A Q&A with the University of Toronto Trash Team

published May 9, 2023
A picture of the University of Toronto Trash Team and its volunteers at a clean up.

For our new collection The problem with plastic, Ocean School worked in close collaboration with the University of Toronto Trash Team. We met with two of the organization's co-founders, Chelsea Rochman and Rafaela F. Gutierrez, to discuss plastic pollution and the importance of increasing waste literacy within the community.

Rochman is Head of Operations and the Program Lead of Scientific Programming and Application at the Trash Team. She is also a professor at the University of Toronto in aquatic ecology and marine ecology. Gutierrez is the Program Lead of Social Science and Educational Programs and is a social scientist with a Ph.D.

The Trash Team is “a community outreach organization with the goal and vision of increasing waste literacy in order to reduce plastic pollution”, as Rochman describes it. The organization brings together undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, researchers, local volunteers and staff. They have a foundation within the Rochman lab, part of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, to be able to have all their work founded in science and facts.

Take a look at our 6 questions to the Trash Team.

The importance of collaboration to reduce waste.

Why is it so important to increase waste literacy to reduce plastic pollution?

Rafaela F. Gutierrez: I think waste literacy and education… it's power. And if you want to change anything in terms of plastic pollution, we need to start to make people understand that they are not only part of the problem, but they are part of the solution. Everyone can have a voice, and everyone can help a little bit to make this a reality. So we can decrease waste pollution.

Headshot of Rafaela F. Gutierrez

Rafaela F. Gutierrez.

How to make a difference?

What do you think is the biggest challenge we face as a society to reduce plastic pollution, especially in the oceans?

Rafaela F. Gutierrez: It’s important to include everyone when discussing plastic pollution, everyone that is involved. I think we talk a lot about individuals and how we can make the change as a consumer. But we need to include more groups who are producing plastic, selling plastic, and regulating plastic. We need to come to an agreement on how we want to reduce plastic, and I think that’s the biggest challenge.

Chelsea Rochman: We have all the tools. I think we know how. We know what we need to do, and I think the biggest challenge is just the barrier to change, and that convenience is easier. But I would say that in the 15 years, we've seen a lot of change and a lot of increased awareness and a lot of things that give us hope. So that we just have to ride the wave and push it harder and faster in order to make a difference.

Chelsea Rochman and four students in lab coats smile at the camera in a lab.

Looking for more information on waste literacy and the U of T Trash Team's work? Click here to visit their website.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.


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