The Price of Plastic: An Analysis of the Environmental and Economic Impacts and Social Perceptions of Single-Use Plastic Containers at Dalhousie University
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While recyclable, landfills house 22 to 43% of plastics (Gourmelon, 2015, p. 2). Plastic packaging comprises the majority of plastic waste (Brooks et al., 2018, p. 1). With rises in plastic production (Gourmelon, 2015, p. 1), it is important to examine plastic waste reduction, particularly from packaging. Plastics comprise 21% of Nova Scotia landfill waste (Maccallum, 2018, slide 22), indicating a need to focus on plastic waste reduction in Nova Scotia. Dalhousie University aims to promote sustainability on campus (“Policies and Guidelines,” n.d., para. 1), however, produces a large quantity of plastic waste (“Dalhousie University Waste Auditing History,” 2011, p. 12, 13). The Student Union Building (SUB) at Dalhousie is a student “hub,” with multiple food vendors (“Student Union Building,” n.d., para. 1; “Food & Drink,” n.d.). Mezza Lebanese Kitchen in the SUB is a food vendor that provides much of its food in hard plastic containers, making it the focus of the present study. This study aimed to answer the question “what are the economic and environmental impacts of the use of plastic containers at Mezza Lebanese Kitchen in the Student Union Building on Dalhousie University’s Studley Campus?” To answer this question, a mixed methods approach was taken. Counts of different packaging types used to serve food at Mezza Lebanese Kitchen were conducted at one peak and one non-peak time over 30-minute intervals from March 5th to March 11th, and once on March 21st. Results were used, alongside relevant literature, to quantify economic and environmental impacts of plastic waste from Mezza. A survey was also conducted to examine SUB user perspectives of plastic waste on-campus, and to determine the feasibility of implementing a reusable container program at Dalhousie. While time of day did not impact amount of containers sold, hard plastic containers comprised the majority of containers used to serve food from Mezza. As well, it was found that 359 pounds of plastic container waste is generated by Mezza each month, costing Mezza $525. These results exemplify that reducing or eliminating these containers would greatly reduce both plastic waste entering the environment and food vendor costs. Significant student support for a reusable container program on-campus was also found, provided that barriers of cost, sanitation and convenience were addressed. Many other universities have implemented reusable container programs for campus food vendors, and it is our recommendation that Dalhousie do the same. Based on the results of this study, a reusable container program could save vendors money and benefit the environment, and is also supported by those who use these services on campus. Future research should further examine the feasibility of a reusable container program at Dalhousie, including potential storage and cleaning facilities.