This is a blog post by Jess Fowler who is currently in EUR as an exchange student from University of Leeds.
Our partner university, University of Leeds, has pledged to take the challenge of becoming single-use plastic free by 2023. What can we at EUR learn from their encouraging step forward?
Can you imagine, that ever since plastic was invented in 1907, everything ever made from this material still exists on our planet today. It can never disintegrate. Only in 700 years will they begin to break up into tiny toxic parts of themselves, infiltrating our water systems and our own bodies.
Plastic littered in the streets of the Netherlands.
I am an exchange student from the University of Leeds spending a year at EUR. As the media and politicians begin to pay more attention to the seas polluted by plastic and global rising temperatures, I want to ask the question: What can we, as students, do to make a difference to our planet?
This blog will explore the different facets within both my home university and EUR of students learning about, and adapting to, the ever-growing risk to humankind- whether it be on a macro or micro scale.
It should restore hope in us that a lead British university has taken such a progressive step to pledge to go single-use plastic free. I will be speaking to a member of the Leeds People & planet society, an activist group I have worked with, to gage an understanding of the sustainable efforts at our partner university. Hopefully this way we can gain a little inspiration in our battle against single-use plastics and other sustainable issues on campus.
Firstly though: Alongside the plastic-free pledge, What other kinds of sustainable progress can we see at the University of Leeds?
Within Leeds University Union runs the People and Planet society. People and Planet are a small segment of the largest student activist group in the UK, campaigning on serious topics such as the arms trade, climate change and fossil fuels. Their campaigns are chosen and put into action by their student members, so UK students have the ability to bring any political issue forward and begin to make change!
People & Planet also have an online ‘University League’ that ranks UK universities based on their environmental and ethical performance. The university of Leeds ranks 16th on this list.
Thanks to People & Planet, there has been inspiring changes at the Leeds campus, one of them being the ban on the sale of single-use water bottles and the growth of water fountains around campus.
Right now, their hot focus is putting pressure on the university to DIVEST from fossil fuel companies. Currently, the University of Leeds has more than 3.5 million invested directly into fossil fuel companies like Shell and PB. Taking matters into their own hands, People & Planet also arrange sessions to grill the Vice Chancellor and mobilize students to contact the Vice Chancellor themselves.
Fossil-free protest outside the University of Leeds, November 2018.
Last year we organised innovative and fun events to raise awareness of divestment to seek support from students, such as DJ and spoken word nights. People & planet even held a referendum two years ago which found that 80% of students supported divestment.
As explained by Maire Gould-Yates, treasure of people & planet, for the past two years People & Planet campaigned among fellow activists to remind the University that ‘students do not want their more invested in dirty companies’- companies that drive climate change with dramatic costs to both the planet and the human race.
So what can EUR learn from this?
The investment of University of Leeds in fossil fuel companies lead me to question EUR’s involvement with dangerous companies like these. Interestingly, I found articles from 2017 which revealed how Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Gazprom and many other fossil fuel energy companies benefit through relationships with Rotterdam Business School.
In fact, in 2012 there was an agreement which allowed Shell to potentially influence the curriculum at RSM! Shell relies solely on production and consumption of fossil fuels and are responsible for terrifying amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Does this make RSM guilty in the fight against climate change?
And of course, looking at the University of Leeds’ ban on single-use plastic suggests we could be doing the same here. You only have to look at the amount of plastic in vending machines, shops around campus and the food plaza to imagine the kind of plastic we accumulate on a daily basis- not to mention the sheer number of disposable coffee cups that fill up the trash cans.
Erasmus Sustainability Hub is certainly making progressive steps towards sustainability with various sectors including fashion, agriculture, food and many more. But I think that the University of Leeds demonstrates, that as a University community, there is a long way to go. Sustainability is not only the small choices we make ourselves, but also questioning the role the University plays in the world of fossil fuel production. With Erasmus Sustainability Hub, these are the kinds of changes we can hope to reach towards!