John Madden, Director, Sustainability and Engineering and Vicky Baker, a Sustainability Coordinator, volunteering to help teach staff to Sort it Out. Credit: Charlene Ponto

Jeffrey Preiss

Once the barbeques were put away, tables cleared, chairs folded and 4,000 staff went back to their offices, only one small, desk bin-sized bag of garbage was left. The rest of the waste from UBC’s annual Welcome Back Staff BBQ—200 kg—was sorted into compost and recycling.

The BBQ is an opportunity for UBC staff volunteers to talk to other staff about zero waste practices on campus. The goal? To teach staff to Sort it Out, so when they’re in their office or walking around campus, they know what goes where, and nothing ends up unnecessarily in the landfill.

Since 2011, UBC’s Sustainability Coordinators Program has partnered with Ceremonies and Events to recruit and train a team of staff volunteers. The partnership also aims to ensure sustainable purchasing practices are used and that all materials at the event can be recycled or composted.

Some of the volunteers are part of the Sustainability Coordinator Program itself. Vicky Baker has been involved in the program for seven years and regularly volunteers at the event. “I got involved in the program because it aligned with my personal interests in trying to make the world a better place.”

Vicky believes that volunteering at the BBQ is really important because of the engagement opportunities it provides. “Being able to talk to staff one-on-one is more effective than if they read a sign when they are in a hurry.”

The work of volunteers at the BBQ is just one initiative that supports UBC’s efforts to achieve its Zero Waste Action Plan. The Plan also includes increasing waste sorting stations and collection across campus, increasing diversion rates toward meeting regional targets, and decreasing operational waste disposal to landfills.

“This event in particular demonstrates how small, individual actions, can result in a big collective impact and help achieve our zero waste goals,” says John Madden, UBC’s director of sustainability and engineering.

“With over 4,000 attendees, we managed to divert over 200 kilograms of potential waste away from the landfill to be recycled and composted. The only waste that was accumulated could be stuffed in a container the size of a small ice cream tub!  It illustrates how events like the BBQ helps to raise awareness of our zero waste goals and also demonstrates why UBC is considered a leader in sustainability.”