“Waste is only waste if you waste it.”
It’s an iconic quote from will.i.am of the American hip-hop band, the Black Eyed Peas, and a mantra for Heidi Lessman Simm, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s (SLRD) zero waste program coordinator.
“There is a lot of truth in this,” she said in a phone interview with The Question. “We just need to be smarter in our designs, so that what was once considered waste is now a resource.”
There are a myriad of ways in which to stem the tide of waste at its source, she added.
“Why not set people up for more success by not making such disposable stuff, and be smarter in our design?”
These are the sorts of questions she posed to high school students in the Sea to Sky corridor last fall.
With the theme “What can zero waste do for you?” Simm’s message to the students was that they don’t have to deprive themselves of the things they love; they just need to be smarter about how they use their things.
She also discussed zero waste career options with the students.
“There are lots of examples of amazing businesses that are standing out because they are focused on zero waste,” she said.
Her workshops were not limited to the big kids — she also conducted zero waste sessions with 15 elementary classes (approximately 440 children) in the corridor. The majority of the classes signed up for the Regional Garbage Free Lunch Challenge, during which student lunches were audited. The first audit netted the current amount of waste in their lunches, and the second one, occurring a week later, contained evidence of their goal of reducing waste.
“All classes who participated in the challenge demonstrated an improvement,” noted Simm. “The bottom line is that if there’s intention there, then of course it’s not hard to reduce the amount of garbage that they have in their lunch every day.”
Packaging is a huge source of waste, which is why the switch to reusable food containers versus disposable ones was encouraged, as well as the use of reusable drink containers versus juice boxes. A brochure with tips for a garbage-free lunch was sent home to parents, outlining simple ways to make the change.
The winners of the Regional Garbage Free Lunch Challenge were announced on Monday (Feb. 4). Heidi Kubin’s Grade 4/5 class from Stawamus Elementary and Craig Smith’s Grade 4/5 class from Myrtle Philip Elementary will be rewarded with a garbage-free pizza lunch.
Simm noted that Kubin’s class reduced their garbage numbers from 30 pieces overall to two pieces overall, while Smith’s class had very little garbage during both audits, with the final number of pieces of garbage being eight.
“It was a great opportunity for our class to see some little ways that they can make a positive impact on our environment,” noted Kubin. “Plus, everybody loves a challenge.”
Her students were enthusiastic as well.
“If we start using more reusable containers in our lunches then we can reduce our garbage and this helps our environment,” said 10-year-old Amber Newman.
“Our class can tell others to reduce waste in lunches and they can tell others and it helps our environment,” added Gagan Singh.
Smith’s students agreed.
"My favourite thing about zero waste lunches was that it helped me be a better person and not use so much garbage and I will try to do that more often,” said Hugh Saint Jacques.
"I thought the zero waste program is a splendid idea because I want the world to be a better place with healthier food and better drinking water,” added Kaiya Nixon.
An honourable mention goes to Susan Allen’s Grade 4/5/6 class from Spring Creek Elementary, which clearly excelled in the overall spirit of the exercise by not only reducing waste, but also the amount of recyclables, which still require energy to be processed, added Simm.
Another class that deserves a mention is Jane Millen’s Grade 6 class at Spring Creek Elementary as they had very little garbage and waste of any kind on both lunch audits.
For more information on the zero waste program, visit www.slrdzerowaste.blogspot.ca.