University students living sustainably on campus

Buildings in Stafford StaffordshireAt Staffordshire’s Keele University, a group of students is embarking on a one year project which will teach them how to live sustainably.

The mainly student-led project, known as the ‘Sustainability Bungalow’, is located on the university’s campus, in the former home of the caretaker. The idea formulated after a group of students who were participating in the Environment and Sustainability course at Keele University were inspired after learning new skills on field trips and during lectures. The university runs modules on ‘empowering students to drive change’ that has inspired the students to ‘make a difference’.

Four students are accepted to take part in the project into the bungalow each year. At least one student is studying on the Environment and Sustainability course and the rest are studying courses that share an interest in sustainability.

Sarah Briggs was a Environment & Sustainability student at Keele herself and now works to help other students. She says the students tend to focus on environmental issues that they feel are not being addressed fully and ways in which to tackle a problem one step at a time.

One of the issues the project has recently looked at is food waste. The caretaker’s old home has a small patch of land attached in which the students grow vegetables and they now compost as much food waste as possible with the help of the Vegetarian Society, an organisation that looks at plant-based eating.

A dry goods store allows students to bring their own containers and buy food by weight, thus cutting the need for plastic bags or packaging. Students finishing their courses and ready to leave university are encouraged to offer their materials to new students who may have need for them. Recycling in general is something that is widely encouraged across the board.

Hannah Murray, a current student of the university, spent her first year in a shared house and said that during that time recycling food waste was done sometimes, but not all the time. However, when she moved into the sustainability bungalow, she found everyone was more committed to the cause. As a student of chemistry, she said the project was not just about students on the Environment and Sustainability course recycling, but rather a team effort across campus. Hannah now says she cooks more from scratch, recycles what she can and turns lights off when not needed. She finds it hard to find goods without plastic but has slowly learned ways of buying less plastic.

Another student on the course, Lily Woodhams, said that learning about climate change at primary school stuck with her and made her want to choose the course at university. She visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales which investigates off-grid living and helped inspire her involvement in the bungalow project.

Produce grown in the garden is nurtured by the student, which reduces plastic packaging as it can be picked from the garden. Although Lily says that when she reads news articles and sees nature programmes about the amount of plastic in our oceans, she sometimes feels disheartened.

She said: “I sometimes think, what is the point in me doing anything? But then I took part in the Plastic Free Fortnight, a challenge that was set up by the Environmental Justice Foundation, then I realised a small change is a big change, in a way.”

The main message here seems to be that if everyone asked ‘what is the point?’ – then nothing would ever be achieved.

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