Life In Plastic, Not So Fantastic

As part of my manifesto when running for President, two of my pledges were to ‘Clean Up Our Campus’ and ‘Clean Up Our Venues’.

Among a whole host of other things, my work this year has included lobbying the College to divest from fossil fuels (during my Clean Up Our Campus campaign) and the introduction of a charge for disposable coffee cups in Tommy’s Kitchen - more on that later.

Today I'm here to talk to you about plastic. While Barbie may be a massive fan, it doesn't exactly go hand in hand with sustainability. 

Can we recycle? Yes we can!

Throughout my two years in office, I’ve been looking at other ways to improve our campus sustainability. Lots of students have reached out to me during this time regarding the plastic cups used on our club nights, asking whether or not they can be recycled.

I’ve been working closely with staff in our Trading Services department to look into this, and I’m pleased to say our plastic ‘skiffs’ and bottles (all of which are made from polypropylene) are fully recyclable in their pint, half pint and VK bottle formats.

What about other glasses?

The 'bomb cup' and shot glasses, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with, can be put through the recycling waste stream at Grundon’s (the College’s waste management contractor) materials recovery facility.

As Grundon has only just acquired the University account, we’re yet to speak to them regarding our particular items to identify whether or not they are fully recyclable – this is something we are following up and we will research alternatives to the bomb cup and shot glass if required.

Checking out alternative options

As part of the research, we looked into three potential new options that could replace the current cups:

  • Glass
  • Reusable durable plastic cups (polypropylene)
  • Plant based solutions

After weighing up all the pros and cons, it was agreed that the best option is to stick with the cups we currently have. Glass was immediately ruled out due to safety reasons, and while the other options have some clear benefits, there were some surprising drawbacks.

For example, one of the plant based materials is only biodegradable in a commercial compost facility - there are only a handful of plants in the UK and none are available via Grundon. It also doesn't biodegrade as litter or landfill and will end up contaminating streams if sent through plastic waste - not good!

The existing cups are the only ones that are practical in three key areas: the volume; the cost to the Union; the availability of local recycling services. There are no existing waste streams that could handle the rest of the options and while we're not ruling out changes in the future, and we'll continue to assess our options, for now we'll be sticking with what we've got.

Raising awareness

To make sure things are being recycled correctly, we’re planning to highlight correct waste procedure in our staff training and debriefs, and also increase signage at key points in venue both for staff and customers.

Sustainability Fund

I mentioned the charge for disposable coffee cups earlier and in case you've forgotten (or didn't realise), other than covering the cost of the cups, the money raised has been placed into a ‘green fund’. Student groups will be able to apply for funds to use for a sustainability based project next year.

Keep an eye out for my blog next week where I’ll be announcing the opening of bids – exciting times!

Clem Jones // President