusable foodware program. To fulfil the overall purpose, goals were clearly set to produce viable options to enhance the efficiency of operations in the Green2Go reusable foodware program and provide concrete recommendations to UBC’s ZWAP 2030. As the Green2Go program is primarily used among first-year students living in residence, the final goal established was to create an overall culture change around reusable foodware among first year students living in residence. To accomplish these goals, a survey targeted to first-year students in residence was distributed. The data collected help build recommendations for the Green2Go program to further enhance the circular model already established at UBC. By focusing on the first-year population, the project’s impact will have lasting effects as they will spend more time on campus from the project’s completion date. This focus can allow for a domino effect among future incoming first-years, and eventually the robust culture and awareness of reusable foodware will be widespread among UBC undergraduate students. In addition, the increase of participation in a circular economy through foodware may inspire others to discover other innovations to contribute to UBC’s circular economy. To conduct the research into this topic effectively, Community-Based Action Research (CBAR) was used with a targeted approach focusing on UBC Food Services representatives, UBC policy makers, and first-year undergraduate students. The three key stakeholder groups will be the leaders in the construction of a circular economy at UBC to achieve zero-waste status for years to come. From surveying the key stakeholder group of first-year students, the data was collected using Qualtrics survey platform and analysis was conducted using Excel to produce relevant data to inform on our overall recommendations. This report identifies the need for improvements to the Green2Go program and strategies to further UBC’s stride towards a zero-waste institute. Recommendations are framed in the context of reducing waste as this was found to be the most important step when driving towards zero waste. The key leverage point for the Zero Waste Action Plan is to enhance the presence of a circular economy at UBC through the scaling up of the Green2Go program. Beyond this we recommend that the ZWAP 2030 committee take our discussion questions found under section 4.3 and facilitate dialogue with stakeholders within the various streams of UBC operations to assess value chains opportunities to shift towards a circular model. Recommendations for the Green2Go program specifically can be summarized into more incentives, increased number of return locations, and clear and consistent communication with program stakeholders. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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