On April 1, the University of Sussex Students’ Union Council voted in favour of holding a referendum on adopting a plastic-free policy initiative.
The referendum was called for by Sussex University action group Plastic-Free Sussex.
Plastic-Free Sussex describes itself as “a student-run campaign aiming to eliminate single-use plastics on campus. We intend to do this by lobbying both the Student’s Union and university to introduce anti-plastic policies. These policies would commit to replacing current single-plastics with sustainable alternatives.
They announced via social media that the Students’ Union council voted to put their policy proposal to student referenda. The referendum question will be ‘Should the Students’ Union adopt a plastic-free policy initiative?’ with the aim ‘To reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastics across all SU outlets’.
The referendums’ policy objectives include eradicating single-use plastic cups and replacing them with a sustainable alternative, banning the sale of bottled water, introducing a zero waste section of the Students’ Union shop, working with Pearl bubble tea to reduce plastic usage, and to lobby to Co-op and University to reduce plastic usage.
The referendum period has been announced for the 24th April-1st May 2019.
The University of Sussex Students’ Union’s current ethical and environmental policy includes “increasing the ability of staff, officers, students and volunteers” to “increase their positive impact on the environment”, supporting students through student-led environmental and ethical campaigns, “complying with all current environmental legislation”.
The Students’ Union also explains on its sustainability webpage that each year it takes part in the NUS Green Impact scheme, which monitors environmental impact. The ‘Green Impact Workbook’ provides Students’ Unions with criteria to ensure their “operations are maintained and improved, environmental sustainability is embedded in the Union’s ethos and helps to engage and bring together students and staff to collaborate on bringing about a sustainable future”.
For the 2017/2018, Sussex SU achieved the highest accreditation of ‘Excellent’ in the scheme.
The University of Sussex created its multi-million pound Go Greener scheme in summer 2017 with help from world-leading sustainability academics.
In 2018, they replaced 27,000 light bulbs with LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems and installed smart metering across campus. They also fitted 3000 photovoltaics (solar panels) to 30 buildings on Sussex campus.
The University has said “We are working to become one of the greenest universities in the UK and aim to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2020”.
Plastic-Free Sussex has since said, however, that “Plastic pollution is a huge problem that requires urgent action! We believe that our university and student’s union need to do more to address this.”
Universities and Students’ Unions across the UK have increasingly started taking plastic-free and zero waste policies.
The University of Sheffield Students’ Union has done a lot in this area, having banned the selling of bottled water, opening a zero waste students’ union shop, and installing food waste bins around the SU that get composted regularly. They also donate leftover sandwiches to the homeless.
One Sheffield student, Ed, told The Badger, “The zero waste shop does appeal to lots of students here and there always seems to be people in it. Even if you don’t use it because it doesn’t sell everything you might want, it still acts as a reminder to be aware of your waste and the environment”.
The University of Leeds and their Students’ Union have also announced a joint pledge to go plastic free.
In 2018, Aberystwyth University announced that it was awarded Plastic Free University status by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage as part of its Plastic Free Communities campaign.
The Badger Science Editor and Labour Society committee member Sabrina Edwards said “Sussex’s student body prides itself on being green, so this referendum will be a great test if we can put our money and effort where our mouth is”.