[This article originally appeared in the UBC Campus and Community Planning February Newsletter. It is reprinted here with permission.]Author: Scott Steedman
Overheard at Triple O’s restaurant on Main Mall this fall, as lunch patrons cleared off their trays:
“It didn’t take long to get the hang of it. It’s great the composting is expanding!”
“It’s really cool. About time too!”
“We often have to show new customers, but most people get it.”
“I just looked at the pictures, it all made sense.”
“The hole for garbage is so small!”
“It’s everyone’s responsibility, including ours!”
The diners are standing in front of three bins labelled Recyclable, Garbage and Compost, in big letters. Each bin is accompanied by photos of the items it takes: drink cups, cutlery, pop cans, transparent containers, food scraps.
This scene is familiar, because UBC Food Services outlets have been separating their waste and recycling and composting aggressively for years. But the franchise restaurants on campus are another story — they have their own systems and containers, and most do little to no recycling or composting. Until recently.
A Student Project With Real Benefits
In December 2011, a group of students in Land and Food Systems 450 decided to focus a research project on waste practices at Triple O’s, a fast-food offshoot of the White Spot chain. Like the many Social Ecological Economic Development Studies (SEEDS) projects now taking place on campus, this one was a unique partnership between faculty, students (in Land and Food Systems), staff (UBC Food Services, part of Student Housing and Hospitality Services or SHHS) and Campus Sustainability, which oversees SEEDS. It was also part of the UBC Food System Project (UBCFSP), a larger SEEDS project involving ten departments on campus that aims to enhance the sustainability of our food system.
After studying diners’ habits, the students decided the key was clear signage with pictures. So they had some new signs made and observed the results.
“We worked together, taking the White Spot way and adapting it to the philosophy on campus, which is basically ‘no garbage,’” explains Josie Midha, Manager of the restaurant for UBC Food Services. “We get all our containers through White Spot, so we have to work with that.”
As a result of the changes the restaurant has gone from sending virtually all its waste to the landfill last year to recycling or composting about 85% today. And with some tweaks — like a new recyclable gravy container to replace the previous Styrofoam one — Midha is confident they will exceed 90% soon.
Spreading the UBC Philosophy
“We did a waste audit and found pockets that were very good and exceeded targets, and other areas that failed miserably,” says Victoria Wakefield, Purchasing Manager for SHHS. “So our plan — and pilot projects like this — focus on the weak areas.”
The whole project had to be approved by the president of White Spot, an 84-year-old chain with 131 restaurants and 3,500 staff. “He was very happy with what we were doing,” says Midha.
The next step is to expand the program to other franchises on campus — and maybe even off campus. Wakefield says that UBC Food Services is now in dialogue with other restaurants, and she’s confident they will follow suit, even if it takes a while.
“This is the future, this is what food suppliers everywhere have to do,” says Midha. “They can just take this model and replicate it, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s time they [the big restaurant franchises] started thinking about it.”
Switching to Fair Trade Coffee
Triple-O’s is also the first franchise on campus to switch to only serving fair trade coffee. This puts it in line with all the UBC Food Services outlets.
“We already had a contract with Ethical Bean, so we are working with our existing supplier,” explains Wakefield. “The head office staff at White Spot were great to work with on this initiative, they just said ‘Sure, go ahead, order it.’”
After negotiations this summer, the fair trade coffee program was also expanded to Starbucks. “Fair trade blends are brewed every day now,” explains Wakefield. Midha says she had no hesitation when it came to switching to fair trade coffee. “We’re absorbing the cost, but we’re on campus — it’s the thing to do.”
“I come from a country — India — where people work hard but don’t get paid a lot,” adds Midha. “I think we can pay $2 for a coffee, if it means the workers who grew it and picked it get paid a living wage.”