Waste not, want not

Support from the SPF allows student interns to support Buildings and Grounds waste and recycling efforts
Kendra Pomerantz, Supervisor: Sustainability, Contracts & Special Projects.

When the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) was established in 2009, it was an experiment.

The idea was simple: Promote a culture of sustainability across McGill by providing seed funding for grassroots sustainability projects that address everything from energy savings to social justice. (Each student would pay 50 cents per credit, which the administration would match dollar for dollar.) Members of the McGill community, including students, staff and faculty, would be welcome to apply for funding for their projects big and small.

Ten years, and $7 million in funding, later, it’s safe to say the experiment has been a huge success.

On October 10, the SPF will celebrate its 10th anniversary as the largest fund of its kind in Canada.

In the ten days leading up to October 10, the McGill Reporter is highlighting 10 of the more than 200 projects that have been supported by the SPF.

Today’s project: Zero-Waste Coordinator

Administering waste management across the entirety of an institution like McGill, a community of more than 40,000 people, is a mammoth job.

In 2017, the McGill Office of Sustainability and the Buildings, Grounds and Special Events unit filed the Zero-Waste Action Plan Implementation, a request to the SPF for funds to hire a coordinator to bring all the McGill sustainability projects, initiatives and programs under the same roof for greater implementation efficiency.

They did – Kendra Pomerantz began her one-year term in May 2018 to oversee the University’s zero-waste management strategy. But that temporary appointment morphed after eight months into a permanent position in Buildings, Grounds and Special Events, where Pomerantz is now Supervisor: Sustainability, Contracts & Special Projects.

Given that she was no longer paid by the SPF, a portion of the funds that had been allocated for her coordinator’s salary was liberated. The SPF gave its approval for her to use that portion on hiring student interns, which she did and will do – 11 in all, in fact.

Standardizing waste procedures

Her task is imposing. Various buildings had their own waste disposal strategies and practices, non-hazardous wastes from labs and buildings were not dealt with uniformly, recycling labels were inconsistent from department to department and service to service.

“We launched a massive standardization drive for waste across the University,” said Pomerantz. “What goes where, how to dispose of this or that – people are still confused by that.”

Quebec has standard signage for waste labelling, but it was still unclear to many.

“So we employed one intern over the summer who placed vinyl stickers on bins identifying which waste stream they belonged to – plastics, glass, metal, cardboard, etc. Before that, it depended on the buildings. Some had their own signage – everything from printed forms to notes scribbled with sharpies.”

The system will be upgraded later this year to actual sorting stations, where waste and recycling are attached together.

Raising awareness

To accompany that effort, an educational program will start next week and run through the academic year until April: a waste education team consisting of eight interns will fan out regularly to different buildings.

“They will speak to community members, conduct presentations in classrooms or to people who work in the building, they’ll have table activities – in short, they’ll strike a conversation with as many people as possible to talk about sorting waste, as well as all the programs we’re working on that people may not be aware of.”

Another intern is working on educational materials, including posters and reading materials.

Learn how to sort your waste at McGill by watching the video below