Becoming a Zero-waste Community

Overview:

As part of the University of Calgary’s Sustainable Energy Development (SEDV) program, Susana Moncada developed a capstone research project "Becoming a Zero-waste Community," which aimed to develop intervention strategies to promote zero-waste behaviours among the Varsity Courts Family Housing (VCFH) community to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills. VCFH has 250 townhouses managed by UCalgary, providing housing services to students and employees. In 2020 it was responsible for producing 192 tonnes of waste, of which 78% was sent to landfills. Moncada worked closely with the Residence department, Residence Housekeeping department and the Waste Management department. The project was awarded a grant from Mitacs and Nature's Ride, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental education for children of all ages. The project was also supported by Ciclomanias, Calgary Dollars, Dream Riders, Budfunding and Media Tree.

Outcomes:

Zero-waste is a global movement of committed individuals and best practices aiming to reduce waste, that can result in positive transformation, economic growth possibilities, and resilience. Zero-waste strategies are based on "The Zero-Waste Hierarchy" proposed by the Zero Waste International Alliance. Consumers participate in the first four stages of this hierarchy: rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle. Thus, this project focused on promoting behaviours related to these levels of the hierarchy.

The project was based on the Extended Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to assess the most common factors influencing the residents' consumption and waste disposal behaviours. Moncada conducted an initial survey among VCFH's residents to determine which factors from the TPB influence the residents' behaviours. She also carried out weekly waste visual inspections to identify the most recurrent behaviours. With the information collected, she developed intervention programs that were carried out at VCFH. The interventions included informative posters, a zero-waste booklet, informative video, regular social media posts, educational workshops for kids and adults, and a proposal to VCFH management that suggests adding textile recycling bins at the housing community.

The interventions were evaluated through a final survey. Changes in residents' waste production and disposal behaviours were observed. Throughout the interventions, residents expressed that their awareness of personal waste production increased, and they are more attentive to recycling and composting guidelines. Recommendations were given to VCFH management on the most effective intervention strategies to encourage zero-waste behaviours among residents.

Next steps:

By implementing interventions to promote zero-waste behaviours, VCFH can contribute to achieving the zero-waste goals set by UCalgary. This project can be extrapolated to any community that is aiming to reduce the amount of waste that is being sent to landfills. These strategies can be applied throughout the university's residence community.