Society Showcase: Sustainable Student Societies

Following on from our earlier showcase where we spoke to Hazaar founder Harriet Noy about all things sustainable, we were lucky enough to speak to 3 amazing student communities about what they do around campus to be more sustainable as well as giving us their top 3 tips!

Hype: Hi Plastic Free UoB, thanks for talking to Hype. Tell us what Plastic-Free UoB is!

Well, Plastic-free UOB does exactly what it says. We aim for the University of Birmingham to be free of single-use plastic. We promote people to make positive changes for the environment, improve the local area through litter picks and strive to make campus-based changes to the University’s plastic consumption. 

Hype: How did the concept of Plastic Free UoB come to fruition?

Plastic-free was founded by Sarah and Haz in 2019 as a way to engage similarly interested students in leading more sustainable lives and make key changes to plastic use at events and catering at the University. The society had roaring success in its first year with the momentum of the anti-plastic movement after 2018 and by addressing the need for more sustainability societies at UOB. Plastic-free gained university-wide interest by establishing a reselling Facebook group known as ‘Bepop’ for students in the area to sell second-hand items without the plastic packaging and environmental cost of shipping, later inspiring Hazaar.

Hype: This month, Hype is concentrating on ‘Sustainability September’, what are some ways that Plastic Free UoB try and be sustainable?

We actively encourage our members to make sustainable choices, informing them of new alternatives to throw-away items that they may not have heard of. We also strive to improve the local area by carrying out litter picks and canal cleans around student areas and the campus to prevent more litter and plastics entering water systems and harming wildlife. This is what surprises me the most as you realise the gravity and extent of plastic pollution in this country and globally. It’s common to find discarded packaging of old brands, still in tact and set to remain there forever unless they’re picked up – so I think this is one of the best ways we are sustainable. Plastic-free UoB also tries to be sustainable by rethinking conventional systems and processes at the university that could be reimagined with their environmental impact in mind. This includes addressing the use of single-use plastic cups at club nights and holding talks with university catering to introduce sustainable packaging and the use of reusable foodware across outlets.

Hype: Why do you think it’s so important that students take an interest in sustainability on campus?

I think it’s crucial for students to take an interest in sustainability, not only because it benefits everyone, but because this is such a formative moment in people’s lives. The habits we build now as newly independent people will be carried with us for years to come. If sustainability can become an unconscious practice as a student, you’re bringing about years of positive changes and greater benefits to the environment as you adopt these practices into your working life. Students also hold a very unique position in that they are part of an incredibly close-knit and influential community. Our places of study hold the space for us to share and exchange or views and ideas with far-reaching effects. Talking about sustainability within the student sphere can soon disperse amongst many people and the actions of one person can be magnified as they’re endorsed by an entire student body. We hold incredible power to make great change. 

Hype: What are your top 3 tips for a student that is looking to become more sustainable?

1. Simply try and consume less. Do you really need that new top? Why am I buying a new item if I could fix my one at home? I feel like we’re conditioned to ‘buy buy buy’ and I’m sure we all have a pointless purchase sitting at the back of a drawer unused and unneeded. Consuming less and increasing the life of the things we have is a brilliant step in reducing the resources we use and the waste we produce. 

2. Try and shop second hand. Just because it’s second-hand doesn’t mean it’s not brand new to you. Buying second-hand electricals, clothing and anything in between helps break the cycle of constantly producing new items and wasting resources. Not only is it great for the environment, but it’s also very healthy for the bank account! Let Facebook marketplace and eBay become your new Amazon. Our co-founder Haz even established her own reselling app ‘Hazaar’ which allows students to buy and shop pre-loved items across their universities. I couldn’t recommend this enough.

3. Thirdly consider your diet. Considering the carbon footprint of some of the foods we eat and the packaging they come in is very important. In an ideal world the most sustainable choice would be for everyone to go vegan, but small acts of even just reducing meat consumption or eliminating red meat from your diet can have drastic effects on greenhouse gas emissions. New vegetarian and vegan alternatives hit the supermarkets every day so get a little creative with your food and try switching things up.

