Sustainability is the new hot topic for students and rightly so, with a climate change catastrophe set to hit in the next 12 years unless we drastically change our attitudes towards our impact on the environment. There needs to be serious change in how society functions and who better to start this change than the people who have been driving social change for years; students. The student movement is always at the forefront of this change and that isn’t going to stop when it comes to the sustainability of our planet.
Last week, myself and the 5 other sabbatical officers on UCC Students’ Union decided we would try and go a week without using plastic and see how it would go. We strongly believe that UCC should completely get rid of single-use plastic and that students and staff alike should make a more conscious effort to cut down on our plastic waste. But we didn’t want to constantly harp on about plastic waste killing our planet and not actively try and make that difference ourselves. What’s the point in me creating a campaign encouraging people to go plastic free while I sit in my office drinking from a plastic water bottle and eating from my plastic salad container I got in Elements, right?
‘Why do we even need to go plastic free?’ If you’re reading this and you haven’t looked into the facts around plastic waste then it is completely fair to think that this is a non-issue. Sure most plastic can be recycled anyway, right? Wrong. The majority of plastic isn’t recycled properly at all. If we don’t address and actively change the amount of plastic waste we produce by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Most of our plastic is put in landfills and it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down. So if you think about it, that means every plastic bottle that we have used and thrown away is still on this planet, that’s a hell of a lot of plastic bottles. If you’re still not convinced just do a quick google image search of ‘Plastic Waste’ and see what our world is very rapidly becoming.
We started out by stocking up on the essentials, a shampoo bar, toothpaste tabs, a bamboo toothbrush (which we had generously donated to us from VirtueBrush) and reusable cups/containers for food and coffee. Over the course of the week it became shockingly clear that it is almost impossible to avoid using plastic in our everyday lives. While there are some really simple changes you can make that will cut down on the amount of single use plastic you use everyday, like getting a reusable water bottle and filling it up instead of buying a new plastic bottle every time or getting a reusable tea/coffee cup, there are some things that plastic is the only option available.
I think the thing I found most difficult for the week was medicine; I was sick during the week and something as simple as taking a panadol for a headache is impossible if you’re avoiding using plastic. Not being able to buy a packet of crisps was, of course, the second most difficult part of the week. One challenge that Aaron our Education Officer faced was getting pasta sauce for his lunch, he ended up having to walk into the city to go to Tesco to get a glass jar of sauce as opposed to the plastic pots that were in all the smaller shops.
While it was difficult, and there were some major challenges, it wasn’t impossible. The main thing we learned is the key to going plastic free is preparation; if you bring your own lunch you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere on campus that has plastic-free options.
In saying all this, the answer to climate change isn’t just each individual person deciding to avoid plastic in their everyday lives. We need a complete societal overhaul. We need institutions like UCC to stop using disposable plastic on their campus. We need companies to follow in the footsteps of Lidl and Aldi and phase plastic out of their stores. It shouldn’t be the case that you have to go out of your way to live a greener life and in an ideal world it should be more difficult to use plastic than to avoid it. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world though just yet and until we do we need to continue to push the grassroots movements and continue to refuse plastic in our everyday lives and demand that institutions and companies change their ways.
If this is something that you’re interested in, and like me you think that we need to lobby and encourage institutions like UCC to stop using single use plastic, then you can help us out and sign our petition to call on UCC to make a pledge to go plastic free here – www.change.org/p/university-college-cork-plastic-free-ucc
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