Dysart seeks research on plastic reduction, sustainable trees
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 7, 2018
The Municipality of Dysart et al is hoping to connect with students to research a plastic reduction plan and determine sustainable tree options for Head Lake Park.
The municipality, through the environment and conservation committee, has proposed the two projects through the U-Links Centre for Community Based Research, which matches Trent University or Fleming College students to research projects.
Amanda Duncombe-Lee, projects co-ordinator at U-Links, attended the Aug. 2 environment and conservation committee meeting to discuss the proposals.
“The purpose of this project is to develop a model program that can be used by current and future staff and councils to provide education to the public with the goal of reducing plastic use within the community, thus reducing the waste entering landfills,” reads the plastics reduction challenge proposal submitted to U-Links by Tamara Wilbee, Dysart et al CAO, on July 4. “This project will create a template for the planning and execution [of] an annual educational campaign with the goal of reducing plastics in our community to maintain and improve the environmental health of our municipality. If we start with one type of plastic (e.g. bags) and develop and implement an educational campaign around that piece, we can then use that template to roll out a new educational campaign annually.”
Using online resources to research similar initiatives undertaken by other municipalities, a student or students linked to the project would offer a final review in March at the annual U-Links Celebration of Research event.
Questions posed by the committee would drive the research, including what makes a shopper use a plastic store-provided bag rather than a cardboard or fabric alternative; how local residents, schools, businesses and restaurants could be encouraged to use alternatives to plastics; how much it costs to recycle a bin of plastics; what the barriers are to implementing bans on plastic items; what laws are currently in place to limit plastics use; and how much recycled plastics end up in the landfill rather than being recycled.
“Just looking at the overall picture, single-use plastics are one of the biggest challenges to environmental and human health right now,” said Duncombe-Lee. “And the good news is it’s something quickly targeted through behavioural change and the best way to do this is through increasing public visibility of the issue, which is the template behind this project.”
Committee chair Dennis Casey said a plastic reduction education awareness piece had been initiated, but more had to be done to reduce plastic ending up in the landfill.
“We want to develop a template,” said Wilbee. “That if we can put education out around plastic bags, and try and change people’s behaviour around plastic bags, whether it’s just citizens, whether it’s stores, what are the motivations we need? And then have that sort of build a guide, a step-by-step, how does the next staff person coming in next year pick an item, whether it’s straws, and go after that, or clamshells [plastic packaging] for salads.”
Casey said he thought a solution for plastic bag reduction should start at the source, or producer of the bags, as well as sellers using plastic bags.
“They said that was part of the research too, is to find out from the big chain stores, do they have alternatives, are they allowed to use paper bags instead of plastic, do they have to keep selling the plastic bags with the branded logo on it,” said Wilbee.
Duncombe-Lee suggested also asking local residents about their knowledge of which types of plastic can actually be recycled.
“I just know the personal struggle,” she said. “I’m always looking at the website and just double checking that I can recycle, but how many people even refer to that, and is there a lot of non-recycled plastic going into the bin, or is the recyclable plastic going into the landfill?”
Committee members, including councillors, discussed plastic straw alternatives and deterrents to consumers opting for plastic bags at grocery stores.
Casey asked if Duncombe-Lee thought there would be any students interested in the project.
“I think this is a really hot issue right now, and I think a lot of students are interested in it,” she said. “A lot of the drive actually comes from the younger generation.”
The proposal for the Head Lake Park tree sustainability planning project was applied for on July 19.
“Part of it was because some of the older willow trees in the park, and the bigger ones, are starting to come down from storm damage and so forth. And we haven’t really developed a plan as to where we should replant, whether it’s fruit trees, whether it’s shade trees, whether it’s trees that don’t affect the pathways as much,” said Wilbee in the meeting. “Just a plan from somebody more qualified and objective.”
She noted there were other factors, including erosion, that was leading to the loss of trees.
Casey asked if the project would include the entire park, or just around the river’s edge or shoreline.
“The whole park, because there might be areas where you need shade,” answered Wilbee. “They talk about when you replant, it’s good to plant fruit trees because then you’re providing food sources for even kids walking from high school to grab something off a tree.”
Questions within the project proposal to be answered by matched students include what tree damage and loss and possible causes was evidenced in the park; what native species of trees currently exist in the park; how can existing trees be protected from further damage or loss; and what is the recommended species and management plan for future sustainable tree maintenance in the park. Besides a literature review, the project would require field work.
A final report for both projects would be reviewed by the municipality and U-Links, and then posted on the U-Links website for the community to review.“That’s the community-based research component, is that it’s not just to the benefit for certain municipalities, it’s to the benefit of the whole county because they can look at what you’ve done and decide to replicate it, or take ideas from it,” said Duncombe-Lee.