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Up Close with Sarah


This week, we’re turning the spotlight on our very own, Sarah Shana!

As a Master of Environmental Science Candidate at the University of Toronto, Sarah is gaining technical and practical experience in soil and water contamination. Her dream career is to be an environmental consultant because she’s passionate about being able to clean up contaminated sites.

Sarah’s undergraduate education background is in biology and earth science and she has had experience conducting research regarding the declining sea ice level in the Arctic Ocean. Specifically, learning that microbes can clean up contaminated soils is what led her to pursue a postgraduate degree in environmental science. Finding it alarming that plastic waste is not degraded or reused appropriately and ending up in major water bodies, Sarah wants to continue to raise awareness about single-use plastics and looking for alternatives that are healthier for marine life and for our home planet.

1. How do you consume news?

Before taking an oceanography course last winter, I accessed news related to the environment and oceans through Twitter, Facebook and other online news articles. Of course, coming from a university setting, I don’t take what I see online at face value and I always look further to find out the extent of the truth from what I read.

The oceanography course specifically allowed me to discover a whole new realm of information, including the complexity of our oceans. I was taught the concept of gyres and the fact that plastic waste collects there and forms these so called “plastic islands”. In combination with other media, such as videos of plastic straws in turtles’ noses, it really made me want to raise awareness about the use of single-use plastics. Although I still use social media for ocean and environment-related news, I also use science blog websites that draw on various references from journal articles.

Sarah giving a presentation in regards to research results from a one-year research project conducted at the University of Toronto. Presentation was at the Advances in Earth Science Research Conference at Western University. London.

2. How do you think we can protect our marine environments while also improving our standard of living?

In my opinion, there are lots of ways we can protect our marine environments.

We can start at our homes, by making sure we are sorting our waste correctly. Instead of purchasing and using plastic bags, we can use some of the many stylish reusable bags out there. We can also support restaurants that do not use single-use plastics and containers and/or reduce the amount of purchases we make that come in plastic packaging. I think one great idea is to buy a reusable straw and take it with you when you go out! They come in so many shapes, sizes and colors!

Now for those addicted to Tim Horton’s like most of us, don’t encourage the use of the hot drink cups! They are actually very difficult to recycle and often end up in landfills so something easy to do is to just bring your own thermos.

These are just some tips that we can follow as individuals to better protect our marine environments. For big, pressing issues, even though there are advanced technologies out there to clean up the oceans, unfortunately not a lot of big companies invest in them. Therefore, I think we need to make sure that we’re raising awareness and ensuring that our voices are heard by decision-makers.

3. What do you think is a good solution to Toronto’s plastic problem?

Starting with places where people are most often consuming things in plastic containers and tools, such as restaurants, I suggest using biodegradable containers and even edible straws or cutlery. Perhaps we can encourage restaurants that already provide single-use plastics to encourage purchasing customers to use reusable straws and containers, in the form of assembled kits with reusable goodies.

I also think the implementation of loyalty programs where people collect rewards for a good track record of using reusable gear, is a great idea since people love exclusive benefits. I’m glad this is already being done. Further, I encourage making plastic bags more expensive to buy at grocery stores and making reusable bags cheaper and with more varieties. Actions like these are very important to reducing microplastics in the environment!

Sarah leading a sandbox activity at the earth science laboratory at U of T during a visit from Grade 4 students. The intent was to expose elementary level students to the many facets of earth science through different activities!


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