Universities are leading the way to a plastic-free future

Published 17 May 2020 by Courtney Tenz
Plastic-free campuses serve as a great example not only for students but for communities around the world.

Reducing our use of plastics is on everyone’s mind today as images of oceans with swirling patches of plastic fill the daily news. No wonder that many universities have created master plans to do away with plastics on campus. Some call it the “Attenborough effect” – a reference to the powerful documentary on ocean plastics narrated by Sir David Attenborough that has moved many young people to want to eliminate plastics from their lives altogether.

But doing away with plastics entirely is no easy task. In a society where convenience is key, living a plastic-free life can feel impractical as it requires a bit of thinking ahead. Going shopping? Don’t forget your canvas bags! Want to make sure you get your three litres of water each day? Keep a refillable glass bottle on hand. These are simple steps, yet they require new habits to avoid the grab-and-go convenience plastic has offered.

The plastic-free movement has to involve not only individuals, but also entire communities. It’s easier to break the plastics habit when there’s no plastic packaging on offer. Students around the world have taken the lead by demanding that their universities offer alternatives, like reusable glass jars or paper packaging.

Dublin City University, for example, aims to be completely plastic free by 2020 by no longer allowing the sale of bottled water. In March 2018, they eliminated the use of plastic cups. They’ve also begun offering alternatives to plastic, like paper containers and compostable cutlery.

Eliminating single-use cups or straws is just the tip of the iceberg. The University of Leeds has gone beyond that with their Single Out #2023PlasticsFree campus initiative to reduce plastics not only in offices and the catering area, but also in lab spaces. They’re also offering grants for students to research and trial innovative plastics replacements.

The plastic-free campuses serve as a great example not only for students, but for communities around the world. It guides us to find ways to take plastics out of circulation, beginning with raising awareness and providing tips on how to get to zero waste.

At Keele University in the UK, zero waste is already in the works where administrators have set up a Zero Waste Shop in the student union. Students can use their own containers or paper bags for purchasing foodstuffs like cereal, grains and spices. By turning to alternatives like these and phasing plastic out of their lives, these students are taking small steps towards getting plastics out of circulation – and towards a better future.

Courtney Tenz is a freelance writer who traded her plastic bags for paper years ago and is now buying almost exclusively in bulk.