Meet Our Scholars

Living Lab Scholars

Nadia Springle, MRM student
School of Resource and Environmental Management

Nadia is a Masters of Resource Management (planning) student and member of the Food Systems Lab at SFU. Before starting her studies at SFU, she completed her bachelor’s degree in public policy and international development at Carleton University and worked in government administration and policy. She is interested in circular economic and food systems, as well as how systems and institutions can better support people to reduce waste and consume more sustainably.

Why did you decide to participate in SFU’s Living Lab program?

I decided to participate in the Living Lab program because it is a great opportunity to directly apply research findings and promote sustainability on campus. It was also a good fit for me because one of the Living Lab research areas is to reduce operational waste, and this overlaps with research on bioplastics that I am currently involved in with the Food Systems Lab. Therefore, the program will allow me to build on that research and apply it to the context of SFU.

Tell us about your research project
My project will research and evaluate bioplastic foodservice products for SFU Ancillary Services. Bioplastics are made out of renewable materials like corn and sugarcane, and are sometimes labelled as compostable or biodegradable. Bioplastics are one of the available substitutes for single-use plastic cutlery and packaging in the foodservice industry, but they also present their own complex challenges and limitations to sustainability. In my project I will use focus groups with participants from across the bioplastics industry and work with SFU staff to gather information about the sustainability, use and management of bioplastic foodservice products. Based on my findings, I will develop best practices and recommendations for the role of bioplastics in SFU’s Food and Dining Services.

What problems or challenges does your project address?
There is a growing awareness of the harms of single-use plastics, but also a lot of confusion and misinformation about the potential solutions and alternatives. For example, bioplastics may be compostable and biodegradable, but this is not the case for all bioplastic products. There are also issues with product ‘greenwashing’, and limited or inconsistent options for disposing of bioplastics. This means that these products are not necessarily as environmentally friendly as they seem, and more information is needed to determine what products should be used by Food and Dining Services to replace single-use plastics. My project aims to address this information gap by providing a clearer picture of the environmental and social impacts of bioplastics, as well as how they should be used, managed, and disposed of.

How does this impact society?
Plastic waste and single-use items are contributing to significant environmental and social problems here and around the world. Furthermore, for people who are aware of the problem and want to make changes and do the right thing, there is still a lot of misinformation about how to actually do that. As we continue to see more products labelled as green, sustainable, compostable, etc., people should be aware that these alternatives can also have environmental consequences and are often more complicated than they seem. Another reason why people should also care is so that when they see bioplastics being used in restaurants, they can have a bit more information about what bioplastics are and how to properly dispose of them!