September 15 marked the 32nd International Coastal Clean-Up Day, a day in which all beachgoers are encouraged to pick up and safely dispose of five pieces of rubbish found along the shorelines. While the drizzle and the wind may have deterred some Irish volunteers from spending the day tidying up, internationally the day was heralded as a resounding success. It is estimated that in South Africa alone, the number of cigarette butts picked up from beach-front areas would be enough to line the route of five marathons. It is projected that the worldwide effort will have resulted in over twenty million individual pieces of garbage having been removed from our oceans, proving that little actions can have big impacts. Luckily, there a number of small daily actions which students can undertake during their time at Trinity in order to minimise waste and make a positive impact on the environment around campus.
1. Use the correct bins
This may seem self-evident, however, most pieces of litter seen on the streets can be linked directly back to somebody’s inability to complete this task. The easiest way to reduce the amount of pollution in our environment is for everyone to dispose of their rubbish into the designated receptacles. Dublin City Council has recently announced that close to 60% of rubbish found on the streets of the capital consists of cigarette butts. This has huge implications for bird species and the water supply chain. There is a very simple solution for this problem, which is for all smokers to pop their cigarette butts into bins once they’re finished smoking them.
A progression of this is to use the correct bins for each different category of rubbish. A report by the Irish Examiner earlier this year placed students as the worst offenders for poor bin separation. A single misplaced item of rubbish can contaminate an entire bin of otherwise recyclable materials. A conscious effort to responsibly check what piece of rubbish goes into what bin completely obliterates this issue and allows for those in recycling centres to sort waste in an efficient and sustainable manner.
2. Invest in a coffee cup
If you are one of the approximately 3.5 million Irish people who consume coffee on a regular basis and you wish to reduce the amount of waste you’re producing, then investing in a reusable coffee cup is a good way to go. Over 22,000 single-use coffee cups are disposed of every hour in Ireland. Most single-use coffee cups are currently unable to be recycled in Ireland due to a thin layer of plastic which is fused to the inside of the paper cup. As a result, these cups invariably end up in a landfill. Investing in a reusable coffee cup is a good way to reduce your personal impact on the environment. Trinity branded reusable travel mugs are available in the Library Gift Shop for €9. The added bonus of a 20% discount from the Pav for using your own cup makes this one a no-brainer.
3. Think before you print
As a student, it is inevitable that paper will play at least a minor role in day-to-day life. While it can at times be unavoidable to have to resort to hard copies of important documents, a few tips and tricks can reduce the negative impact on the environment. The easiest method of reducing paper waste is to take a moment to pause and consider whether or not a hard copy of the document in question is truly necessary. In cases where a soft copy will not suffice, ensure that documents have been proofread fully before printing and try as much as possible to print double-sided. Hang onto scrap pieces of paper for future use for taking notes or for making grocery lists. When a piece of paper has been fully used on both sides, then put it into the correct bin to be recycled.
4. Conserve water wherever possible
The commodification of water has been a contentious topic within Ireland in the past few years. However, the idea that water conservation is something which must be promoted as much as possible is something that most people tend to agree quite strongly on. Little daily actions in relation to saving water can really add up. For example, turning off taps while brushing your teeth rather than letting them flow continuously can save the equivalent of ninety glasses of drinking water on a daily basis, which amounts to the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool over the course of a year. Shortening the length of time spent showering is also a highly efficient way to reduce water wastage. One minute spent in the shower can equal anywhere from nine to thirty litres of water, depending on the make and model of the shower. Using a timer or a playlist is a good way to keep track of the time you spend in the shower, making sure to keep electronic items far away from running water.
5. Get involved
Environmental causes aren’t just gaining prominence on the international political stage, there are now a number of green initiatives which are growing on campus. For students who feel they already have a good handle on reducing their waste or for those who just feel extra passionate about the environment, these groups can be a good place to meet like-minded people and also pool resources and ideas. TCD EnviroSoc, TCD Plastic Solutions and Paper Free TCD are just a few of the environmentally focused groups operating on campus.
Many big corporations such as Starbucks and McDonalds have been criticised for their recent decisions to remove plastic straws from their eateries while still using non-recyclable disposable cups and other utensils. While more can be done to target the biggest causes of excess waste when it comes to the reduction of waste no action is too small or inconsequential. The impact of students on environmental policies cannot be overstated. In July of this year, the Dáil voted to divest from fossil fuels on foot of lobbying from Fossil Free TCD, a grassroots movement who succeeded in their campaign to encourage Trinity to divest from fossil fuels back in 2016. However, campaigning on a national level is not the only way students can make a difference. By making conscious decisions in relation to reducing their personal production of waste, each Trinity student can take part in tackling environmental issues. In the end, every piece of rubbish removed from the world’s oceans, the streets of Dublin, or Trinity’s campus is a positive step in the right direction.