Zero Waste campaign relaunch tackles “separation anxiety”


CMYK-Recycling-Anderson Wang

Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy — with all that recyclable waste you’re carrying.

Don’t be afraid if you don’t know where to toss your mom’s spaghetti — a new campaign is hoping to help students get over the “separation anxiety” felt when having to decide how to separate their waste at SFU’s recently installed Zero Waste stations.

Originally launched in January, the Zero Waste Initiative aims to double the amount of waste SFU recycles or composts by 2015, while diverting 70 per cent of SFU’s waste from landfills.

“It’s one of the key goals of the Sustainability Strategic Plan for the university,” Rachel Telling, Zero Waste coordinator, told The Peak. “We’ve kind of taken the initiative to implement all of this stuff first, and we’re sharing it with other universities, so the idea is to become an industry leader in zero waste.”

On March 19, janitorial staff carried out a “waste audit,” collecting waste from the AQ 3000 level as well as Mackenzie Café. After sorting the waste into its four streams — paper, recyclables, compostable, and landfill — the team found that 47 per cent of materials were not being placed in the correct streams.

It seemed students and staff were mainly having difficulties disposing of coffee cups, compostable containers and food-soiled paper, and much of the contamination came from mixing up the paper and compostables streams. These findings spurred the team to relaunch their Zero Waste campaign, on a new theme of “separation anxiety.”

Telling explained, “We were noticing the same items in the same bins again and again and again. Coffee cups, for example. So we wanted to make it even easier for people.”

The relaunch will feature updated signs based on feedback from focus groups. “It was funny because some people said, ‘There’s too much information on the signs! Too cluttered!’ and then the same amount of people said, ‘There’s not enough information on the signs!’” exclaimed Telling. “We tried to find a middle ground that would please the majority of people.”

In addition to providing clearer instructions, the relaunch involves a Zero Waste selfie competition — or, “Zelfie” competition. For the remainder of the semester, students are invited to take a picture of themselves recycling correctly and send it to the Zero Waste campaign to be entered into a weekly competition for a $50 voucher to the on-campus vendor of their choice.

The team has also installed two stream bins — landfill and compost — in many of the washrooms on campus, hoping to divert a significant amount of paper towels to compost. With the help of Zero Waste educators, who will be available at stations on all three campuses for rest of the semester, the initiative hopes to transition to a greater focus on waste prevention in the fall.

With the relaunch in full swing, Telling hopes that students will take the time to consider what they are doing with their waste. “We see people sometimes just like, chucking things in them from afar,” said Telling; “Just take a second to read and make sure it goes in the right bin.”


  1. So where do coffee cups go? please tell me? they’re made of paper but they don’t go in the paper thing apparently… yet the article (and the signs on the bins) fails to tell us where they actually go