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Can You Really Save the Planet?

“Because the amount of rubbish accumulated is hazardous to your health we will arrange to have this rubbish uplifted.” Nothing embodies the state of student sustainability more than this direct quote from an email sent to the residents of an Agnes Blackadder Hall kitchen this past September.

The first question that strikes me upon reading that is: How much garbage must be piling up in that kitchen for the school to consider it actually more “hazardous” to the health of students than the tofu scramble they serve at the cafeteria? Yet, the more pertinent question is, how much of that hazardous rubbish was recycled and not immediately thrown into an incinerator? These emails that were sent out illustrate firstly a natural inaptitude for hygiene and secondly, the sheer amount of waste that students can compile within a short time.

While recycling at this university is certainly encouraged, a majority of residents fail to utilize the sustainable system provided. Either due to lack of time or effort, coordinating with your kitchen mates to make a trash run is a rare occurrence. But even to those that don’t live in halls, recycling is not an easy feat. Both in and outside of town, the garbage disposals are often separated from each other. How can anyone expect one student to manage to continually make 10 trips per week to throw away separate bags of trash? In terms of food waste, the university does provide composting bins in most halls, yet speak to any of those residents on how their composting project is going and they will start listing all the things they would do before opening that vile-smelling compost box. Having the option of composting or recycling is not the equivalent of utilizing it.

Food waste, while unsurprising — as an unknown requisite of British food is mandatory tastelessness — is nearly impossible to avoid as a student. Our diets and tolerance for food are constantly evolving, and we often don’t know how much food our stomachs can handle the morning after consuming a mix of six overpriced drinks at The Rule and late-night Empire snacks. In catered halls, it’s difficult to distinguish upon looking which meal will be edible and which will not. Most self-catered students also can’t afford to purchase the sustainable foods sold at the farmer’s market, especially when a plastic-wrapped avocado at Tesco costs half the price. Many foods purchased by students for their meals end up expiring and going to waste anyway.

The key point I’d like to make is that sustainability is a luxury. Now, of course, St Andrews students for the most part are the definition of privilege: Between 200-pound decorative red capes and champagne-filled balls, many of the university’s future philanthropists could probably afford to practice a green lifestyle. However, most students lack the time and resources needed for individual sustainability. They simply can’t prioritize separating waste over their workload or figuring out the university’s unnecessarily complex printer system. For the elite among us who can afford to spend £5 on a load of laundry, decreasing the heat or water levels used during washes is not possible with the systems installed in university residences. All this to say that despite St Andrews’ affinity for advertising itself as a pillar of environmentalism, there is little action occurring on behalf of students.

St Andrews is quite proud of its eco-friendly status, between its goal of net-zero by 2030 and its new Environmental Sustainability board, the university is attempting to heavily reduce its carbon footprint. Yet, if the majority body of the university isn’t practicing sustainability, then can the institution carry that title?

I would like to clearly state that I am in no way advocating for killing the planet and my stances are in not aligned with those of “pro-litterers.” I simply want to argue that as a student who has just barely figured out how to cook instant ramen, sustainability is unfortunately not at the top of my to-do list. However, if you are invested in changing your habits, then I would suggest reading the online Little Green Guide published by the university. Yet, I do think it’s legitimate to understand our limits in sustainability as students. Especially when you have massive corporations dumping hundreds of thousands of tons of waste into the oceans or oil companies’ agenda to become the “world’s greatest bird murderers” with their increasingly frequent spillages.

Real change won’t come from buying a reusable straw you’ll probably lose in a week; it’ll come from changing our diets and advocating for laws that force companies and institutions to practice sustainability and actually save our planet.

Illustration: Vera Rapp

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