What the Fork?

People gotta eat. At BCIT everyday, food-based articles are thrown in the trash.

Coffee cups, water bottles, plastic utensils, napkins, and take-out containers are all part of the eating experience.

BCIT has a goal to reduce landfill waste by 20 percent. Their food services—operated by the Student Association and Chartwells—are committed to making eating practices more sustainable.

Sustainable. We hear that word everyday, but really what does it mean? According to the Webster’s dictionary, it is defined as ‘of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.’ How can we relate this to our food consumption, and what can we do about it?

The message around single use plastics is simple—they are bad and are killing the environment. Our oceans, our landfills, our animals are full of plastics.

There are people on campus who are committed to making and implementing changes to create a more sustainable environment around the food services at the Burnaby campus. Here’s who they are and what they are doing:

David Pereira is the Sustainability Manager at BCIT. His role is to work with the students, faculty and food services providers to create awareness and improve education. His ultimate goal? “Empowering people to realize that they have an impact to improve the state of things.”

Removing plastic utensils from food services is the most recent effort by BCIT to create awareness. According to Pereira, “The realities of the waste that we create based on our personal habits—this initiative (moving away from disposable plastic single-use utensils) is about creating the types of conversations to get people thinking about this connection.”

Geoff Gauthier, Marketing Director for the Student Association, pulls a set of metal utensils from his desk drawer. “I’ve had these since the 1990s when I went to university.” Gauthier is in charge of creating the communications for the changes. He said, “(The current utensils offered) still take years and years and years to break down. They’re not good enough, so we’re going to fiber-based utensils with the goal of having everyone bring their own utensils from home.”

These changes will affect all of the campuses’ food services operated by the Student Association (Pavilion, The Stand Stores) and Chartwells (Triple O’s, Market Kitchen and Poke Pick). They are eliminating the current biodegradable utensils and replacing them with fiber-based ones. They will also now cost 15 cents for each item.

Pereira says of the change, “Shifting to a legitimately compostable utensil, paired with imploring customers to consider making a personal shift to use reusable utensils provides options, and encourages great dialogue around our culture of single-use items.”

One of the challenges Gauthier faces before rolling out new utensils is the backlash that the front-line staff often receive from changes like this. He says, “This is not a money making thing. This is [for] sustainability and future goal—no plastics, bring your own, change the mentality.”

Shelley Fowler, unit manager at Chartwell’s, has been working at BCIT since 1983 and says,

“Back in the day, we did use real cutlery, real plates, but they ended up in the garbage.” Having reusable plates and cutlery is something Shelley would like to see brought back and she suggests charging for takeout containers.

To measure the success of this change, Pereira says, “I believe this particular initiative will be successful if it becomes second nature for people to use reusable cutlery while shopping for meals on campus.”

Sustainable items such as reusable cutlery, metal straws, coffee cups and water bottles can all be purchased at Geared Up and the Stand. Discounts of 15 percent are given for reusable coffee cups at the Stand and Pavilion.

Ultimately, it is the consumer that drives these changes. Gauthier says “We understand that that’s a pain, but we also understand that if you want the world to be a better place for the future, then we have to start this now and we have to start this here.”