The Grenfell Waste Management Committee is a group dedicated to creating a greener, more educated community and they aren’t letting COVID-19 stop them from doing meaningful work. President Darrian Washinger is a master’s student in the Boreal Ecosystems and Agricultural Sciences (BEAS) program at Grenfell.She sat down for a virtual conversation with student contributor Hannah Jenkins.
Q: The world is obviously operating quite a bit differently than it was this time last year. What has been the biggest struggle for the Grenfell Campus Waste Management Committee in terms of adapting to the online world? Where should the student body be looking to find GWMC updates?
A: I would say one of the biggest struggles for GWMC would be achieving the same involvement for our online events as we had in our in-person events. We are always updating our Facebook and/or Instagram pages, but we think that our posters around campus pre-COVID, helped spread the word to students who would otherwise not know about our committee. It is also a bit more difficult to think of engaging events that can be completed across time zones and still keep everyone safe. We’ve managed to have a few events virtually this year that have been quite successful, so make sure to check back on our social media to keep up to date with events. Another struggle would be the discontinuation of our recycling program, which funds sustainability initiatives on campus. We have still encouraged donations to the “Grenfell Green Fund” account at Green Depots across Canada, but the lack of funding could limit future projects.
Q. Grenfell students are now spread across Canada and the globe in a way that they weren’t before. What are some advantages or disadvantages to this? For example, do you enjoy the extra reach this arrangement is giving your group or are the distances and time zones making things harder?
A. We have certainly tried to use the spread of students across the world as a positive thing. For example, we’ve hosted two “virtual” garbage cleanups where we encouraged everyone to go out into their local community to clean up litter. It was really amazing to see participants from here in Corner Brook to Amherst, Nova Scotia and Gander, NL. We have really tried to encourage sustainability wherever you are, which is a worldwide notion! Of course, there are disadvantages. As well with busy schedules not aligning and lack of participation, but we’ve been trying to make our events accessible to everyone, no matter where they are around the world.
Q. I noticed that you have been doing some online contests. Can you tell us how you’ve been coming up with those ideas and what students can expect from contests in the future? Have these been effective for stirring up involvement?
A. One of our initiatives for the GWMC is to educate the public on more sustainable practices they could utilize in their daily lives. We have done this in the past through our Sustainability Series events where we would host workshops on different sustainability initiatives, such as living zero-waste in Corner Brook. With the pandemic, we have adjusted our Sustainability Series to be online contests that give people a chance to participate wherever they are. We sit down as a committee and brainstorm ideas that we think are the perfect combination of fun and educational and then we try to make it is as accessible to the public as possible. We have also been trying to stir up involvement more effectively by reaching out to local organizations to spread the word, like the Corner Brook Library and City of Corner Brook.
Q. What are some programs and initiatives the GWMC has done, or plans on doing, this year? Which one are you proudest of or feel has done the best thus far?
A. Thus far, we have competed three events. One event encouraged individuals to showcase their locally-grown produce as a way to encourage thought on where your food comes from and how to reduce your carbon footprint by shopping locally. We had a great turnout, which highlighted home-grown vegetables from participants’ gardens and local farms that provide fresh produce to their community. The other events were litter clean-ups, which I personally feel proudest towards. It is great to see the effort that individuals put in to cleaning their local community of litter. Some of our committee members are even building litter pickups into their everyday lives by taking a garbage bag on hikes and encouraging fellow hikers and hunters to do the same. Litter is a problem everywhere and I love that we have people working towards cleaning it up! We have a few other events on the docket, such as a cook-off and documentary showing, so be sure to follow our social media to see which events are coming up next!
Q. What is the best piece of advice you can give someone looking to become more environmentally friendly, especially on a limited student budget?
A. Often times being environmentally friendly and being on a student budget are seen as conflicting, but that does not have to be the case. There are plenty of ways to be environmentally conscious while on a budget and GWMC always makes sure to take this into account when planning our events. I would say some of the best ways to environmentally friendly would be: composting, recycling, and avoiding plastic when you can.
The Grenfell community has worked hard to establish composting on campus, which is a great way to cut down on methane emissions from food waste and contribute nutrients to the next year’s crops! Composting costs absolutely nothing if you are part of the Grenfell community as we have a partnership with R&D Diversions with green bins throughout campus; we also have on-site composters behind the Forestry Centre that are maintained by GWMC. This can especially be useful in areas like the Grove where the cardboard trays and all food waste can be diverted from the landfills via composting!
Recycling is also another great way to divert plastic from the landfill. Of course, we always try to encourage the reduction of plastic use in general, but on a budget this can oftentimes be a challenge. Some easy ways to avoid plastic waste are: always use a refillable water bottle instead of single-use bottles, bring your own mugs and containers for leftovers if you’re dining out, use your reusable shopping bags, and shop at places that allow you to refill your own containers (i.e., Natural Vibe and Bulk Barn in Corner Brook). When you do buy something in a plastic container, make sure it ends up in the proper recycling receptacle, or reuse it if possible. It is equally important to make sure to wash items properly as recycling with food residue or mould are thrown out, potentially compromising the whole bag! Finally, we avoid plastic packaging whenever we can. GWMC has a pamphlet of ideas on how to go zero waste, but we know this is often the most difficult challenge. Pre-COVID, you could fill up some of those everyday essentials at Bulk Barn, using your own containers and avoiding plastic altogether; often, the prices are comparable or beat out the typical grocery stores, which further supports a student budget. However, we understand that becoming zero waste does not happen overnight and so GWMC joined a worldwide initiative to divert soft plastics (i.e., plastic packaging, grocery bags, chip bags, etc.) from the landfill. We took 2 L pop bottles from our recycling programs and used them as EcoBricks. For all the soft plastics that are unavoidable, we cut them up into small pieces and compress them in a 2L bottle, which can eventually be used to build with, just like a brick! This is a really great way to monitor your plastic use and make sure most items are not ending up in a landfill. People can always reach out to us with questions or ideas about sustainability!