What are you doing to be environmentally conscious?

By Iciar Fernandez 

The last decade has seen an enormous shift towards being more environmentally and socially conscious of our planet. Disposable cups on campus now come at a fee (yay, UBC!), governments can’t turn their backs on these issues for much longer (thanks, Greta!), and change is slowly but surely happening.

But, what about us? We, students, are busy all the time. We have deadlines, midterms, exams, part-time jobs, most of us run on caffeine – and with it comes the waste. Takeout containers, plastic cutlery, single-use cups, forgetting our reusable bags at home when we go grocery shopping… The list goes on and on.

We asked you what you are doing to be environmentally conscious and what we can do better. Here’s what you said:

On zero waste

In an ideal world, all products would be reused – nothing would be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. But how? Going to a packaging-free grocery store, getting a reusable travel mug and a set of cutlery, choosing a bamboo toothbrush over a plastic one are some ideas, but they might come at a higher price than we would like. Can this so-called zero-waste lifestyle be affordable? Most students seem to think so.

“I think it could potentially be affordable if people invested in containers or utensils that are reusable. It’s really easy to just pop by a dollar store and grab plastics, so I understand how it would be a little inconvenient to bring containers everywhere you go, but that’s one way of saving waste”

“It comes down to changing how your lifestyle works. If you are able to sacrifice convenience or slowly work at changing how you consume things, I don’t see why it is not affordable. Plus, when you want to live a sustainable lifestyle I think you are less likely to buy things that you don’t necessarily need, or instead of buying more second hand”

But what about those that aren’t so sure?

“Well, I think that the initial purchase may not be affordable. Over time it does become better, but you also have to take into consideration the time aspect of it – you are going out of your way to finding alternatives to plastic such as toothbrushes, whereas you could go into Shoppers and buy a new one in two minutes. I do think it’s worth the investment for sure, but it is not an option that everyone has”

On meeting caffeine needs without generating waste

In Vancouver alone, almost 2.6 million paper cups are thrown in the trash every week. Investing in a travel mug seems like a fairly straightforward solution to the issue. But, is it as easy as it seems? As one student puts it, it’s all about building habits.


“I have a kind of “zero waste kit” I always keep in my school backpack. It includes my reusable coffee cup, reusable utensils, a water bottle and a straw. I always make sure to check for these 4 things before I leave for class. Getting into the habit of doing that every morning means I hardly ever forget… Collapsible coffee cups are always nice too because they’re lightweight and easy to carry around!”.

“I have my coffee in the morning in my travel mug because I know I can’t finish it at home since it’s too hot, so I take it with me every time I leave. Then, every time I go to get coffee or tea on campus, I still have my travel mug with me, and to be honest, I feel slightly guilty if I opt to get a disposable holiday-themed Starbucks cup instead”

Interestingly, some situations make it tricky to be sustainable even for those with good intentions.

“The only thing I usually drink is boba, and it’s really sad but they don’t have any other options besides single-use disposable cups. The more people realize this, the better, there has to be a solution”

About Starbucks mobile orders

“There is a big line sometimes, and they automatically put it into a one-time disposable cup. When I go there or to any other place myself, I use my own reusable mug. I have also been trying to figure out a way to overcome this problem because the single-use cups should be reduced”


On shopping more second-hand

Choosing to buy second-hand is not only more sustainable as items have a longer lifespan, but it is also guaranteed to save you some money. But are students getting thrifty? Zero waste can be affordable, and we are making an effort to use fewer disposable cups… but we can’t seem to agree on thrift shopping.

A student that used to work at Value Village, the staple North American thrift store, comments:

“I used to buy second-hand clothing but I found that the quality of the items is typically very bad. I’m just talking about clothing though, I would still buy appliances at thrift stores. It was rare that I would find a clothing item that was the right fit and still in good quality. You can find good clothes, but you typically have to come back and search many times. It’s kind of like searching for a needle in a haystack, and most people don’t have time for that”.

Indeed, convenience and sustainability don’t always go hand in hand, and browsing for items can be tedious.

“To be honest you can get anything second hand (even furniture) at thrift stores. I’d recommend Rag Machine, Mintage, and Community Thrift! And a thrift store is also coming to the UBC campus!

“Second hand might be used by people whose belongings you might think twice of turning into yours, but the concept is both a movement of sustainability and faith in people”, explains José.


On reusable bags for grocery shopping

This one is fairly straightforward – are you or are you not wasting money in plastic bags when you could easily pack your own? We are all guilty of forgetting them sometimes, but overall, the answer is unanimous. Yes – and even those who answered no, had good reason

“Well, I usually have my groceries delivered by Walmart. They either take the boxes back or I reuse them around the house”

Otherwise, saving money and the planet all in one go seems like a pretty good deal for everyone.

“It’s easier to carry stuff around in a backpack, you also save bits of money every time which can add up to a lot. It also limits how much I buy in a good way, preventing me from overshopping. And most importantly to save the earth that we live on”.

“One reason is that I’d have to pay for bags if I didn’t bring one. Secondly, because my parents do it. Also, because plastic is bad for the environment because it takes an insane amount of time to degrade while it’s generally disposed of in the ground. And culturally we usually keep plastic bags or other bags in the house in a box or something instead of throwing it away, it’s kind of a habit”


On being environmentally conscious

Riding your bike to school, buying a metal razor, implementing zero waste measures at home, and not buying brands because they are wasteful, were some of your the answers.

Thank you to all students that participated in the survey for making an effort to be more sustainable. You are making a great impact with your entrepreneurial ideas (mugshare!), helping to open a thrift store on campus, and much more. Keep on the good deeds and get for a reusable mug, start riding your bike, and if you want to get involved, check out UBC Sustainability and find out more about how to put your green ideas into action.


Let’s Choose to Reuse

Starting in January 2020, all food outlets across campus will charge an additional 25¢ for each drink sold in a single-use cup. This is part of the UBC Zero Waste Strategy that aims to reduce 80% of disposable food ware by 2030.

The AMS has always been at the forefront of sustainability and we’re proud to support this UBC initiative at all our food outlets, starting with disposable cups at Blue Chip Cafe.

It’s easy to skip the 25¢ charge by choosing one of these alternatives:

But if you are having one of those days and you have no choice but to pay for a cup, you still will be helping. All money collected from the disposable cup charge will be directed toward our other sustainable programs at the Nest.


A recent report about the marine impact of UBC’s single-use plastics showed that 1.7 million coffee cups 2.3 million pieces of plastic cutlery and 690,000 plastic bags were consumed on campus in 2017. If these items are not disposed of correctly, they could end up in our oceans causing pollution and damage to the marine wildlife.


In this sense, the Zero Waste Food Ware Strategy aims to divert 80% of all waste from landfills by 2030, decrease waste disposal to landfill each year and reduce the generation of waste by promoting a circular economy.

The first phase of this strategy is to reduce single-use cups by 80% in the next ten years. But also, there are plans to reduce single-use food containers, cutlery, plastic straws and bags as well as to train staff, students and faculty on how to recycle and sort waste properly.