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University of Stirling big on recycling- not so big on recycling bins 

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The University of Stirling does not shy away from branding itself as green. Yet it has come to Brig’s attention in recent weeks that a good deal of students living in lower-income student housing are missing recycling bins.

Back in 2019, Brig asked University Cleaning and Waste Manager, Bryan McIlroy, about the lack of recycling bins in University accommodation. He stated: “We have given students bins for general waste, recycling, food, and glass, and educated them on how to use these.”

In the past month, 109 students were surveyed by Brig on the provision of bins in various different kinds of accommodation at the University of Stirling. The responses collected in this survey do not support Mcllroy’s 2019 claim.

64 per cent of students reported that they only received a general waste bin on first moving into their flat, while 22 per cent reported that they received a general waste bin and a recycling bin. Only 6 per cent reported that they received a general waste bin, recycling bin, and food waste bin.

These statistics become even more uncomfortable when considering that the majority of those who reported having no recycling bins live in flats which cost less in rent. The lack of uniform recycling bins within flats across a supposedly eco-friendly University is worrying, to say the least.

When students aren’t provided with the appropriate bins, the responsibility is placed on them to create their own recycling systems. This can be especially frustrating for low income students – where is the extra money supposed to come from?

Vice President Communities, Alyson Mackay, said that this is an issue the Student Union is aware of and working with the accommodation team to rectify by appealing to the University for funding.

She clarified that the reason this issue has taken so long to resolve since it was first covered by Brig in 2019 may come down to different Student Union teams placing the issue at conflicting levels of importance. In addition, she theorised that the University may be hesitant to invest further money into large-scale projects following the money it’s invested into renovating Campus Central, the Sports Centre, and repairs following floods three years ago.

Alyson reflected on her own time in Polwarth and how frustrated she was at not having recycling bins, whilst her more affluent counterparts in Willow Court did. She went on to say that the University probably makes the effort to provide recycling bins in higher-income flats, as they want to keep these high-paying tenants happy.

Brig alum Abbey McKenzie noted that the difference in recycling facilities between flats reflects the view that the privilege of staying in more expensive accommodation affords residents certain perks – like bigger beds, for instance; the phrase, ‘you get what you pay for’, springs to mind. Crucially, she underlined that proper recycling bins should be a basic amenity, not an elitist privilege.

As one student that Brig surveyed put it: “accommodation monthly prices shouldn’t be a barrier” to proper recycling. Another respondent pointed out hypocrisy on the part of the University: “I feel that the lack of recycling and food waste bins is very inappropriate for such an eco-friendly University.”

Student Union Vice President Education, Calum Brown, mentioned how forming the correct relationships with key staff members was important in getting issues addressed. But why should such fundamental issues require connections?

Recycling bins may seem like a silly issue, but they are arguably the most rudimentary component of any green scheme. One has to wonder, if the University fails to deal with the fundamentals, whether the overall integrity of their green system should be put into question.

As former candidate for Student Union President Anastasia Mendini put it: “The University loves to boast its carbon-neutral Student Union and talk a big game about sustainability but fails to take actions at even the lowest level of proper bins.”

Mendini went on saying, “I believe that up till now, the ‘commitment’ towards sustainability has been more for show rather than for actual belief. Too many funds have been invested into appearance over working system reflecting these issues also on campus and the catering spaces.”

When asked what a good system of recycling would be, Mendini explained, “I believe that the University must provide the appropriate bins with appropriate signs in each flat of every accommodation. This means that every accommodation should have a general waste bin, a food caddy with provided biodegradable bags, and at least two bins for recycling with a detailed and easy-to-understand list of what must be recycled.”

A University of Stirling spokesperson said: “The University is committed to the sustainable management of waste that minimises environmental impact and promotes resource efficiency – and the better separation of waste, reuse, recycling and reprocessing across our estate is central to our strategy. In 2021, the recycling rate across the University – including accommodation – was 94 per cent.”

“All university accommodation buildings built since 2012 have a mixed recycling bin in kitchens, and we are working with students to find solutions for those who do not yet have recycling bins in their flat.”

“In addition, we are currently rolling out new food waste bins to all of our student accommodation.”

It remains to be seen whether the Student Union’s efforts to address this issue will be successful, yet as the University continues its green agenda, this is undoubtedly an area in need of urgent attention. As Alyson and the Student Union push forward in a campaign to get recycling bins in all student flats and educate residents on how to recycle, there may be some hope for the University of Stirling’s green future.

Featured image credit: Stirling Students’ Union

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South African student journalist in my second year of doing my Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Journalism Studies and Politics.

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