Photo by Mariah Wilson

University of Calgary employee launches Zero Waste Festival to bring attention to single-use plastics

By Kristy Koehler, June 3 2019—

University of Calgary employee Isabelle Couture is leading the charge against single-use plastics in Calgary. She, along with former U of C employee Briana Loughlin, co-founded Plastic-Free YYC, a non-profit devoted to reducing waste in Calgary, especially waste created by single-use plastic items.

“We strive to involve all sectors of society, whether it’s Calgarians, businesses, governments — we do truly believe that we all have a role to play in addressing the issue,” said Couture. “In terms of involving Calgarians we host a lot of educational, social events to build community and have people learn about zero-waste and reducing their waste in a safe, welcoming environment.”

One of those events designed to engage Calgarians is the upcoming Zero Waste Festival. Scheduled for July 20 in East Village, the Zero Waste Festival is the first of its kind in Alberta. The festival will feature musicians, vendors and speakers, and will draw attention to Plastic-Free YYC’s cause as well as providing funding for their continued operations.

“It’s going to really help us set up for success for the remaining year and for the future so we can continue our operations,” said Couture. “We’re volunteer-based — we’re all doing this out of sheer passion.”

Couture stressed that the term ‘zero waste’ isn’t about alienating anyone, nor is it about going cold-turkey on plastics tomorrow.

“It’s about creating less waste and having a lower impact on our environment,” she said. “We welcome everybody — no matter where you are in your zero-waste journey. We’re wanting to build community in a fun way.”

Plastic-Free YYC has already had some success — the team was responsible for launching last summer’s Last Straw YYC campaign that aimed to have restaurants go straw-free for at least a day. The effort saw more than 60 restaurants, bars, pubs and other local businesses commit to the initiative with several staying the straw-free course permanently.

Couture and her team are also responsible for nudging the City of Calgary into considering a city-wide strategy for reducing the use of single-use plastics.

For those concerned about the cost of going plastic-free, Couture says it’s a fair comment and something she hears often from businesses and community members.

Illustration courtesy of Plastic Free YYC

“What I would like to tell them is that yes, it’s an investment. But then, you’re saving money,” she said, citing coffee shops that give you a discount when you bring along your own personal mug as just one example. “No matter what, when we think about waste, we are all paying for it as part of our recycling and taxes that go into the waste management from our city. It is a cost on us whether we see it or not. If we were all to try to reduce our waste before it even happens, we would collectively save a lot of money.”

According to Couture, the university has been incredibly supportive of her work — she and Loughlin won the institution’s 2018 Sustainability Award.

“It was really exciting to be part of that and receive the award from then-president [Elizabeth] Cannon,” Couture said. “When we first applied, we had been in operation for three or four months — we were just getting started. To be able to get the recognition already to show that we are providing something of value to the community and on campus was really nice, and to get the word out there and raise awareness about the issue.”

Plastic-Free YYC’s Zero Waste Festival is free for attendees — fundraising dollars are coming from vendor tables, donations and sponsorships. The group is still looking for additional sponsors.

“Any help will go a long way to help us host the event and help our operations for the year to come,” said Couture.
For full details and a list of speakers, musicians and vendors, visit the festival’s website.



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