If you look around campus, being eco-friendly is everywhere: on signs in cafes, posters above bins and even plastered on printers, but just how effective is this?
UEA has seemingly outstanding waste statistics, spending £260,000 every year on its recycling scheme. 90 percent of waste is recycled; and rightly so, the university has long been a leader in the field of environmental research. UEA invested £615,000 into energy-saving measures this year, but what about the energy used to produce what the university buys? From paper cups in Unio, to the food packaging in every outlet, could UEA be doing more? Many students think so. Joanna Raymond was ‘shocked by the amount of disposable containers that UEA uses’ when she arrived and is undoubtedly not alone. Despite reusable utensils being a minor inconvenience, at a university which invests so much into the environment, surely students should be educated as to why such a change is necessary?
Another issue we face is waste in accommodation. Incoming students received little information about recycling and how to use the five very confusing bins upon arrival, and often parents will have taken responsibility for recycling at home. Sustainable UEA has a recycling section on its website, but as it was pointed out, ‘how are freshers supposed to know it exists if no one tells them?’ Eliza Howman-Wright thinks ‘if we had a thorough recycling leaflet on our notice boards, so many conversations along the lines of “which bin does this go in?”, “uhhh I dunno, chuck it in that one” could be avoided.’ Ben Pi adds ‘if I, as someone who does bother to look at what can and can’t be recycled, am sometimes unsure about stuff, then how is someone who isn’t as proactive meant to know?’
There has been student action to reduce waste, with societies participating in beach cleans and urging members to pick up litter around campus. An interesting initiative is Enactus’ Budget Bites. The scheme is new this year and aims to ‘inspire you with sustainability tips that save food and money’ according to member Alise Miļūna. Budget Bites is a pop-up café in Union House serving up treats made from surplus food on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis.
Businesses in Norwich are also seeing a rise in people concerned by waste. Loui Blake, managing director of vegan restaurant Erpingham House, has noticed the change. The majority of Blake’s customers ‘wouldn’t call themselves vegan but are aware of the impact animal agriculture has on the planet and are open to changing the way they live’. Erpingham House is also plastic-free. Adopting VegWare as an alternative Nina Hoernke ‘didn’t believe the straws weren’t plastic at first!’ However, such changes come at a cost. As Blake added, ‘it’s more expensive, meaning when the hospitality industry is struggling, any ‘luxury’ such as sustainable packaging isn’t a priority.’
We all heard ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ at one point or another in Primary School, but how much have we actually taken in? Recycle is the final option, a last resort if we can’t reduce or reuse, but has become the scapegoat for poor environmental practices. Few people know there’s an updated version of the waste pyramid, ‘reduce, reuse, repair, rot, recycle’, which incorporates more options for avoiding waste; but if no one knows it exists, how are we supposed to implement changes in our everyday lives? This leaves me echoing the sentiment of many unheard environmental activists. We don’t need telling about how much money is being thrown at the problem, what we need to hear is what we can do, and as the next generation, we need to lead by example.