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One small step toward a more sustainable campus December 6, 2018

Two civil engineering and society students are helping to reduce waste on campus with the Bring Your Own Container (BYOC) initiative.

Natalie Ciancone and Stefania Abbatangelo, who are also pursuing a Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability, started the project as part of their Implementing Sustainable Change course (SUSTAIN 3S03). The course connects student teams with community partners to tackle local sustainability challenges through experiential learning.

Ciancone and Abbatangelo partnered with Chris Roberts, director of Hospitality Services at McMaster, to create BYOC. They launched a pilot from November 12th to 30th at Creation X in the McMaster University Student Centre where students received a 25-cent discount on their meal just by bringing a reusable container.

“Some people believe that small changes don’t matter but they really do,” says Abbatangelo. “Bringing your own container is easy and it helps the environment. It’s a very simple adjustment you can make and if everyone thought this way we would be able to create substantial change.”

Before the duo could take on the project, they had to determine if there was interest in the program through a survey. The goal was 150 responses and they received over 280 from faculty, staff and students. They found that over 90% were enticed to use the program as it gave them the opportunity to reduce food packaging waste. 

Even with a popular response, they still had to overcome some barriers.

“We had to sit down with the City of Hamilton’s Public Health Inspector because there are a lot of health policies and regulations we had to abide by,” explains Ciancone. “We gained a thorough understanding of these policies and discussed proper food handling methods in order to design a program that met standards.”

Though less than a quarter of survey participants took advantage of the program, the pair believe participation will grow with time as behavioural norms begin to shift.  

Ciancone and Abbatangelo hope to improve marketing efforts and are now working toward a permanent implementation and expansion of the BYOC program at Bridges Café.

The experience has helped both students develop a multifaceted perspective when solving engineering problems, and improved their ability to evaluate problems more thoroughly. 

“Sustainability plays an important role in every step of the design process from the materials being used, to the impacts of the construction phase and looking at the long-term effects,” says Ciancone. “It puts a focus on optimizing efficiency while reducing negative impacts on the environment.”

Abbatangelo agrees. “This program has helped me see the correlation between continued innovation and the need to be more environmentally, socially, and economically conscious as a society."