The Dish Project was created in 2003 as an R4 working group under Sustainable Concordia, which launched in 2002 at Concordia University. R4 (which stands for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink) focused on looking beyond recycling to reduce the university’s waste impact. It was home to multiple waste-related projects throughout its existence, including the Notebook Project and the Dish Project.
Concordia University conducted its first campus sustainability assessment in 2003. It wasn’t until 2006 that Concordia conducted and later reported on its first waste audit in collaboration with R4. The Dish Project’s efforts contributed effectively to reducing waste on campus and helping students host campus events on a budget.
The idea of a reusable free dish service originated when students started questioning whether an alternative existed to the disposable wine glasses and paper plates that were being consistently used at Wine and Cheese events on campus. From that moment on, a small group of students started searching for the perfect unbreakable wine glasses, and whenever funding opportunities permitted, they would expand what would become the Dish Project’s inventory.
Growth & Development
From the start, the Dish Project offered its free services to the wider community. The first important booking was made by a community group organizing to feed the homeless and saved 3,000 disposable plates from landfill as a result. Different forms of “payment” were tested to ensure users of the service brought back the items that they borrowed from the Dish Project, while keeping the services accessible to individuals and groups on a budget. A deposit system proved to be most effective, and a version of this system has been in place ever since. Before the students behind the Dish Project knew it, people were borrowing their dishes for weddings and community events. The service’s impact extended beyond Concordia and started to make an impact on the amount of waste generated around Montreal.
With its increasing popularity, the Dish Project applied to the Sustainability Action Fund for funding to be able to purchase an industrial dishwasher, secure a space, and pay a coordinator to run the service. These essential elements helped nurture the Dish Project’s growth and gave it a strong foundation to continue evolving and expanding sustainably. By keeping the 3 pillars of sustainability at the forefront of the Dish Project’s work, the service has been able to serve countless Concordia and non-Concordia community members in an accessible way that continues to reduce waste in Montreal.
Over the years, R4’s many projects moved on from the group, leaving the Dish Project as its last active faction. Sustainable Concordia remained the home of the Dish Project, providing it with financial and social forms of assistance. In the summer of 2015, the Dish Project began to seriously consider its options for a transition away from a Sustainable Concordia working group. The transition of the Dish Project was the result of a process undertaken by Sustainable Concordia for change from a project based programming towards a campaign based one. This, in turn, affected the Dish Project.
After much discussion and deliberation with key Dish Project stakeholders, it was unanimously agreed upon that becoming a non-profit organization would be the best direction for the Dish Project in the long-term. Many factors concerning the future of the project were taken into consideration when making this decision, including organizational structure, financial viability, space, the level of difficulty of the process, community buy-in, and the possibility for an expansion of capacities, locations, and mission.
Where We’re Headed
The Dish Project plans to transition to a non-profit organization in the future. In the meantime, it remains housed under Sustainable Concordia, although it is increasingly taking steps to be able to operate autonomously and become a non-profit organization. It is gaining independence in pursuing alternative sources of funding, building its workforce, and branching out to other projects and activities centred around waste reduction and waste justice on campus and in Montreal.
In Fall 2018, the Dish Project will be moving to a brand new and more accessible space on the 7th floor of Concordia’s Hall Building. Sustainable Concordia has expressed its continuous financial and social support of the Dish Project throughout the changes it will endure.
For more information about the Dish Project’s past, present, and future, feel free to email us at email@example.com.