Illustration Credit: Cordelia Cho

In wake of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for Commonwealth nations to ban single-use plastic straws last April, it seems the only willing entity is, ironically, Starbucks.

By 2020, the coffee giant has initiated a plan to replace their iconic green straws with a sippy cup. Yes, the days of preschool have returned and I am sure you will all eventually see these cups and feel a little strange about it.

Truthfully, the design is not all that drastic, and if it helps reduce plastic from our oceans then I am all for the initial twinge of immaturity. As it turns out, Starbucks is doing more for the banning plastic movement than even our own government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked his response to May’s invitation, suggested that Canada was “open to a broad range of ideas,” but of course no policy has been put in place.

Perhaps this is an unfair critique as the governing body of over 36 million people and thousands of businesses, simply banning plastic straws is rather daunting and probably would create more bureaucracy than they think worth. As with most changes to the status quo, a grassroots approach is a more effective strategy, raising the question of what the university is doing to support such initiatives. You are probably familiar with some of the sustainable features around campus—like the Exam Centre’s (fake) green wall or the scattered compost bins.

Indeed, most of the new buildings, like the beloved Myhal Centre, are designed to save energy as indicated by their LEED certifications. Despite this, specific problems arise each year, and each year they go unresolved.

As part of the sustainability commission within University College, I regularly meet with people who have ambitions on how to make residence and university as a whole more green. Yet the reality is that of all the dozens of ideas generated during the first committee meeting, only one has a shot of actually being carried out (bringing your own reusable cup for free coffee in the Junior Common Room.) The reasons why are twofold: one, the committee is made up of students who understandably prioritize homework over sustainable activities, and two, the plethora of old buildings on campus means engineering changes are not permitted on heritage structures. But when the commissioner of the committee shows up with a plastic bag of chips and a double wrapped carton of Oreos and announces that “we can’t really do much” as a group, it sets a tone of resignation that has carried throughout the months in which I have attended such meetings.

Evidently, the culture surrounding sustainability needs an uplift. It should be easy to limit our ecological footprint. Oreos in recyclable or reusable packaging should be just as accessible as their plastic counterparts, and incentives need to be put in place to facilitate greener choices. This begs the question of what we can do as individuals and as part of a community to make changes to our plastic consumption and waste—changes that you have the power to make, like these:

  1.     1. Bring Your Own Coffee Cup: Am I really part of the sustainability commission if I don’t put number one as bringing your own reusable mug? Coffee shops often offer a discounted price on your coffee if you bring one, Starbucks themselves has 5 cents off, which over the course of the hundreds of coffees you probably consume in a year, adds up. Additionally, when you go to that quaint café like Jimmy’s Coffee, request that your drink be “for here” and they will give it to you in a mug that you return later. Caffiends, Victoria Colleges’ student-run cafe, lets you choose your mug from an assortment of funky designs, and you are free to carry it with you to classes, provided you return it at the end of the day. It really cannot be much easier than that!

  1.    2. Consignment Stores: The trips to notable thrift stores like Value Village and Black Market are a bit disappointing. For one it’s hard to sort through all the scattered items, but also lots of items are honestly gross. If I find something that’s cute, sometimes I’ll also find garbage and chewed gum in the inner lining due to pockets with holes in them. One way to circumvent this is consignment stores - there are tons scattered on Bloor and Queens St, with my personal favourite being Kind Exchange. At these stores, only items in good condition and of high quality are accepted, like a vetting system for clothes. As a result they are teeming with brands like Aritzia and Zara at upwards of 60% off original prices and it close to perfect condition.


  1.    3. Take a trip to Bulk Barn: There are two Bulk Barns close to campus: one at Bloor and Howland Ave, the other downtown at Carlton and Yonge. Take your pick and choose from hundreds of types of trail mix, candies, flours and other baking needs. They even have stations where you can grind your own peanut, almond, or cashew butter. The best part of all of this is that you can bring your own glass or plastic containers to fill them up. All you need to do is bring them to the cashier upon entering and they will zero their weight so that the container is not included in the price of your snacks. Save money and plastic, all while catering to the inner child in a candy store.

  1.    4. Try your hand at homemade cleaning products: An all purpose cleaner from the store costs more and utilizes lots of plastic when you can just make it yourself with 1/2 c white vinegar, 2 Tbsp baking soda, and 2 cups water. There are many recipes online for cleaning solutions of different purposes, so use the spray bottles you have already but instead of throwing them out, make your own - free of harmful chemicals and for cheap!

The main takeaway from this list is to use what you have, and think about reusable or sustainable alternatives when you need to buy something else (bamboo toothbrushes, anyone?)

As long as you begin to make more conscious choices, you make an impact on both the environment but also those around you who may be inspired to adopt some of your habits as well. The butterfly effect is that the groups on campus supporting individual change in turn influence university policy, which then can work within the city, eventually reaching the federal government, who now cannot deny the evidence that sustainability is both feasible and an issue voters care about.

Once voters care, there can be no more excuses for policy to follow, so start small, because you never know where your actions may ripple.

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