In March 2012, the University of Calgary's sustainability coordinator Justin Brown challenged his co-workers to a month-long challenge to produce the least amount of waste possible.
Brown decided to bring the clean bin challenge to the university after watching the documentary produced by Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin, who began a year-long challenge to buy no consumer goods and go waste free for the span of one year. They made the documentary The Clean Bin Project in September 2008.
While the original challenge consisted of a more detailed set of rules, the U of C clean bin team decided to follow two -- buying no material goods and disposing of all waste through recycling or composting.
In total, 12 U of C staff and students participated in the challenge.
Fourth-year mechanical engineering student and intern at the Office of Sustainability Aleena Dewji participated in the challenge. at the request of her co-workers. Another participant, Derek McKenzie, who works with facilities management and development, joined as well.
"You have to stop thinking you can make a difference, and start thinking that you do make a difference," said McKenzie.
On March 27, nutv and the Office of Sustainability co-hosted a screening of The Clean Bin Project, and determined the winner of the U of C's clean bin challenge. Participants discussed their experiences during the week while the winner was determined.
The heaviest amount of garbage created by one participant was 176 grams. Biological science student Alex Tinius, a graduate student and the winner of the challenge, created only recyclable and compostable waste.
Dewji said that viewing the documentary and participating in the challenge has affected how she will go about her day-to-day activities from now on.
"Watching the documentary, especially the part about the birds and the plastic that they're filled with, was eye-opening," she said, admiting that avoiding food wrappers and other wasteful items was difficult, but she is trying to change her habits.
"This project has definitely opened my eyes to everything I buy and the packaging it actually comes in," said Dewji. "I don't think you actually realize what is garbage until you do something like this."
McKenzie agrees that participating in the challenge has changed how he thinks. A father of three, including twin infants, his family produced only 34 grams of waste during the challenge. The most eye-opening part for McKenzie was realizing "how easy it is to do the waste-free thing."
For McKenzie, the challenge pushed him to try new recipes in the kitchen, and it encouraged his family to eat healthy and reduce their creation of waste.
"The small changes that you make [do] make a difference," he said. "This project opened my eyes and let me give these things a try."