News  Concordia overtakes McGill in the waste race

Montreal’s other anglo university hopes to compost 100 tonnes of organic refuse by 2012

Canadian universities have embraced sustainability projects, and amid a whirlwind of new offices, composters, and recycling bins, they are in a frenzy to be the greenest.

Sustainable Concordia recently completed their fifth annual waste audit, initiated in 2005. The results show that 65 per cent of waste was diverted from landfills through recycling and composting programs, which means Concordia will soon be re-certified at the highest level of Ici On Recycle! – Recyc-Québec’s waste diversion certification program.

Composting has been Sustainable Concordia’s greatest success, with the installation of an industrial composter on Loyola campus in September 2008. They are already well on the way to hitting their target of 20 tonnes of garbage for the year, and hope to reach 100 tonnes by 2012.

McGill is lagging behind Concordia’s success with greening initiatives in many areas, but the University is planning a similar composting program – proposed for the downtown campus – and this year welcomed an Office of Sustainability.

Though a sustainability policy is still being developed, the Office has begun a number of other projects, including Reboot McGill, a recent initiative from the Engineering Undergraduate Society to refurbish used McGill computers and monitors, and provide them to student groups who express a need.

The Office hopes to demonstrate how making sustainable purchasing choices at McGill can encourage community waste diversion by using carpet and tiles made of recycled and post-consumer material in their building. According to Dennis Fortune, director of sustainability at McGill, the space was designed to be inclusive, cooperative, and accessible, qualities that underline the Office’s role.

McGill’s Lab Waste Reduction Group, which began as a graduate student project, has also tackled sustainable purchasing. The group organized an event last week that evaluated options for waste reduction and other eco-friendly possibilities in labs. Three of McGill’s major laboratory suppliers discussed how to reduce waste from packaging and implement take-back programs for recyclable supplies. According to Priyanka Sundram, the Group’s co-chair, they created a one-month pilot project that seeks to establish indicators that could figure into a larger scale waste audit in the future.

Both universities, though, can still improve in a number of ways.

Louise Hénault-Éthier, Concordia’s environment coordinator, pointed to the University of Winnipeg, which last week became the first university in Canada to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on campus.

“They beat us to it,” Hénault-Éthier said, bringing up the student group Tap Drinkers Against Privatization, which is working towards similar bans at Concordia and McGill.

McGill undergraduates voted to ban the sale of water bottles in the Shatner Building at this semester’s General Assembly.

For Hénault-Éthier, the key to success is cutting garbage at the source. She cites the plethora of plastic water bottles and coffee cups in Concordia’s garbage as a disgrace, and wants to encourage discounts for re-usable cups to have a greater impact on people’s habits, and also encourages her university to only use compostable coffee cups, like the University of Sherbrooke.