I’m not lovin’ it: Opting out of the single-use cycle
By Lily Massé
Overflowing with red Tim Hortons cups and green Starbucks straws, crammed full of plastic Coke bottles and McDonald’s lids: a typical public garbage bin in Montreal. They seem to have become part of our city’s urban landscape. These leaking bins that swarm with wasps in the summer are definitely an eyesore, but the problem is far bigger than that.
In 2019, Greenpeace announced the five biggest plastic polluters in Canada: Nestlé, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. All of these companies make huge claims about their sustainability. Nestlé says, “we aim for 100% of our packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2025.” Starbucks notes that they are “committed to significantly reducing the waste [their] stores generate – especially when it comes to recycling.” But the fact remains that they are massive plastic polluters.
Close to home, the problem is that Dawson’s location gives students direct access to these franchises in the Alexis Nihon mall and even inside the College. “We’re easily influenced in buying the products from these harmful companies,” say Elizabeth Zara and Camelia Barkou, on behalf of the motivated team at the Green Earth Club. It is incredibly easy for students, they believe, to support these franchises without even thinking twice. It can be so tempting to grab a hot cup of Timmie’s coffee on your way to class on a chilly February morning. But is it really worth it?
“I would encourage students to do some research before purchasing from huge polluting companies,” says Sarah Bensemana, the passionate Dawson Student Union Director of Sustainability. In a recent survey that I conducted, 50 Dawson students were asked how often they purchase from these five companies every week. The result is an average of 1.58 times. It may not seem like much, but it’s a total of 79 plastic products in only seven days. That’s at least one full Saint-Catherine garbage can. Greenpeace notes that 86% of plastic waste in Canada actually gets recycled, meaning nearly 68 of the products purchased by the surveyed students go straight to the dump.
Statistics about plastic pollution are overwhelming and give the impression that stopping it is a lost cause. But while fighting for causes like this one may seem discouraging, it is less difficult than it seems. “You don’t have to be a social justice warrior”, says the Green Earth Club. Simple actions in our day-to-day lives can make a difference. In fact, students at Dawson demanded that the school’s Tim Horton’s stop distributing cardboard sleeves with their drinks. “It attests to the willingness of students to try and change all that they can to better the environment,” says Bensemana. “Students can make a change if they try.”
Being aware of your spending is the first step. “The money that they [students] spend for the benefit of these companies is money that they could spend on themselves or at a grocer and to make home cooked meals,” says the Green Earth Club. They suggest you trade your five-minute Starbucks run for five minutes in your kitchen or at the grocery store. Websites like All Recipes and Eat This, Not That! have some great recipe alternatives to your favourite drinks and snacks, with simple ingredients and very little prep time.
Don’t feel like getting cheffy? Small businesses are the way to go. “Shopping locally is not only good for our community, but these restaurants also have much less of an effect on our environment,” says Bensemana. She explains that most of the local shops do not import their food instead it is produced nearby, making your purchase more sustainable and more ethical.
There are sustainably-sourced and family-run businesses around every corner! So next time you feel for a snack, take a stroll down Greene Avenue and grab some sushi from Ryù or a pastry from Forno West. “It has always felt so much more authentic when it’s from a small local restaurant, or the Italian bakery right around the corner,” says the Green Earth Club. Some other terrific options are Bagels on Greene, Avenue G, Brioche Dorée or Gentile.
Bensemana also revealed some exciting news that could provide the perfect option for Dawson students. “The DSU is currently in the preliminary works for opening a sustainable café near Dawson,” she says. The café would be ethical, sustainable, and accessible to college students, making it the ultimate win-win situation.
So what can you do to help? Start by being conscious of your actions and their impact. Consider making your own snacks and drinks to avoid mindlessly tossing your McDonald’s cup into one of Atwater’s fly-infested bins. Keep an eye out for news about the Dawson café, but in the meantime, go out and explore the local businesses to discover your new favourite springtime drink.