UBC grad students make pitch for a plastic-free campus

Two graduate students at the University of British Columbia are hoping to rid the campus of plastics because they are concerned about the amount of plastic litter ending up in the ocean around their school.

Marine biology students Kaleigh Davis and Fiona Beaty present their research on Monday

Plastic waste ends up in oceans from littering, via the wind and through storm drains, says Fiona Beaty, a graduate student in marine biology at the University of British Columbia. (EPA)

Two graduate students at the University of British Columbia are hoping to rid the campus of plastics so litter won't end up in the ocean around their school.  

Kaleigh Davis and Fiona Beaty, both marine biology graduate students in UBC's Department of Zoology, have been researching plastics on campus and ways to drastically reduce the amount used.

They are presenting their research at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House on Monday evening.

"[UBC]  is surrounded on three sides by the ocean — we're right next to Fraser River and the Salish Sea, these very productive marine ecosystem," Beaty said.

When plastics end up in water, they not only entangle wildlife, but also leach harmful chemicals into the environment, Beaty told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Davis said more plastic is used on campus than people realize — from plastic packaging in dining areas and labs to disposable bags and coffee cups.

Ultimately, they want the university to ban all plastics.

"We need to move away from using plastics all together and really focus on reducing plastic use and replacing that with alternatives," Davis said.

Two graduate students at the University of British Columbia are hoping to rid the campus of plastics because they are concerned about the amount of plastic litter ending up in the ocean around their school. 8:02

Strong willpower

The first step, though, is to target specific kinds of plastics that are particularly harmful to marine life like polystyrene, the plastic typically used for takeaway containers and packaging.

"Right now, we begin by not using any kind of polystyrene on campus — that's our first objective," she said.

Davis and Beaty presented their research to the university earlier this month. Beaty said the university is looking at strategies to reduce plastic use and taking their recommendations seriously. 

UBC has taken steps in the past to reduce the amount of styrofoam, a type of polystyrene, used on campus. 

A water sample taken from the Strait of Georgia off Vancouver's coast in 2017 showed an average of 3,200 plastic particles per cubic meter of ocean. (Vancouver Aquarium)

"We have a really great history of implementing these sorts of actions when it's shown that action needs to be taken," Davis said. "The willpower is really strong."

The idea of limiting certain plastics is not new to British Columbia. Victoria has banned businesses from giving customers plastic bags, effective on July 1 this year.

That ban has received some backlash from businesses and accusations the city is overstepping its authority.

On campus though, Davis said she hasn't heard of any objections to reducing plastics yet.

"Our work has been really well received and people are excited to make changes that are good for the ocean around us," she said.

Their findings are being presented at event called "Making Waves"on March 19, starting at 7 p.m. 

With files from The Early Edition.