Beedie students to help Vancouver reach zero waste goals

Jun 04, 2012

Stephanie Bertels (photo by Kyrani Kanavaros)

VANCOUVER– As British Columbia moves to have manufacturers and retailers take increasing responsibility for the recycling and responsible disposal of consumer products, opportunities are being created for new businesses and products to facilitate this environmental and social trend.

To this end, students at SFU’s Beedie School of Business are using their sustainability in business acumen to help the City of Vancouver and other BC jurisdictions reach their zero waste goals.

Annually, SFU’s MBA students undertake real-world sustainability projects for clients across Canada. This year, they are working with the Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC) and the City of Vancouver in a project that is also being supported by the packaging division of Walmart Canada.

Both RCBC and the City of Vancouver have mandated zero-waste goals, at a time when British Columbia is moving towards “extended producer responsibility” — which puts the onus of waste disposal on product manufacturers and retailers.

Students in the MBA Sustainability class and the undergraduate Business 489 Managing for Sustainabily, both taught by Beedie School of Business Assistant Professor Stephanie Bertels, will design a company or a process that closes existing gaps in the consumer recycling landscape – from discarded computers and electronics to take-out food packaging.

“What we are trying to do is to break the linear take-make-waste model that is predominant in terms of how goods are handled,” says Bertels. “They will create tighter cycles that use less energy and resources in order the increase the efficiency of how materials are handled in our economy.”

Students are being presented with 13 different materials that present recycling challenges: styrofoam meat trays, produce netting, stickers on fruit, block styrofoam, small quantities of household toxic waste (like paint thinner), shopping bags, tetra packs, clam shell packaging, imported beer bottles, shipping palates, foil bags (such as chip bags and coffee bags), coffee cups, and take-out food containers.

“The challenge for students is to find a way to close the loop on these materials so that they don’t end up in the waste stream or to replace them with products or services that can be readily reused or recycled yet serve the same fundamental core-user need,” she said.

To develop the student projects, both classes have partnered with the City of Vancouver’s City Studio and its zero waste division. Along with RCBC, the municipal group will visit students in the classroom to help connect students to the local information and provide the industry contacts they need. Previous SFU projects put before City Studio have gone on to be piloted by the City of Vancouver, and Bertels expects there to be strong interest in the students’ proposals.

The students will also be able leverage these project to compete in Walmart Canada’s  annual Green Challenge. Other projects will also be featured in SFU’s recently-launched Social Innovation Accelerator. Walmart Canada’s sustainable packaging division is also supporting the course through their extended network of contacts in the sustainable packing realm – and their connections as part of the Sustainability Consortium.

“The students are very excited, and are busily understanding the user needs that underpin why these materials exist in the first place, and why these materials are difficult to recycle,” she said. “The next phase is for them to understand whether they can find a way to make them more recyclable or substitute a different material or process to meet the same user need.”