The decision to install recycling and composting facilities in the Sutherland Law Building in UCD has come to be after a year-long student-led campaign. According to Matthew Mollahan, a stage 3 law student, the campaign started when “a group of law students met at a campus meeting last year and wanted to do something about the recycling facilities in Sutherland. It has been between this group and UCD Estates.” In an age and time when recycling must be a basic facility in every public space, the establishment of such an infrastructure is late to UCD. However, it is here now and the group of law students who worked for it feel it represents the start of a bigger phenomenon.

A survey was sent out to the students in Sutherland last year to gauge interest regarding the matter and it showed substantial support for the installation of facilities. Edwin Alblas, an international student of law involved in the campaign, told The University Observer that the UCD Estate Services have a proposal form to submit suggestions, “so we submitted a proposal and sent it to the Green Campus Initiative. Some were quite enthusiastic and some people from the Estates [Services] came over and made plans and maps on where we should set the bins.” Mollahan added, “the Estates [Services] micromanaged everything from there, procurement and other matters.” The bins were initially set to be installed over the summer months. However, certain dealings with the waste handling company, Greyhound, went awry and led to a setback. Other barriers recognised by all parties involved in the campaign were financial restraints.

In addition to funding, the leading factor that held back the authorities from spreading recycling bins across campus is risk of contamination. It has been noted from talks with UCD Estate Services that the degree of proper waste segregation is unreasonably low. Students in campus residences and users of the campus facilities have been found to contaminate available recycling facilities by placing waste types incorrectly in the recycling bin. The Agriculture & Food Science building is struggling with this issue.

The group of law students that brought along the change in Sutherland as well as UCDSU Environmental Officer Katie O’Dea, are keen on starting off information campaigns with instructions on proper disposal of waste. Social media is the primary platform for such campaigns. Michael Callaghan, who is also a part of the drive in Sutherland, said, “we are sending out emails to staff and students about what goes in the bin. It might take a couple of weeks for the information to embed and for people to get used to the presence of recycling bins.” Monitoring is set to take place by the waste handling company and further action would be derived from the results. On the SU side, Katie stated, “we have launched the Eco-UCD group on social media platforms and already have a good following on that. The SU did not have anything to do with this particular campaign but now that it is happening, we are supporting it.”

“The litmus test of success lies not only in the increased use of such facilities but also a reduction in the rate of contamination in the bins, as this costs the institution a substantial amount of money.”

Alblas also said, “when I came to UCD last year and wanted to recycle paper and I realised there was no recycling bin. I was so surprised. It is ridiculous that we don’t already have infrastructure set up for proper waste disposal.” As iterated in a recently held ideas42 conference, a meeting of policy-influencers from across the globe, “successful infrastructure breeds more successful infrastructure.” The installation of recycling and composting facilities in Sutherland is almost a field experiment and O’Dea states, “it is a precedent for the rest of UCD to follow.” UCD Estate Services are onboard to spread further facilities across campus if this move is successful. Arts College Officer Sophie Gibbons, has expressed interest in having these facilities in the Newman building. The litmus test of success lies not only in the increased use of such facilities but also a reduction in the rate of contamination in the bins, as this costs the institution a substantial amount of money.

“This essentially points to the realisation that we need to rethink more than one aspect of our lifestyle when it comes to being environment-friendly. Although reduction of plastic use is the best strategy, recycling plays an irrefutable role in addressing plastic waste.”

The relative ease of use of single-use plastics is the prime reason this unsustainable form of consumption has entrenched itself into everyday life. Even as some of these plastic articles are recyclable, awareness about what can and cannot be recycled is still a grey area. For instance, coffee cups are perceived to be recyclable but in reality, most of these cups have an inner lining of plastic that makes them unsuitable for recycling. Moreover, containing more than 5% moisture renders such articles un-recyclable. This essentially points to the realisation that we need to rethink more than one aspect of our lifestyle when it comes to being environment-friendly. Although reduction of plastic use is the best strategy, recycling plays an irrefutable role in addressing plastic waste.

UCD as of now is designed in a manner that gives instant gratification to its users through plastic-clad products. Lack of sufficient water fountains and recycling facilities exposes students to plastic packaging because carrying a reusable water bottle or coffee cup requires what is known as an “effort tax”, which is simply the hassle factor behind such actions. It has been recognised in academia and in live experiments that making a green action easy is the most effective way to get more individuals to engage in it. This almost sounds like common sense but this aspect of planning often eludes policy-makers. The Estate Services in UCD and the Green Campus Committee are keen to obtain the Green Flag by the end of 2019. The Flag is awarded by An Taisce to third level institutions sufficiently engaged in sustainability drives, and towards this end, the committee accepts proposals and ideas from students.

Ireland is estimated to generate the highest amount of plastic waste per person in Europe, an equivalent of nearly 2,000 water bottles, or 5,550 disposal coffee cups, per person annually. Higher education institutions, like UCD provide mini-environs to effectively implement pro-environmental measures. Even as some of the Union sabbatical officers have brought in environmental clauses to their agenda this year and plastic-free SU shops is one prospective plan, it is the imperative that all students and staff make some effort to make UCD a sustainable institution. Recycling and correct waste handling is a major component of a circular economy. Individuals and communities need to shake out from the current state of inaction about climate change, which is largely a result of inertia, and become saviours for ourselves, if not the coming generations.