April 10, 2018

UCalgary employees launch non-profit to tackle plastic waste

UCalgary employees Briana Loughlin and Isabelle Couture spark vision for a plastic-free Calgary
Briana Loughlin, left, and Isabelle Couture, co-founders of Plastic-Free YYC.
Briana Loughlin, left, and Isabelle Couture, co-founders of Plastic-Free YYC. Venzie Pascual, Cultured Photo

By day, Briana Loughlin and Isabelle Couture are University of Calgary employees. Loughlin works at the downtown campus for Haskayne Executive Education and Couture at main campus in the Global Research Initiative's Office. By night, the duo are co-founders of Plastic-Free YYC, a local non-profit organization with the goal to make Calgary the first major plastic-free prairie city in Canada.

It all started with a blog and a passion for sustainability. Knowing that there are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans compared to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, Loughlin blogged to provide tips on how to limit plastic waste. Couture was involved in Calgary's zero waste community, and the two met online through social media. Realizing their desire to help Calgarians live a plastic-free lifestyle, Loughlin and Couture joined forces to co-found Plastic-Free YYC.

"Our aim is to raise awareness about the impact of plastic on our environment, mostly about the impact on waterways and ecosystems," says Couture. "Calgary is landlocked, so people don't feel like we’re part of the problem or solution because we're not close to the coasts. We want to make sure we share the impact of plastic waste in Calgary and Alberta, and educate people that we do have an impact on water because our rivers do go to the oceans."

Right now Loughlin and Couture's goal is to eliminate plastic bags in Calgary. "Many cities in Canada have looked at banning the plastic bag. Montreal is the latest and Victoria is going into effect in July,” says Loughlin. “Fort McMurray was the first city to implement the plastic bag ban in 2015. We want Calgary to be the next major prairie city to implement a policy to aggressively reduce plastic bag waste."

Isabelle Couture, left, and Briana Loughlin receive a Sustainability Award from President Cannon at the March 21 Sustainability Awards.

Isabelle Couture, left, and Briana Loughlin receive a Sustainability Award from President Cannon.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Plastic-Free YYC is meant to be for everyone, no matter where people are on their sustainability journey. “We are regular people speaking to regular people. This movement is not just for those who have money to buy a fancy coffee cup, or have an epic minimalist home,” says Loughlin. "We want to teach people that a plastic-free lifestyle is attainable from all levels because this is everyone's problem."

Loughlin and Couture have already made an impact at UCalgary, winning a 2018 Sustainability Award in March. The co-founders attribute part of their success to the support they have received at UCalgary.

"UCalgary is super supportive of Plastic-Free YYC," says Loughlin. "Because there is a work-life balance at UCalgary, we can do things like this."

Plastic-Free YYC has a busy year planned. Right now, Loughlin and Couture are encouraging everyone to take their Four-Week Challenge to eliminate plastic bags, coffee cups, plastic water bottles and straws from their lives over a one-month period.

If you're interested in making a difference in your workplace or community, Loughlin and Couture encourage you to step up.

"Environmentalism is no longer a movement — it's a means of survival," says Loughlin. "Be a disruptor and challenge the status quo. It's important."

By leading the energy revolution, growing food security and protecting water resources, the University of Calgary is building a better future for all. Discover more of our sustainability success stories here.