Right under our noses, SFU has made a small change with a lasting impact. All Sodexo locations (previously Chartwells) such as the Dining Hall, Mackenzie Café and Junction 65 have transitioned over to compostable packaging. This includes cups, cup lids, food containers and even straws! Our campus has taken a significant step towards their zero waste and sustainability goals included in the SFU 20-Year Sustainability Vision.
You may be wondering why does this matter? How much of an impact will this really make? What even are SFU’s zero waste and sustainability goals? These questions are important and hopefully, will make you think twice next time you’re choosing what bin to throw your coffee cup into.
To begin understanding why the switch to compostable packaging is so important, let’s consider the alternative: The City of Vancouver estimates that 2.6 million hot and cold beverage cups are thrown away in the trash every week in our city. This accounts for 22% of large litter items in Vancouver. Cleaning up all of these beverage cups and food packaging containers in Vancouver costs taxpayers about $2.5 million each year. By converting to compostable cups, that through SFU’s 4 stream sorting station are sent to commercial composting sites, all this waste can be diverted from landfills. The money saved can then be reinvested in our communities and maybe even into lowering tuition costs for students? (a girl can dream, can’t she?)
A garbage can overflowing with plastics and beverage containers on the corner of Robson and Horny in Downtown Vancouver Credit: Jon Hernandez/CBC
Now let’s focus on the advantages of compostable cups. For clarity, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and Renaissance still use paper coffee cups, while all other Sodexo managed dining locations on campus have transitioned to compostable cups. SFU is currently having their compostable packaging supplied by Besics which take 50 – 180 days (1.5 to 6 months) to decompose in a commercial composter. Paper cups can also be composted, but I was unable to find a reliable source for their decomposition time. It is worth mentioning though, that without a specific compostable label on packaging paper cups are more likely to find their way into the trash and face an exceptionally ugly decomposition time – over 20 years in a sealed landfill.
So how does this all relate to SFU? SFU developed as part of their Sustainability Strategy Plan from 2013 – 2016 a zero waste initiative with the goal of diverting 70% of waste from landfills and doubling the amount of waste sent to be recycled or composted. In just 18 months SFU had achieved their goals and now are continuing their work to be a leader in zero waste operations. Rachel Telling, the Campus Sustainability Manager, at SFU says that this switch to compostable packaging will, “help us to further reduce the waste we are sending to landfill - instead creating valuable nutrient-rich compost which can be used to grow more food.” Or maybe even more compostable products? Besics uses high starch plants for its bio-plastics – most commonly corn but potato, rice and sugar beet are also options. This furthers SFU’s commitment to incorporating circular economy elements into campus initiatives and practices.
Compostable Straws at SFU Mackenzie Cafe Credit: Teghan Acres
As an SFU student, how can you contribute to these initiatives?
1) Always take a minute to sort your garbage at one of SFU’s four stream sorting stations – and remind others to do the same.
2) Engage in conversations about alternatives to landfill destined packaging such as Styrofoam and plastic cutlery that are still offered at many businesses.
3) Spread the message of zero waste and sustainability.
Credit: SFU Sustainability Office
I would like to finish by stating that while compostable food packaging is a great alternative to plastics and Styrofoam products, it is always best to bring your own cups and containers that do not need to be thrown away after one use. Happy sipping, snacking and sorting!