Holiday Party continues Chemistry’s Sustainability Drive

December 18, 2023 by Alyx Dellamonica

Over 150 members of the Department of Chemistry gathered on December 8th to celebrate the end of the term and the holiday season with music, a gingerbread house contest, and a delicious meal sourced from a zero waste caterer.  

Inwit Catering launched in 2021 with the help of ICUBE UTM, with a mission to deliver meals in reusable containers, trailblazing in the ecological transition of the notoriously wasteful takeout industry to a more circular model. (Circular economies are models of production and consumption that attempt to reuse, repair and recycle materials at every phase of use, thereby reducing waste.) 

This latest move to reduce the holiday party’s impact is part of an ongoing effort to make Chemistry an example of a department that leads the way in seeking new initiatives for promoting green and sustainable options like reducing plastic waste, according to Grace Flock, Chemistry’s Chief Administrative Officer. 

Other aspects of this longstanding drive have included moves like embracing department-wide acetone recycling, changing undergraduate course assignments to lab experiments that use greener chemicals, and seeking grants to upgrade to lower-waste equipment for day-to-day administrative use, one of which resulted in the replacement of printers throughout the department in 2022. 

Sustainable values are important to chemistry students as well as faculty and staff, with one notable example being the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), the student-run organization that hosts an annual symposium on making greener choices. The 2024 symposium will be held on May 15-17 and registration is open now. GCI maintains a Green Chemistry blog with topics on everything from green hydrogen production to using vegetable oils as green solvents. They also track waste production and disposal in the Lash Miller Building, offering accountability on decreases and increases in the building’s waste year by year.  

UofT research groups in the Department of Chemistry are actively engaged in questions surrounding sustainability and human impacts of industrial, commercial and consumption processes. Professor Dwight Seferos has recently received an Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry for work that, among other things, includes improving the performance of batteries—thereby reducing the negative externalities of battery production and use at a time when batteries loom large as part of the solution to transitioning global energy production away from combustion of fossil fuels.  

Professor Hui Peng has also been recognized this December with the James Morgan Award and the CIC Environment Division Early Career Research Award. His team investigates the over 350,000 chemicals produced by human activity, zeroing in on those most toxic to humans and wildlife species.  Recent work by the Ozin group, meanwhile, offers the promise of generating carbon monoxide, a crucial chemical in many industrial processes, by using waste pollution as feedstock and replacing fossil fuels with LED light.  

Chemical research is inextricably tied both to the specific problems created by human resource use and the search for equitable, circular solutions to navigating climate change. By working to build in sustainability at every level—from chemical waste management to pioneering new technologies—while ensuring that community celebrations are lower impact, the entire department can meet, connect, and focus together on building a more sustainable future.