How much do YOU know about UOW’s plastic sustainability programs? Can you name more than four initiatives?
Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t – you’re among good company. Actually, I would applaud those of you who can.
Production, use and disposal of plastic has increased drastically over the last decade alone. While plastic is undoubtedly a material that has revolutionised worldwide living, it is just as much worked to our own detriment.
We produce millions of tons of plastic every year, and consequentially generate almost just as much in waste. A massive portion of this waste is a result of packaging. Over time, it seems humankind have developed an ‘”out of sight, out of mind” attitude’ (Nat. Geoscience, 2018) when it comes to the amount of waste we generate. What my research has revolved around is students attitudes towards the part they play in this process.
Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.UN Environment, ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’
Specifically, my research was aimed to develop an understanding of students attitudes towards availability and feasibility of single-use plastics at campus retailers. I undertook an initial survey to get a basic idea of how students were approaching sustainability on a personal level, then created a more refined survey in order to utilise the initial findings and apply them to University initiatives.
Solely working with current BCM212 students meant I was left with only a convenience sample of a limited population. Obviously more responses to my survey would have resulted in a broader and more general understanding of the demographics’ attitudes that I was in pursuit of, but only receiving 36 replies on the initial survey, then 12 on the follow up meant that a descriptive analysis was paramount in order to derive from these results.
Initially, participants were asked to reflect on their own level of environmental consciousness, and rank themselves from 1-5, one being indifferent and five being very conscious.
All participants considered themselves at least aware of their effect of the environment, but only one opted for ‘very conscious’. More on this later.
One of the strongest findings that came from the research is not something that people had much to say about. It was the lack of knowledge that resounded throughout the results.
Of people surveyed, 75% had not a single idea about any initiatives put in place by the university to reduce the consumption of single use plastic. This resounding response indicates that there is not enough publicity of the pre-existing initiatives in order for them to be ultimately effective.
And trust me, there are many of these initiatives in place. Of the three responses I got from students who were ‘aware’ of University initiatives, two stated they knew about the discount for customers who bought a keep cup and used it at campus cafes, an incentive that while effective in planting a seed of environmental consciousness within people, is almost commonplace in today’s society. The other response came from the participant who considered themselves highly conscious of their effect on the environment, any they named four initiatives that they knew.
Now of course I don’t want to speak down on these participants, through their personal awareness they play a very important role in the overall reduction of single-use plastic. When asked about their methods of waste reduction on campus, 63.3% said they owned and used a ‘KeepCup’ or brought meals from home, 45.5% had reusable bags they took to Uni, 18.2% would opt for buying biodegradable over plastic packaged products, and the same amount owned reusable cutlery they would bring to campus.
What I want to emphasise is the lack of awareness that students have when it comes to the institutions methods of reduction as a whole. After all, participants all considered themselves in the mildly to highly conscious range when asked to rate their personal environmental awareness.
A google quick search of ‘UOW Sustainability’ leads one to the UOW Pulse website. Pulse was not mentioned once throughout any survey responses. It is a non-profit organisation funded by the university, and one of it’s main goals is sustainability throughout the institution. The have a dedicated committee ‘Pulse Green Team’ that consults with stakeholders to produce and improve sustainability initiatives. Currently there are nine initiatives actively running. They look at ways not only to reduce waste, but to manage the waste that we do end up producing. They have a volunteer program. They have a sustainably community garden. They have multiple awards and achievements pertaining to sustainability.
A major question drawn from my what my findings have shown: within the group of BCM students surveyed, all of which considered themselves at least concerned about the environment, no-one could specify one of the major sustainability organisations – why?
To the organisations that aspire to do good for not only the students but for the university, you need to be known, to be instilled in students. Subtlety in your initiatives works well, many students know that keep-cups are a great alternative to buying plastic cups, but seem to disregard the overall force that your organisation has to offer.
You should be aware of how initiatives are being observed and treated within certain demographics throughout the university, and react accordingly in order to create better ones that are ultimately more effective and further-reaching.
Geyer et al. 2017, ‘Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made’, Science Advances Vol. 3, No. 7 https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full
UN Environment, ‘#BeatPlasticPollution This World Environment Day’, Viewed 1/6/2020 https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/
UOW Pulse, ‘Sustainability’, Viewed 8/5/2020 https://pulse.uow.edu.au/about/sustainability/
Nature Geoscience, 2018 ‘Pervasive plastic’ Nature Geoscience 11, pg. 291 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-018-0132-6#Bib1