& opinion


Everyone is aware of Sussex University’s prominence in social justice activism, but few, it seems, appreciate our green credentials. Aside from being the only university campus in the country to be situated in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sussex last year became one of the first universities in the UK to be run completely on renewable electricity. We buy our electricity from a company who only produce electricity from renewable sources like wind farms or biomass, meaning that the electricity we use makes a zero contribution to carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) emissions, reducing our impact on climate change. Amazingly, this ethical product is actually cheaper than the usual, dirty alternative (hence, the university’s willingness to use it!), the reason being it exempts the university from paying carbon tax. This is one of New Labour’s few examples of effective green legislation - making those who pollute pay extra. Another more controversial example of Sussex’s environmental awareness is their implementation of car-parking fees, due shortly. Whether you’re a cynic and see this as an attempt to increase revenue is irrelevant. This is a scheme that will make people think twice about whether they need to drive onto campus, and hopefully therefore, reduce car numbers by encouraging car sharing and public transport use. As with the carbon tax, the polluter should pay.

Against this background, it seems natural that we should seek to reduce our waste output in other ways and make our university even greener. For these reasons, the Students’ Union has chosen to make recycling one of its three big issues to campaign for this year - the Union is asking all students and the university to refuse refuse. The UK is the dirty (wo)man of Europe - the average person in the UK throws out their own body weight in rubbish every three months, most of which can be re-used, which is the case in other western European countries who have much higher rates of recycling. Instead, these potentially recyclable or reusable materials are dumped in landfill sites or incinerators, creating unspeakable environmental problems. We should object to being part of this throwaway culture. As students here, either as campus dwellers or off-campus residents, we are fortunate that extensive recycling facilities are readily accessible. Brighton and Hove council handed many of the duties of recycling provision and collection in the early 1990s to a worker’s cooperative, Magpie. Magpie has worked wonders in improving recycling rates and services in the area. The recycling facilities are located outside the Students’ Union store at York House, where you can recycle tin and aluminium cans, all colours of glass, newspaper, and unwanted clothes. These facilities are just a short walk from all the residences on campus. Around campus, you will also find special aluminium drinks can bins, especially in the common rooms, and blue bins for white paper in the library and next to photocopiers. For those of us who live offcampus, recycling facilities are also conveniently placed (outside supermarkets, in parks) and if not (or you are just plain lazy), Magpie run the ‘green-box’ scheme. Pay them a small quarterly fee, they give you a green box, you fill it with your recyclable goodies and they’ll collect it from your doorstep every week (in an environmentally- friendly electric truck!) Unfortunately, for you wasters on campus, this service isn’t available, but look out for green boxes appearing in your kitchens very soon - alas, to be emptied by your good selves! Another excellent idea (for students with gardens) is to make a compost bin, which can serve as a dumping unit for all your fruit and vegetable peelings, and even tea bags!

It’s a common myth that recycling is inefficient - it is said that it can use more energy than simply making the product from scratch. Maybe sometimes this is true, but it is not the consumption of energy that is the problem - we would have a limitless supply of energy from renewable sources if only the rich nations of the world were prepared to decouple themselves from their fossil-fuel based economies in favour of developing and deploying green technologies. What we don’t have a limitless supply of are metals like aluminium, or oil-based plastics. Although plastic production accounts for only a small portion of oil use, every year as much oil is used as it takes nature one million years to create. Nor can we afford to be flippant about paper. The daily demand for paper is putting immense pressure on the world’s forests, endangering plants and animals, and threatening the way of life for indigenous forest people.

But what is obvious when we think of these unfortunate realties is that recycling needs to be more than going to the local bottle-bank. What we need are preventative actions that target the source of the problem as well as curative actions that deal with the result (like recycling). So what I mean when I use the term recycling also has to include the wider picture and the other two Rs: Reduce and Re-use. The problem of how to dispose of our overinflated waste output and curb the exhaustion of natural resources must be tackled by reducing our excessive and obsessive consumption. Start by reducing the amount of packaging you buy. Food products especially are criminally over-packaged (often with plastics). Attempt to avoid these by remembering that fruit and vegetables come in their own packaging (!), as you will see if you take a trip to the Open Market, next to the Level. This is the antithesis of supermarket culture - locally grown produce with rarely a package in sight. When shopping, take your rucksack with you to avoid using plastic bags, which incidentally, never fully biodegrade and when poorly disposed of, suffocate and kill marine wildlife. Thankfully, if you have to use plastic bags, ethical ones now exist. Along with the normal range of "bags for life" that most supermarkets offer, you can now obtain free, 100% fully biodegradable bags at the Co-op supermarket and Somerfield. Plastic bags are obviously re-usable - the Students’ Union store welcomes clean, hole-free bags, which it can then give to its customers. Plastic bottles are refillable, even Volvic bottles, despite bizarrely advising you on the side of their bottles ‘Not refillable - bottle only suitable for Volvic water!’ Re-use old paper as scrap when possible, and old envelopes - just cover up the old address with a little paper and write the new one over the top.

Particular to campus is the issue that catering establishments have begun to use plastic plates and polystyrene cups to serve food and drink. Once again, this is harnessing the ‘use once and throw away’ mentality. Try to lobby your common room to use proper plates and mugs. Finally, you can make ethical decisions when you shop. The Students’ Union sell paper made from sustainable forests, and many companies now offer products that come with recycled packaging, which in turn you can recycle yourself. This is the mentality we need to nurture - a mentality of resourcefulness and compassion for the environment.

For your input on environmental or ethical issues email: ussu-environment@sussex.ac.uk