How can students realistically reduce our plastic consumption?

Photo by Andrew Memije
Photo by Andrew Memije

On October 24, the European Parliament approved a ban on a vast range of single use plastics. The range is set to include balloon sticks, cotton buds and of course, the main culprit, straws.

This emerged from heightened concerns recently that if we do not alter our behaviour the environment is going to pay a high price. While this recent legislation concerns the EU, the environment is obviously a global issue. More to the point, it’s all very well to pass the ban in hopes of enticing change, but it’s the practical implications that are of real importance.

This recent change in EU law caused me to wonder, what are the realistic changes to our routine we can make on campus to reduce plastic waste?

There appears to be a stigma around acting more beneficially towards the environment that lies in the misconception of it requiring huge diversions from our normal routine. Fortunately, this is not the case.

On campus, there are several easy ways to decrease the amount of plastic waste. Even if some of these are small steps, it is far better to take them than to neglect them.

Photo by Andrew Memije
Photo by Andrew Memije

When we wake up the morning, often some of the first few thoughts we have before heading to university concern what we are going to eat throughout the day, and where are we going to get our coffee from. Opting to take coffee in a travel mug from home rather than stopping at Tim Hortons, or taking in a packed lunch reduces our waste considerably. It may seem like these are very small steps, but if this was altered to more of a norm among students there would be a significant decrease in waste.

This becomes clear when we look at the math behind this. The last academic year saw over 9000 students registered at university. Even if only a quarter of these were to purchase, for example, a takeaway salad for lunch each day, that’s roughly 2000 students throwing away plastic tubs unnecessarily. In reality, this is likely an optimistic estimate. Alongside this, to reduce waste, there are many Waterfilz stations on campus to refill water bottles. Essentially, our waste output doesn't have to suffer as a result of our busy schedule. There are ways in which your hectic academic life and environmentally friendly behaviour can coincide.

A question now arises that if these steps are so simple to take, why don't we naturally do so? The only thing these actions truly require is for us to be proactive. If we blamed the stereotype of students, the reason would be that we are constantly rushed off our feet with classes and papers that our environmental footprint seldom enters our mind. As someone who falls into this bracket, I can say this is very easy to do. However, slight adjustments to routine and thinking will have an impact on how much waste is disposed of on campus.