A frightening week: The Waste Reduction Mission

waste reduction mission - bin

So there's a reason why I've been MIA this past week (although I've missed you heaps, I actually thought about the website everyday haha).

I had a bit of a scary week, but I was fighting for something very important to me. My university ran a competition for students to submit ideas to tackle sustainability and climate change at uni. And I made the choice to enter it.

And it's been frightening as hell this past week.

When I first found out about it a while back, I was so excited. I cannot even express how excited I was. Basically, I realised I love it when things combine MULTIPLE of my passions or provide MULTIPLE benefits. So this competition combined a lot of things I was wanting to focus on: helping the world, becoming more sustainable as an individual and around me as well, I wanted to practice my presentation skills (something which I realised I quite enjoy doing actually) AND AND AND the winner of the competition gets to go to Paris for the UN Climate Summit.

And besides the fact that that in itself would be sick to attend, some of you might know that Mr. Human and I are in a long distance relationship. He lives in Amsterdam and I live in Sydney. And you might also know how sad it makes me sometimes, like when I talked about it in my How I view love post. The issue we've been having for a while is that we knew we might not be seeing each other for a long while as we both are committed to university and work. I sort of resigned myself that I might not get to see him for more than a year.

So when this competition came into my life, I thought it was perfect. It combined all these passions of mine AND I might have the chance to see Mr. Human (who does Environmental Science). I had this half dream that we could try save the world together haha.

I knew I had to do it.

The only catch was that it was a voting system: ONLY the top 10 voted ideas would get the chance to pitch their idea. And this basically sucked for me. I wanted to pitch so badly but I dread posting things on Facebook. It's not an environment I like sharing my life in - and it's actually one of the reasons I started and love this website.

I also have issues asking people to do things for me. I have never EVER asked people to vote for me or anything like this. I dread stuff like that. I don't want to annoy people or for people to feel like I'm using them for their vote. Euck eughhhhh euGSLDFJ. 

But this competition. I made myself do it.

It was so damn hard. First, I just messaged a few of my close friends at university and they were all really nice about it and voted for me. 4 votes down. At this point though, I had basically exhausted my entire friends-who-go-to-my-uni-and-I-regularly-talk-to list.

It was also at that point I realised I obviously don't have a lot of close friends at uni hahah.

So then I had to look through and ask people who I thought I was chill with and wouldn't mind. I asked each and every one personally. Some people asked me why I didn't just do a facebook status and ask people to vote. But I just couldn't. If I was going to ask people to do something for me, then I wanted to do it personally. And well, it was actually so nice. A part of me was really happy to let people know that I wanted to help make the world more sustainable. Because I'm a really big believer that you gotta let people know what you're passionate about, that way most people actually want to help you in it. If they see something you might be interested in, they let you know about it or talk to you about it.

Eventually, the people I asked got increasingly random. I ended up asking people that I hadn't had a conversation with in more than a year. Or people who I was never super close with but who I did like. Even someone who I'd only met at uni once. I even asked my team members in my university assignment groups. And you know what.

Everyone was so damn nice about it. Each conversation was really hard for me to start, I'd literally have to force myself and encourage myself that it was worth it. That my idea was worth all of this.

But people were so chill. They'd be like "Cool homie, no worries" or just said "Sure" and did it straight away. Others would give suggestions or ask questions about my idea, to help improve it. Even people who read through my entire idea and said they liked it, that meant so much to me.

I also ended up having some really nice conversations with people. Catching up or just talking about the idea. Other's telling me not to be so shy and be more confident about my idea. Other's saying it was no issue to ask people, I shouldn't be so worried.

In total, I started more than 50 conversations with people this week. And that was really hard for me. Sometimes I'd pause before I'd start the conversation. I'd be scared it would be awkward or just that they would get annoyed at me or think I was a user. But every single night, I would get home and force myself to ask people for help.

AND PEOPLE WERE SOOOOOOOO NICE. I was actually so surprised and happy that people were so willing to help and support me, even though I was asking out of the blue. It actually just filled me up with so much happiness, I mean literally like just filled me up.

I don't think people realised how much it meant to me.

And now I just feel really encouraged. The voting closed last night.

