645,500 coffee cups get thrown out on campus each year

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With a population of more than fifteen thousand students, The University of Bath has a tremendous environmental impact, and the responsibility to reduce it as much as possible. According to the 2015 People & Planet University League, the University of Bath ranks 114th out of 150 on sustainability, while Bath Spa University ranks 28th. This is an unsurprising result given the fact that in the 2014-15 academic year, we accumulated 367 tonnes of rubbish from bins around campus (excluding those from accommodations and the Sports Training Village).

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This is a lot of trash to deal with and in many ways, the University has adopted a more assertive position on reducing its waste production in recent years. This is evident in the University’s environmental policy which explains its objective of minimizing carbon emissions, reducing overall waste production and increasing the recycled component of the waste stream. For instance, waste from general bins on campus don’t actually go directly into landfills but is instead treated to extract energy and then burned sustainably, which fits in the broader nation-wide movement undertaken by businesses and organizations to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable trash sent to landfill.
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However, with so much waste being generated on a daily basis and only a portion of it being recycled we are still not reaching our potential when it comes to preserving our natural resources. Among the biggest concerns over waste lies the Coffee Cup issue. In fact, Liz Russell, the waste and recycling manager for campus estates, tells us that ‘the paper cup problem’ is one of the biggest concerns our student community faces. Most of us trudge groggy-eyed to one of the coffee shops on campus everyday desperate for our morning brew hardly aware of the trace we are leaving behind. According to one study quoted by the United Nations University, each cup, along with the paper sleeve as well as production and shipping effects, emits about 0.11 kilograms of CO2. All this damage is inflicted by the mere act of consuming a cup of coffee. Additionally, the amount of solid waste that is produced by the ubiquitous throwaway paper cups is alarming.

The word ‘paper’ might suggest that these coffee cups are easily recycled and therefore harmless. However, most paper cups are coated with polyethylene to enhance durability and convenience. Converting them into compost can be a technologically taxing process since the two components must be isolated prior to being treated. In our world of shrinking forests and degrading ecosystems, we are compromising on the planet’s Carbon absorption capacity for mere convenience. These facts present a shameful plight and we have the power to change it. Last year, Nearly 645,500 paper cups are collected annually from the University of Bath campus rubbish bins (this excluding Costa –the biggest coffee outlet on campus).

In its environmental code of practice, the SU vows to lobby all external partners and stakeholders to minimize their impact on the environment. We talked to the University of Bath Student’s Union Activies Officer Kat Moynihan, who explained that “From the feedback on the Students’ Union Big Plan (Strategy 2016-2019) it was clear that there is a significant student demand for both the Union and the University to step up their environmental practice, as most of said feedback was environmentally focused. Through conversations with Estates, we identified waste as one of the significant problem areas on campus – and one where perhaps we could have a really visible impact. Therefore, after careful consideration we settled on Reduce Waste across Campus as a Top Ten for 16/17”
With the Support of the Students’ Union, Bath University has taken an important step in the right direction to tackle the coffee cups issue on campus this year. A total of 25 new coffee cup recycling bins have been installed across campus as part of the new SU initiative to increase sustainability. As less than one per cent of take away coffee cups get recycled in the UK in one of the two only paper cup recycling businesses in the country, Bath is the first university in the UK to successfully propose and implement a coffee cup recycling scheme this way.
However, it has been argued that awareness of this new initiative has not been publicized enough.  According to Liz Russell, the scheme presents some operational problems as details of this ‘unique’ method of recycling are not specified on the bins.

As a result many of them have been used incorrectly It is not a complicated concept, but admittedly requires a little more brain activity then just throwing a cup in a bin on your way out. The Plastic lids have to be removed and thrown in the ‘plastic’ bins, the cups must be emptied using the side drain and then stacked together in the actual bin. And while we had been informed that the SU staff had been ‘trained accordingly’ to make this recycling scheme as efficient as possible, certain staff members have refuted this claim.

The new initiative is also not advertised at the coffee outlets, leaving students ignorant to the importance of these bins, and how to use them. A further issue with the new bins is that they are not waterproof, and so cannot be used outside on campus. cling scheme, Kat insists that “the introduction of the Coffee Cup bins is something that the Union absolutely supports, which is why we contributed to the cost of the bins to be used within the SU. The added incentive of bringing your own cup as a part of Accommodation and Hospitality’s (ahs’) Leave no Trace Campaign is also something that we hope will help us to achieve our aim to reduce waste across campus.”

 

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The SU has also specified the importance of incentives for individual change too- with a 10% discount being offered at Starbucks for people who bring their own reusable cups. A similar discount is being offered around campus, with the 4W Café introducing a ‘leave no trace loyalty card’ this year- which offers a £2 discount after the 10th reusable cup use.  However these incentives also remain underpublicized by retail outlets. “We can step up our environmental practice internally, says Kat. “It is such a positive step that the University has launched Leave no Trace and introduced Coffee Cup bins, but the Plug and the other (Campus Retail and Commercial Operations owned) outlets that are housed within the Students’ Union are now behind in their environmental practice. We really need to catch-up and up our game internally. We cannot be pushing the University to reduce waste if this isn’t mirrored in the Plug and the other outlets that are housed in our own building – but this is only motivating me, as the Officer overseeing this Top Ten, to work harder and achieve results.”

When it comes to outlets within the Student’s Union building, no one questions the popularity of Starbucks among students, reflected in the immense profit that the SU makes out of its coffee sales. Could the monetary benefit push our University to turn a blind eye to the harmful externalities of its contract? 
Reusable cups are a key part of Starbucks’ overall waste reduction strategy
Perhaps, which is why Starbucks holds equal responsibility in pushing forward a sustainable agenda. In fact, when discussing this with a Starbucks representative, we found out that “Reusable cups are a key part of Starbucks overall waste reduction strategy”.  Starbucks has been offering a money off incentive of 25p to anyone who brings a reusable cup into store for over a decade They also claim that “Sustainability is a priority for Bath University and we have developed the Uni recycling scheme to ensure our students can enjoy a convenient cup of coffee to go, and by using the new bins, recycle their cup after use.” .
Evidently the lack of incentive at the University of Bath is not the problem here. Our student body  clearly wants sustainabilty and environmentpal protection to be a priority, and the University and Students’ Union have responded accordingly.  What we need now is to advertise theses policy efforts, so that the reduction of waste production across University grounds does not only remain a ‘Top Ten Issue’ but a trend-setting agenda for universities across the country
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