Ultimately no one can be perfectly sustainable but that doesn’t mean we can’t all take steps to improve the way we live our lives.

Hype was so lucky to talk to Cameron from the University of Birmingham, that we were inspired to reach out to YUSU Environment and Ethics Network and University of York SCOOP Student Cooperative to ask for their top tips!

Hype: So, what does the Environment and Ethics Network do around university?

The Environment and Ethics Network exists to protect the environmental and ethical interests of students and empower them to demand change within the Union and University.

The Environment and Ethics society lobbies for sustainable and fair practices at the University of York. In previous years, the E&E Network has managed to get the University of York to divest from fossil fuels, as well as getting YUSU to declare a climate emergency. We have also lobbied hard for the University to cut its plastic usage.

Hype: What are your top 3 tips for a student that is looking to become more sustainable?

First one is definitely to join and support a sustainability-focused organisation or campaign – think your Student Union group, Extinction Rebellion, Fridays For Future, WWF, whatever takes your fancy. The need for change in sustainability always needs to be structural first and foremost and the only way to achieve that is to organise.

Second is to rethink your consumer habits. Climate change and a lot of the human rights abuses we see currently are driven by a system that intentionally harms the planet and people for the benefit of the few. That doesn’t mean everyone should become a minimalist, but that they should start rethinking their participation in this system and stop consuming things they do not need to: whether it’s low-cost flight tickets; the brand new, shiny, latest model, kind-of-looks-like-the-previous-one iPhone; a 20th T-shirt from H&M; or those mugs that say “Best Grandma” and literally no one ever uses ever – it all needs to go.

Third, cut down on meat, especially red meat. No, you don’t need to become a vegan. You just need to not consume meat more than 2-3 times a week. It’s not only bad for your health and for your maintenance loan-dependent bank account, but also horrible for the climate. Take a good look at what you’re eating and ask yourself whether you couldn’t swap out that meat cut for a salad, or your chicken pasta for a pesto one. Tiny step, big impact.

Hype: Hey Scoop! Tell us a bit more about what Scoop is?

SCOOP is a student-run ethical cooperative shop. We sell bulk, environmentally friendly and vegan items from spices and grains to reusable period products. We are not-for-profit so all the profit we make goes back into Scoop. Scoop try and be sustainable by buying in bulk and thus reducing the amount of plastic packaging people have to consume to buy essentials. We also have a plastic free veg box scheme which allows people to get local fruit and veggies without harming the environment. Moreover, we sell other products to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. We have plastic free washing-up liquid, period products, kitchen cleanings supplies and so much more. 

Hype: What are your three top tips for students trying to be more sustainable?

1) Try and source local fruit and veg (plastic free is a bonus). This is such an easy thing to implement; Scoop run a fruit and veg scheme and there are so many local farmers markets running all the time in nearly every city. 

2) Use what you have. A common misconception about being eco friendly is that you have to go out and buy loads of new ’sustainable’ items which is simply not the case- if anything this is making matters worse as you are bringing more things into your home. Instead, use what you have and when these things break or need replacing then replace them with a more sustainable product. A great example is using your plastic toothbrush until it needs replacing (not just throwing it away) and then replacing it with a bamboo one. 

3) Cut down on meat and dairy. Meat and dairy products cause havoc, not just to CO2 levels, but also local and global ecosystems. Cutting down, or cutting out, animal products is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and so many shops/restaurants are offering good quality vegan/veggie options so it isn’t as hard as it may seem. 

This month during Sustainable September, Hype have had the incredible opportunity of speaking with 3 incredibly inspiring student networks, all with the aim to encourage a more sustainable life. At Hype, we LOVE seeing students being a force for change and actively making such big changes on campus and in the wider communities.

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