Reflections on David Hume Tower’s Zero-Waste Corner

This week the University of Edinburgh launched the well awaited for ‘Zero Waste corner’ in the
David Hume tower shop on campus. The shops and cafés in university buildings have already
been operating with environmentally sustainable practices for years; encouraging students to
bring their own take away mugs, selling only fair-trade labeled food, and limiting the sale of
plastic (i.e. selling fruit in bulk rather than packaged). The DHT shop’s Zero-waste corner
however, is a new, and possibly larger, step and symbol of University’s path towards a greener
institution.

The purpose of the corner really goes back to the concept of buying-in-bulk. Instead of products
being individually wrapped, the store now keeps oats, pasta, lentils, dried fruits, nuts, and many
other goodies in big containers from which customers can select their desired amounts to buy.
The goods are then placed in the customers own or bought reusable boxes that are to be weighed
before the purchase can be made. What are the benefits of such a process? Well, first and
foremost, the corners innovative set-up means no waste from packaging. Secondly, customers
personally picking up the goods means no constraints on purchase quantity, and lastly, if buying
a reusable box, customers will have tupperware to take home or use for a next time they shop at
the corner.

Besides food items the Zero-Waste corner also promotes the sale of organic home products such
as toilet paper, washing powder, and hand-made soaps. These products are environmentally
friendly when it comes to their degradation process, meaning that they aren’t comprised of
plastics or toxins that will harm the environment after the consumer has disposed of them (in a
responsible manner of course).

This smaller retail project is part of the University of Edinburgh’s campaign to reduce plastic
consumption at the institution and to become a ‘Zero-waste’ school by the year 2030. The
campaign essentially involves educating members of the university community about
environmental sustainability and how to live more sustainably, thereby moving towards a
reduction in waste production. At the forefront of this movement is cutting out the need for
individual plastic packaging; something that the Zero-waste corner now is a pioneering icon for.
For projects with a long-term global value such as this one, it is important to acknowledge the
origins of the initiative. The idea of the Zero-Waste corner was proposed and followed through
with by Conscious Change, a student-led Social Enterprise. The organisation has an aim to make
it easier for Students and staff at the University to live more sustainably in the city. The
co-founder of the social enterprise Tim Constable Maxwell confirmed this wish for student participation in the environmental movement by stating that “Students can now vote for a
greener future by shopping here.”

Besides the physical reduction of waste it promotes, the Zero-waste corner also has a symbolic
value of reflecting the recent wave of change seen in current day consumerism. Within months,
consumer attitudes, especially amongst the younger generation, have moved from recognising
the negative impact of the past decades consumerist culture on the environment, to actually
wanting to take action on the climate crisis. In the past year, young climate activist Greta
Thunberg has acted as a huge inspiration for this new proactive way of thinking in the younger
generation. Students around the world are aspiring to follow Greta’s footsteps, and the
community at the University of Edinburgh are one prime example of a large academically
informed group of people fighting for the future.

Thus far it is unknown whether the Zero-waste corner will be implemented elsewhere around the
University area but, for now, the DHT shop and the Conscious Change organisation encourages
all students to enjoy the goodness of this newly opened section of the store.

 

Image: JByard via iStock

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