Climate Crisis and the Environment

#WasteNott: The Campaign So Far

Nottingham is already classed as one of the UK’s most sustainable universities, with a clear aim to do more to help the environment. This institutionalised aim for change, together with the student population’s supposedly supportive attitude, could lead to a powerful contribution towards environmental protection. But what is actually happening on campus?

The #WasteNott campaign launched in September 2018, with the aim to reduce single-use plastics across all UK Nottingham Campuses. It was initiated by the University’s sustainability team in response to their student survey conducted in May 2018, showing that 99% (of 3,000 students) supported reducing single-use plastics, with most already making a conscious effort themselves. There is particular focus on reducing non-reusable plastic coffee cups, water bottles and cutlery.

How is it being implemented?

 #WasteNott banners and posters are seen anywhere on the campuses explaining that you can buy food and drinks. It is hard to miss the bold information displayed about the campaign when deciding whether or not to buy a single-use plastic product (and therefore, crucially – hard to ignore).

“The campaign aims to reduce hot drink cup waste by 50% by August 2020”

1 million hot drink cups are thrown away across the UK campuses each year. The campaign aims to reduce hot drink cup waste by 50% by August 2020. In order to reach this target, the campaign is encouraging students to use their own re-usable coffee cups. Different forms of re-usable cups can be found for sale at many different locations on the campuses. However, perhaps the most influential tool in encouraging re-usable coffee cup usage is the disposable cup levy. From 24th September 2018 students have been charged an extra 20p for a disposable cup, and been given a 20p discount for using a re-usable one. The money raised from the levy is being re-invested into the University’s environmental initiatives.

“The University of Nottingham is making a positive step in the right direction”

In regard to disposable plastic bottle wastage, the figures are equally as high on campus as coffee cups – but change is harder to implement. The number of water fountains on campus has been increased but the same number of drinks in plastic bottles are sold at food outlets. Plastic straws have been easily eradicated from campus – available only on request for disability reasons. However, levels of plastic cutlery have not changed at all.

Has this actually changed usage on campus?

It’s safe to say that the immediate impact of the campaign is a clear success. Plastic straws are effectively relics and the number of disposable coffee cups can merely be counted on fingers amidst the colourful sea of re-usable vessels.

Multiple coffee outlets on campus described a positive outcome in reaction to the campaign’s introduction. The number of re-usable coffee cups has notably increased, and in the case of the Trent café, they even believe the amount of coffee sold has increased. Whether this is because of sparked environmental activism, or simply a desire for the satisfaction of discounted coffee is unimportant. The result has been a positive for the environment, and a positive for campus business.

“the immediate impact of the campaign is a clear success”

However, the battle against disposable cups is still afoot. They are not yet completely redundant in hot drink outlets, but why is this? Whilst the #WasteNott campaign may be helping, it is arguably struggling to cope with seasonal pressures. It is getting colder and hot drink consumption has naturally increased in general, providing increased need for cups. At this time of year, students are particularly stressed due to looming deadlines.

In the library, where coffee consumption is particularly rife and students’ minds elsewhere occupied it is understandable how the campaign posters could be easily ignored and the convenience of a disposable cup chosen. Combined with the recent release of Starbucks’ pretty, festive disposable cups, this could explain why even the most environmentally conscious students are still opting for a throw-away choice.

But what more can be done? Does there need to be yet more promotion of the campaign? Easier access to the purchase of a re-usable cup? Should Campus Starbucks franchises be allowed to promote festive cups, in alliance with the #WasteNott targets?

The same success has not been seen in plastic bottle usage on campus. Whilst there has been a similarly noticeable increase in the use of re-usable water bottles, reduction in the sale of disposable plastic bottles or products at drink outlets has not decreased. Whilst this issue goes beyond hot drink cups, given how many different types of plastic packaged products there are for sale, focus on this target could have a significant impact.

“The same success has not been seen in plastic bottle usage on campus.”

Does the campaign need to target plastic bottles more specifically? There may need to be tighter regulations on what products campus outlets can sell – or a move to the sale of more sustainably packaged drink and water brands like ‘canowater’ and ‘boxed water is better’.

Unfortunately, there has been no marked reduction in the availability of plastic cutlery on campus but this is a self-proclaimed area for improvement in the campaign in general. So, this is a potential area of interest in which to look for progress in the future.

The campaign beyond the campus…

 The issue surrounding the environmental impact of disposable cups and bottles has recently become more widely and commonly understood. This rise in awareness is most likely due to frequent discussion of the issue in the media. Key to this, was the feature about plastic wastage in the ocean in the latest series of Blue Planet. Many have noted the resultant ‘David Attenborough effect’ on the use of plastic by the programme’s audience. This effect is amplified by the rapid nature and spread of discussion trends on social media platforms. We have seen many companies and institutions within the UK adopt schemes similar to #WasteNott, such as some of the biggest UK supermarkets and countless other universities. See here for more information.

The importance of reducing our single-use plastic wastage could not be more relevant or vital in improving the world’s current environmental struggle. The University of Nottingham is making a positive step in the right direction, encouraging and supporting environmental activism in its students – potentially fostering lifelong awareness of these issues. Hopefully we will continue to see increasing success in the campaign, for both the campus and the world.

Do your bit for #WasteNott: The nicest reusable cups around…


Emily Rüschen

Featured image courtesy of  Bill Smith via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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