Our vision for Canada is a place in which people are aware that their little daily decisions have a collective and long-lasting impact on the environment; we hope that people will take action to adapt their behaviour in more sustainable ways, even at the expense of a little convenience.
We decided to address the issue of single-use disposable coffee cups. Our school is a large, urban high school. There are about 1500 students and staff combined- many of which are regular consumers of take-out coffee that is easily available at the nearby Starbucks, Tim Hortons and McDonalds etc. Most of these single-use cups end up back on the school property, whether in recycling bins, the garbage cans or on the school grounds.
This issue is important in our community because teenagers and school staff depend on a lot of coffee each year as a way to revitalize their energy. The waste that is connected to this habit is significant. These cups do not compost, nor are they recyclable, so eventually, they all end up in the landfill. This is not sustainable. People are not likely to stop drinking coffee anytime soon, but perhaps small changes to how they drink their coffee can make a lasting impact on the environment.
First, our group identified an issue that they felt was important and that was something that we could feasibly address.
Next, we spent several weeks collecting used coffee cups from the recycle bins, garbage cans and school grounds. We washed the cups and stored them.
Then, we decided we wanted to give these cups a chance to have at least one more ‘life’ and to contribute something positive before they were discarded. We decided to reuse them as seedling planters. We filled them with home-made compost and organic soil and planted nasturtium seeds.
Finally, we have created an awareness campaign to promote understanding about the challenges presented by single-use coffee cups and to promote the habit of BYOC- Bringing one’s own cup.
As part of the campaign, after the May long weekend when the seedlings are big enough to plant, we will hold a booth in the school commons area where we will have a little interactive trivia game on sustainable consumption practices. The reward for correct answers will be a nasturtium plant (in the reused coffee cup) which will also contain a little reminder to BYOC. Students who participate may also enter a draw to win one of many reusable coffee mugs.
Youth leadership is highlighted because this idea came from the students and trends happen when young people watch their peers. If student leaders are seen as people who bring their own cup, others will follow suit. In doing this project, school staff have also begun to look at their own coffee consumption behaviour and have also been encouraged to bring a reusable cup along with them to work.
Reflection & Celebration
We learned a lot in doing this project. We learned that a lot of coffee is consumed by people in our school. We also learned that many people do not understand what can and cannot be recycled and that perhaps there is more work to be done in that area. We also learned that it doesn’t really take a lot of effort to change one’s own behaviour, but it takes a lot of positive persistence to enact change on a large scale. Positive messages work more effectively than guilt as a motivator. As the school year is ending shortly, we will have to regroup in the fall to see how we can keep the momentum going in the next school year. Perhaps we can take this a step further by trying to convince local merchants to offer discounts to those who bring their own cups. There is lots of potential to keep this going.