Single-use plastics persist on campus

Langara lacking specific plastic policy in strategic plan, using more individual food wrapping on campus


By Ashley Burgoyne

Langara College has saved over 2.2 million plastic bottles with the addition of water filling stations on campus, but specific initiatives to eliminate single-use plastics are vague in the school’s strategic plan.

Many students returning to campus have noticed a change in the amount of single-use plastics at the college. Some changes, like the wrapping of fruit in plastic and the removal of plastic cutlery from dispensers, are due to COVID-19 safety measures.

Campus vending machines continue to offer beverages in plastic bottles as other post-secondary institutions have begun phasing them out despite the pandemic.

Students disappointed

Fourth-year student Tanja Jancic-Turner, who coordinates the Sustainability Student Ambassador program at Langara, is disappointed to see plastic bottles in the vending machines.

“You can see certain areas where improvements are already happening and then there are other areas that we need to attempt to address somehow,” Jancic-Turner said.

In 2020, The Voice reported that the school was looking into ways to reduce single-use plastics on campus. In its sustainability policy dated 2017, Langara pledged to “demonstrate its strong commitment to environmental sustainability through its operational practices and initiatives.”

The college has echoed this in its 2025 strategic plan, stating that its priorities are to “enhance and report on campus sustainability” (sec. 4 4.7), as well as to “contribute to climate action by increasing sustainability on campus” (sec. 4 4.14).

SFU in Burnaby has made progress on reaching specific goals to eliminate single-use plastics on its campus. In 2021, the school phased out single-use plastic bottles on campus with accessibility considerations in mind. It now offers reusable water bottles for sale in vending machines and at the campus bookstore.

The Langara cafeteria in the college’s A Building sells fruit, desserts and sandwiches packaged in plastic.

Chartwells, the company that provides Langara’s food services, follows the school’s policies as well as its own when implementing a plan for sustainability.

“We try to use as much recycled [packaging] as possible,” said Chartwells general manager Kenneth Lee. He said the individual wrappings are due to COVID-19 protocols to avoid cross-contamination.

In an email to The Voice, Langara facilities director Dwayne Doornbosch said, “We are working hard on our sustainability initiatives.”

Langara a leader in sustainability

Langara is on par with the University of California, Davis, with the installation of water filling stations to encourage usage of reusable bottles.

UC Davis, located in northern California, is considered a global leader in sustainability.

According to the University of California policy on sustainable practices, “the university is committed to the reduction and elimination of single-use items in line with the university’s and the state of California’s zero-waste goals and in recognition of the severe environmental impact single-use products have globally.”

The school had a goal to eliminate all plastic bags in retail and food establishments by January 2021 and is working on phasing out all single-use plastics across its campuses by 2023.

Langara and UC Davis are part of a sustainability tracking and rating system run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which works on initiatives on campuses across 20 countries.

UC Davis received a gold rating in March 2020 and Langara achieved a silver rating from the program in June.

Some students recognize Langara’s efforts to become a more sustainable school.

Student Olivia Whitelaw praised the recycling station located in the school cafeteria and said Langara is doing a good job.

“I’ve never seen such a huge recycling station,” she said.

Watch the video below to hear Tanja Jancic-Turner speak about Langara’s sustainability progress:

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