And I came 4th. :)

And this doesn't mean I won the competition but, well for me, it's a bit of a win. I get to pitch my idea now, and I quite like my idea and I wanted to pitch it really badly. And now I have the chance - thanks to people that were so nice to me this week. So as much as I dreaded the voting system, I'm really thankful that I had to do it now. And that is why I wanted to write this post. :)

PS. I know this is already a long post but in case you'd like to reference my idea, it's below:

I want to tackle the sustainability issue by spurring students into action, not just the university board of staff. But I think an idea is not enough by itself. So I’ve come up with 3 important elements to make sure the Waste Reduction Mission really works and changes behaviour of students university-wide, not just student niches. :) For Phase 1 of this idea, I will focus on ‘Food Waste’ in particular but, if successful, following phases could tackle ‘Consumerism Waste’, ‘Money Waste’, ‘Packaging Waste’, etc.

The Waste Reduction Mission:

1) CREATE AWARENESS OF THE EXISTING SCALE AND IMPACTS OF FOOD WASTE

This would be the mindset-shift component of the Waste Reduction Mission. For example, ONE WAY we could do this is to inform students with straight-forward facts such as:

- "Approximately 1/3 of food produced worldwide is lost or wasted."

- “Young Consumers (18-24) are one of the biggest wasters of food.”

Straight-forward, bold message around campus (e.g. in the kitchens/microwave areas, on digital screens, in food courts) would act as triggers to help students think twice about the topic of food waste. Overall, the awareness part will subtly remind students of the significant issue of Food Waste

2) CREATE EASY AND CONSISTENT WAYS FOR STUDENTS TO TAKE ACTION

However, raising awareness is NOT enough. Many times, people ALREADY know that these problems exist, but don’t take action as there is no easy and immediate way to do it. In their head, the problem is worthy but seems too big. Thus, the Waste Reduction Mission aims to provide an easy and convenient way for them to take action, as often as possible. This is the behavioural-shift component of the Mission.

So what is something that EVERY student does every day?

Throw something away.

Thus, we can provide ‘Organic Waste’ bins (with very clear signage YES and NO for what can be put in) NEXT TO the current bins around campus. This is so that EACH time they go to throw something away, they are encouraged to consider an alternative sustainable option. This small action builds up to shift behaviour and habits in the long term.

ADDITIONALLY, we can also get IGA and the restaurants/cafes on campus involved. Food that they would otherwise throw away (especially produce that might not be good enough to sell but is otherwise good) we can collect, using it to create a 'Zero Waste Dinner Night' on campus. Students can cook, create the menu and anyone can come along to eat on a donation-basis. This concept has already been widely done in cities such as Amsterdam, the concept of "The Folk's Kitchen". This not only gets the support of UNSW businesses but allows students to take the reins themselves, challenges them to get creative with food and also gives other students the option to have a cheap, zero waste meal.

3) BE DISRUPTIVE: ALL ELEMENTS OF THE CAMPAIGN SHOULD BE DISRUPTIVE AND APPEALING TO STUDENTS

As students are bombarded with messages and stimuli, all components of this campaign need to look and feel appealing to students. This is the design component of the campaign. The entire Waste Reduction Mission must be bright, bold and creative. The bins themselves can get creative - even having competitions for students to graffiti their own bins, and can ALSO apply to recycling bins, to ensure that these two bins stand out against the regular 'trash' bin. This design also helps associate the campaign as young, fun and relevant to students.

LOGISTICS

- These ideas ALSO have low capital requirement and can be initiated relatively quickly. Whilst long-term ideas are also important, we need to mix it up with low-cost, immediate start ideas such as these.

- Food waste from the bins would be collected to and deposited into a centralised composting system (ideally on campus)

- This keeps it regulated and well-maintained, and keeps the smell away from students.

- When the compost is ready, it can be used for any UNSW sustainable initiatives (e.g. Arc’s The Producers, Thoughtful Foods), for UNSW’s own gardens, or even be distributed back to students who would like some for their own home gardens. This helps to effectively ‘close the loop’.

NB: The image has been sourced from here: https://localcomposting.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/img_0186.jpg, and all credit goes to them. If this idea goes through I would love to design the bins myself though, as well as be involved with all other components. :)