Starting this month, food outlets on campus have been required to charge a fee for single-use coffee cups and plastic foodware.
The decision is part of UBC’s Zero Waste Foodware Strategy, adopted in June 2019, with a goal of diverting single use items from landfills and reducing waste. Many single-use items at UBC are not disposed of correctly, creating problems at composting facilities and degrading the quality of the recycled materials.
While the fee is being introduced for certain items, others are being phased out immediately like plastic bags, cutlery, straws, foam cups and foam take-out containers. To replace these items, retailers have introduced more sustainable materials like wooden cutlery.
Instead of single-use items, the university is encouraging students, faculty and staff to bring their own reusable mugs, cutlery, straws and food containers.
The initiative comes after students started a petition to ban single-use plastics that received over 4,500 signatures in 2017. That year alone, 2.3 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 1.7 million single-use coffee cups and 690,000 plastic bags were given out on campus, according to UBC Sustainability.
In a November media release, UBC promoted that it was “ditching” single-use items, but paper cups and foodware are still available at a charge. Bud Fraser, senior sustainability and sustainability engineer at Campus and Community Planning, said that the approach will allow for a smoother transition.
“What we’ve … learned from many jurisdictions where the first step is a ban, [is that it] creates a big pushback which results in the ban not being approved or getting quashed and [it’s] back to square one,” he said.
He added that many outlets have been reliant on single-use items for so long that they don’t have dishwashers, so they will need time to adapt.
“A lot of research shows that with this type of thing, the better approach is to take it in steps and bring everybody along at the same time,” said Fraser.
In regards to concerns about additional costs, AMS VP Administration Cole Evans said AMS businesses like Blue Chip and Iwana Taco will dock prices to make up for the tax, but the change will still bring more awareness.
“[It will] demonstrates to students that there is a fee associated with having to use single-use foodware items,” he said.
Many retailers on campus such as UBC Food Services or JJ Bean have already successfully implemented pricing structures to incentivize reducing single-use items. Retailers will be able to determine where money from the single-use item fees go, including using them to offset the costs of transitioning to more sustainable products.
When asked how the AMS will use the extra money, Evans said it will go directly to student services, but they are still evaluating options.
Beginning in late January, students can expect to see a cross-campus communications campaign about the initiative.
“Everyone has a role in this, it’s not just UBC, it’s not just the businesses,” said Fraser. “The consumers are the biggest thing here — it’s the people who are buying things and that’s where the biggest leverage is.”