Move out don’t throw out: the impact of our student throwaway culture

By Lara Santos and Rosie Dowsing

If the average UK household produces more than a tonne of waste a year, imagine the impact of students moving houses on an annual basis. Not only is student drinking culture detrimental to the environment through the consistent use of plastic cups, straws and cans, but over 2 million students across the country are moving out in June, which is taking its toll on landfill sites.

We should all get involved to make Durham a greener university

Thinking about student life here in Durham, there are so many aspects that continually add to our throwaway culture. Fancy dress is bought for single uses on socials, coffee cups are consistently found in the wrong library bins, students living off meal deals generate huge amounts of packaging and often glass recycling bins go missing on student streets – which makes the whole process even more difficult.

How can Durham students reduce its waste, throughout each term and at the end of the year? There are so many events and activities that take place at Durham University due to the array of available clubs, societies, fancy dress socials and black tie balls, and the result is an extensive amount of ball gowns, shirts and costumes often to be worn once and then thrown into the back of a wardrobe, not to be seen again until the end of third term. Charity shops in Durham are a great place to donate well-kept clothing items, enabling others to get an extra wear out of formal or fancy garments, at the same time as helping both charities and the environment.

Green Move Out enables students to donate reusable household items to a charity collection

Durham University also has a Green Move Out scheme, which is a useful initiative organised with local charity, County Durham Furniture Help Scheme (CDFHS), enabling students to donate all cutlery, plates, electrics and other reusable items to a collection at the end of the academic year. Clear purple bags are being distributed to Livers Out over this week and the next, where students can place all of their reusable items that they would otherwise throw out when moving house. The bags are then collected by volunteers, and the items are sold cheaply in October for the next academic year, supporting people in need across the North East and massively helping to reduce student waste. Over 2650 bags of reusable items were collected last year, which, although impressive, is little when compared to the population of 17,000 students living in Durham. Let’s hope the scheme continues to grow and have an increasingly positive impact.

Over 2650 bags of reusable items were collected last year

Birmingham University has been highly acclaimed due to a similar initiative, run with student collaboration. This should be used as inspiration for our own Green Move Out scheme here in Durham, as more student involvement would greatly increase awareness and help decrease our throwaway culture. Having a student society or ambassadors for the campaign would be incredibly beneficial to the student population and the environment, simply by word of mouth or mobilisation via social media. While colleges are involved in Green Move Out, being awarded or ranked upon how many bags of household items they donate to CDFHS, a stronger presence among students would bring Livers Out together for the same cause.

However, students are not entirely to blame. Whilst Morgan Stanley, Bill Free Homes and private landlords, amongst others, allow students to leave household items in the property for the upcoming tenants, JW Wood charges students for any item left behind, be it a plate, a chopping board or a traffic cone. Despite JW Wood emailing students with the Green Move Out campaign, perhaps more should be done to prevent this annual moving out routine from contributing so dangerously to landfill.

Agencies like Bill Free Homes have also failed to provide feasible recycling options for students living in Market Square, as their rubbish is collected by the letting agency. A student under these circumstances, Sam Assim, spoke to Bill Free Homes about this, and was told that his only option is to take recycling to a tip, all of which are at least a short drive away and thus not always a possibility for students.

More should be done to prevent this annual moving out routine from contributing so dangerously to landfill

Moving out is stressful, and worrying about recycling and waste may seem to be the least of our problems. However, reducing throwaway culture at university is actually a lot simpler than it seems if we are informed about the many possibilities available. Nearly two thirds of household rubbish can be recycled, and with the rise in eco-friendly initiatives, we should all get involved to make Durham a greener university.

Illustrations: Lara Santos

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