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Dentistry students Derek Oryniak and Madison Flamand are co-leading the Student Environmental Group.

Enacting change: Dentistry, dental hygiene students push green plans

March 11, 2020 — 

A group of green-minded students is working to reduce the carbon footprint of the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.    

The Student Environmental Group was created earlier this year to look at ways to decrease the amount of waste in the college. They’re focused on what is being thrown away in the clinic, pre-clinic and in the college as a whole.

Madison Flamand, a fourth-year dentistry student, said a lot of paper, plastics and gloves are thrown out in the clinic, which sees about 130 patients each day. However, they face many challenges when it comes to making the clinic more environmentally friendly.

“We have to follow provincial and national guidelines on things like infection prevention and control,” said Flamand, who is co-leading the group with third-year dentistry student Derek Oryniak. “It is challenging because we have to find a way to reduce carbon emissions and our carbon footprint while still following guidelines for the safety of our patients.”

But there are things they can do, Flamand said, adding that the group is looking at reusable bib chains that can be disinfected.

In the pre-clinic, where first- and second-year dentistry students are learning and aren’t yet seeing patients, Flamand said the group is looking at the amount of paper and plastic being used. She said the students need to find a way to build excellent habits, but without creating as much waste.

The group is also working to bring composting to the college. “As a college we can reduce our carbon emissions a lot, which will make a huge difference on the environment,” Flamand said.

The idea for the environmental group came out of a student/faculty advisory committee meeting because they saw they could make greener choices. Students from each dentistry and dental hygiene class volunteered, and the group is made up of 12 learners.

“Some students are working predominantly in clinic while others are in pre-clinic,” Oryniak said. “The challenges are different so we thought it would be important to make sure that everyone brings their own perspective and can address all the needs of the college.”

Dr. John Perry, associate dean, academic, Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry, said the group is a student-driven initiative and they’ve taken it upon themselves to do their part in helping protect the environment.

“The college is supportive of the students’ actions in working toward a more sustainable future,” Perry said. “They are setting an example from which we all benefit.”

Oryniak said they wanted to start off with ambitious, but realistic, goals. By the end of the year, they aim to have a concrete plan to take to the college advisory committee so they can begin working towards accomplishing their mission of reducing the college’s carbon footprint.

“As students, this is something we can take leadership on,” Oryniak said. “We’re seeing that already, so students should be encouraged if they have ideas like this to push forward and work with faculty to enact change.”

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