At the SUSU AGM on Wednesday, a policy entitled “Ban Plastic Now” was passed. It’s a shame that this policy demonstrates just how incoherent Union policies are, with no long-term perspective.
Firstly, to start with some context, 20 minutes before two o’clock, the union resolved to ban plastic water bottles has been rejected by the AGM on the grounds that it was too extreme, rash and had unpredictable financial implications. Yet, 20 minutes later another policy was passed: “Ban all mixed plastic-cardboard tea/coffee cups, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, polystyrene packaging”, “ban all plastic bags” and too “phase out all plastic packaging” within three years. The logic of this is completely backwards. Why does the AGM, and students, stand up against removing water bottles only then to not stop mandates banning all plastic?
So now the union is left needing to “[ban]all plastic, especially non-recyclable plastic by the end of the next academic year”. This whole idea is simply too rash.
Firstly, what are the financial implications? SUSU President, Ben Franklin, stated at the AGM, that plastic bottles bring £30,000 into Union funds every year, not accounting for other income received from the Union shop were plastic used to wrap items (at a cost effective price). We should add here that the typical environmentalist argument that ‘recycling is cheaper’ is rubbish – experts, at the School of Enigneering, have shown that recycling is more expensive than the oil used to make plastic. So, following this policy, the union is left needing to recuperate an immediate income until recyclable alternatives can be found at an equivalent price. This means less funds to put into Union groups that are already squeezed in funding (including, ironically, the groups requesting these changes!). It should also be added that the policy passed quoting that recyclable plastic is equivalent on the guise that “SUSU sells a bottle of water for £1”. Its a shame that the proposer had not done their research, as bottles are sold from 79p in the Union Shop.
There is a right way to go about these changes. SUSU’s Student Switch Off Society has the right idea – it lobbies for more awareness and education surrounding environmental awareness as well as taking part in recycling and energy-saving events. This is the proper means of solving environmental problems. Meanwhile, SUSU – and the VP Welfare – don’t seem to have any long term vision and think that a rash, blunt, ignorant and frankly childish policy will solve the problem. The way to solve a problem is not simply to remove it; it is to educate and provide alternatives. If SUSU provided both plastic and recyclable alternatives, students may slowly realise the environmental benefits. Removing plastic will not make us the most sustainably aware union, it will just make us the most egotistic union ready to deploy buzz words, regardless of the awareness of those ideas amongst the student body.
Now, no one wants to be a monster about environmentalism, but equally the debates surrounding plastic are not as simple as ‘we should certainly get rid of it because its an environmental demon’. In fact, the topic is a hot debate with various academic and media articles arguing for more radical changes, against these changes and for a middle ground. The arguments for are well covered, but articles such as ‘Why Should We Not Ban Plastic Bags’ and more extensive academic pieces like Rich’s ‘Sustainability for Healthcare Management’ have all given valid reasons to reject the removal of plastic on environmental grounds. The problem is that the union, and its VP Welfare and committees, present this as a one-side debate, in that to be sustainable and promote the environment, we must ban all plastic. But that simply is not the case, and if you have been led to believe such you ought to properly review what is a serious academic, social and political debate.
This is just another example of the Union wanting to appear to be “moral” without really understanding what it is doing, or the debates it is engaging itself in. I’ve got many friends who are Marine Biologists, some of which support reducing our use of plastic due to its effects, some of which do not. The reality is that this is not a simple issue that if you disagree with it, makes you an environmental hater (whatever its advocates may have you believe). There has clearly been no consultation on this matter with the appropriate bodies and it has rather been left for some keen environmentalists and students uneducated on the manner to vote on, without realising the implications. SUSU may want to say this is democratic, but with this approach it certainly does not seem the case.
This whole idea is summed up nicely by a comment made by my lecturer when he heard about the AGM result: “well that’s just odd”. But then what can we expect from a Union with no space for desks in the library but who mandated to fit sleeping pods, and a Union that will now have an allotment in the space it does not have.