The Pulse: Jan. 24, 2023

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  • 4°C: Clearing late in the morning. Wind becoming northwest 20 km/h gusting to 40 near noon. High plus 4. (forecast)

Four smiling members of the DishZero team stand with their arms around each other

Reusable container service launches at UAlberta

By Karen Unland

As pressure rises on restaurants to decrease their use of single-use items, a group of current and former students at the University of Alberta has come up with a way to make it easy — and free — to offer reusable containers for takeout.

DishZero launched on Jan. 16 with two vendors in the Students' Union Building: Filistix and The Daily Grind. The first week has gone well, aided in part by some free-food incentives on Day 1.

"The bins were overflowing," co-founder Alesi Muhlbauer told Taproot. "That was really nice to see after working on it for so long."

Students request that their food or drink be served in a DishZero container. They scan a QR code on the container to sign it out, then return it to a drop-off station within 48 hours. DishZero volunteers collect the dirty dishes, take them to a catering kitchen to be washed, then put the clean dishes back into circulation.

The project is funded with a sustainability grant from the university's Energy Management and Sustainable Operations (EMSO) office and the Students' Union through its Sustainability and Capital Fund (SCF). That money allowed DishZero to acquire the containers and mugs, pay for ongoing dishwashing, and cover other costs associated with the pilot project.

Grant funding also means that neither the vendors nor the students have to pay for the service. DishZero's co-founders are looking into applying for non-profit status to make it easier to receive other grants and perhaps someday pay staff to look after the program instead of relying on volunteers, but they don't see a business opportunity here.

That makes it different from initiatives such as Re:vita, which emerged from the World's Challenge Challenge business contest at the U of A in 2021 with a plan to deliver takeout in stainless steel containers, coordinated through an app. That doesn't seem to be running, but a similar service called Suppli started in Toronto in 2019. Its pitch to vendors is that Suppli's reusable container service will bring them more business and help them get ahead of the federal ban on single-use plastics.

"This is not that. This is entirely us just wanting to reduce waste however we can," Muhlbauer said. "If we end up having paid staff, it's just so that it can be sustainable for them to put in that much work."

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Headlines: Jan. 24, 2023

By Kevin Holowack

  • The city declared a residential parking ban, which takes effect Jan. 24 at 7pm and will impact neighbourhoods for up to four weeks, depending on the weather. Parking will be restricted for 24-72 hours in affected areas, which will be notified 24 hours in advance, and vehicles that are not removed may be ticketed and towed at the owner's expense. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said administration needs to do better because snow and ice control has not been "living up to citizens' expectations." Mark Beare, the city's director of infrastructure operations, responded that his department operates on funding and guidance from council.
  • The prairies are expecting bitter cold due to an incoming low-pressure system. Environment Canada expects snow, icy rain, and poor driving conditions in Edmonton beginning Jan. 26, followed by a drastic temperature drop starting Jan. 27 and lasting into the weekend. The city is expected to hit -19°C with a nighttime low of -24°C.
  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi released a letter outlining Edmonton's submission to the 2023 provincial budget. The letter requests more funding for mental health and addictions and calls for "equitable treatment" with Calgary, which has around triple the number of permanently funded emergency shelter spaces. The submission also asks for support for economic revitalization, climate resilience, and infrastructure projects, including funding to renovate Commonwealth Stadium. A year ago, Sohi called the province's 2022 budget a "slap in the face" for Edmonton.
  • Edmonton students scored higher on provincial achievement tests than the Alberta average, but the results are still lower than before the pandemic. In the 2021-22 school year, 68.1% of students in the Edmonton Public Schools division scored the "acceptable standard" of 50% or higher on the tests, compared to the provincial average of 67.3% and Edmonton's three-year average before the pandemic, which was 76.1%. The percentage of students who achieved the "acceptable standard" on the 2021-2022 diploma exam was 73.8%, compared to the three-year, pre-pandemic average of 83.9%.
  • Furget Me Not, a volunteer-run no-kill cat and kitten rescue organization, is seeing an increase in abandoned pets. "It's definitely discouraging for us when nobody even tried to see if we had space or room," said founder and director Christine Koltun, adding the organization now has more than 40 young kittens compared to the five or six it would usually have this time of year. Furget Me Not is also struggling financially, having already spent 10% of its 2023 medical budget, and is accepting donations and support.
  • Timothy Caulfield and Marco Zenone, researchers at the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, published the results of a study into the "false balance" that is created when the media presents opposing views on whether COVID-19 vaccinations should be required by organ transplant recipients. The authors write that giving expert views an "equal platform" with opposing views that are often based on personal opinion or misinformation may "contribute to misperceptions about a consensus medical viewpoint and create controversy where none exists."
  • Alberta Health Services is launching a third-party review into the cause of a province-wide network outage on Jan. 23 that resulted in the postponement of some elective surgeries and lab work. The outage was resolved the same day beginning with emergency rooms and other critical patient care areas. "It is imperative that we understand what happened today so that it does not happen again," said Dr. John Cowell, the official administrator for AHS.
  • The Edmonton Oilers have won six straight games and hope to keep the streak going against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 25. Forward Zach Hyman was named the NHL's first "Star of the Week" after scoring four goals and five assists last week.
An off-leash dog on a trail surrounded by trees

Speaking Municipally doesn't get ruff on pop-up dog parks

By Karen Unland

The city's proposal to create up to 30 pop-up off-leash dog parks earned an endorsement from noted cat-lover Troy Pavlek in Episode 205 of Speaking Municipally.

"There's definitely a bang-for-buck argument there," Pavlek said, agreeing with Coun. Michael Janz's assessment that spending $150,000 to $300,000 on dog parks could have a greater impact than much bigger-ticket items like recreation centres. "There's a huge community aspect. If you're at the dog park, you have an in-built socialization network in the same way that other community bases that force people together have. So I see the value of it."

Community and public services committee received a report about community-initiated off-leash dog parks on Jan. 16. The pilot continues the city's Dogs in Open Spaces Strategy.

It would be even better if the dog parks had water and were equipped with washroom facilities, said co-host Mack Male, echoing comments made by Harvey Voogd to the committee.

Hear more on that topic, as well as our city hall observers' fond remembrances of CBC reporter Janice Johnston, their takes on a contract to build the 103A Avenue pedway, and Pavlek's victory lap for successfully christening a snow plow on the Jan. 20 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Photo: A dog explores a trail at the Callingwood off-leash park on a September day. (einat.ravid/Flickr)