“The best way to make change in the world is to make it rather than talking about it,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab professor Neri Oxman at Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference.
The annual gathering brought together intellectuals, designers, and executives from diverse backgrounds to address the challenges of eliminating waste, while improving life for consumers in the process. The goal of the conference is to move to a “circular economy,” where everything is reused, recycled, or composted.
Oxman gave the morning keynote speech, explaining how the MIT Media Lab is drawing inspiration from nature in order to create replacements for plastics and new surfaces for buildings. In particular, she explained that “the world of design has been subjugated by the rigours of manufacturing and mass production.” She suggested designers could transition to using 3-D printing and reactive materials to build complex structures in one piece rather than assembling many different parts.
“We don’t want to work with plastics anymore in the products design realm,” she said, adding that instead we would have products that could biodegrade on demand.
Later in the conference, Stephanie Bertels, professor at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, hosted a discussion with industry leaders in redirecting waste from landfills. The audience heard from companies like Ecovative, which uses lab-grown fungus to make replacements for styrofoam packaging, and Looptworks, which has created designer luggage lines that use scraps of material collected from other industries.
The federal government joined in on the action, too. Joyce Murray, Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, told attendees that it was time the government “get [their] own house in order.” She explained that the government will take progressive steps to achieve a 40 percent cut to emissions by 2030, including shifting government fleets to electric and hybrid vehicles and retrofitting government buildings to make them more energy efficient.
The biggest announcement of the conference came when Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie spoke to the Zero Waste Committee’s desire to take a bite out of food waste.
He announced a newly created National Food Waste Reduction Strategy, which outlines different steps that will be taken with the goal of reducing food waste in Canada by 50 percent by 2030. Practical regulations to target food waste at the consumer and distributor ends by clarifying best-before labels on perishables and using tax credits to incentivize food bank donations over food disposal.
Vancouver has already been a hotbed of this kind of waste reduction and other green initiatives in recent years. Since 2008, the city has reduced its solid waste going to landfills by 23 percent, with the goal of reducing it by 50 percent by 2020. SFU has a similar program in place that has already achieved its goal of diverting 70 percent of solid waste from landfills.
For SFU students who are hungry for more opportunities to reduce their environmental footprint, they can also participate in the Food Rescue program organized by Embark, SFU’s student-led environmental organization.
The program receives donated food from the Nesters Market on Burnaby Mountain and hands it out to students in Blusson Hall.