'For a week we will try to produce as little waste as possible'

Almost a year ago a group of students from the Management of International Social Challenges Bachelor’s program started with a small anti-plastic project. They called themselves the Post Plastic Generation. Their get-togethers took place in their own student rooms. Now, almost a year later, they have 450 followers on Facebook, about 45 volunteers and they are an official partner of the Sustainability Hub on campus. During the week of November 19 they’ll host the Zero Waste Week. 

One of your first projects was a big clean-up on campus Woudestein, a group of students went out picking up trash. Is there that much trash on campus? 
‘You don’t see much. But if you look behind the buildings there is a lot. In 30 minutes we had six full garbage bags. It is those invisible clean-ups during the week that make it looks clean. Sometimes we’re on campus to study during the weekend, and that’s when you see the trash. In the weekend there are no cleaners: in one or two days the trashcans are overflowing. Our ambition is to show people what a tremendous amount of trash we produce in only one or two days. 
Cleaners are great but the problem is we don’t see the trash we produce, so we don’t think about it, because it disappears. But how much waste do you actually produce?’

Is that why you started the Zero Waste week? 
‘For a week we will try to produce as little waste as possible. Zero waste is ambitious and hard to achieve, but we would like to bring about awareness. What counts most is: to at least lower your waste. We can show people how to reduce waste in their daily lives with easy things like replacing your to-go cup with a reusable cup. We will have a Zero Waste workshop on Tuesday – making your own oat milk or making your own deodorant. Make it yourself so you don’t need to buy the packaging.’

Is the problem mainly packaging? 
‘It is easy to grab for single-use plastic, like the plastic bag in the supermarket. It is easy and people don’t think about it. It should have a sign saying: “Do you really, really, need this bag? Because it will stay on earth for 450 years and recycling is still not really an option.” At this moment, about 15 percent of plastics is getting recycled. That is not a lot. 
In the big clean-up on campus we found so much packaging from the Spar, so we took a picture and mentioned Spar in a Facebook post: “Is this all your plastic?” The very cool thing is that they got back to us. They responded that they would like to talk and involve us in their packaging campaign. They want to meet with their suppliers to look for more sustainable packaging.’

The Spar on campus is still just a very small player when you look at the big problem: every supermarket in town has this excess of plastic packaging? 
‘Yes, but small steps to raise awareness also help. We as students cannot change the whole university, let alone the whole of society. But we can raise awareness. We are happy to see how much the university is already doing for sustainability compared to earlier years. Though sometimes we think she could still do a little bit more.’ 

'Do you really, really, need this plastic bag? Because it will stay on earth for 450 years and recycling is still not really an option.'

Post plastic generation

Like what? 
‘For example, they could offer plates and cutlery in the Foodplaza. This would mean a huge reduction of waste. Also recycling on campus could be done better. It looks nice at the Foodplaza, these different ‘recycle’ bins, but at the end there is no real recycling system. One other thing: at the Spar there is only one microwave and often a long queue. This doesn’t encourage people to bring their own lunches.’

Will there ever be a post plastic generation? 
Laughs, ‘Well, that is what we are aiming for. Twenty-five years ago there wasn’t much plastic. It is not something that has always been there. We have to find a way to cope with the plastic waste problem. Banning won’t work, because it’s everywhere in the world now. It is not going away – that is the problem.
Plastic is a nice material. But we use it for the wrong purpose. Plastic is too long-lasting for single-use products. For machines it is very useful and efficient, but 36 percent of the plastic that ends up in the ocean is from single-use plastic: straws, bottles, bags. That figure is very sad to us, because these things are easy to replace. 
The good news is: it is currently on political agendas all around the world. The world is talking about this problem.’ 

More information

You can visit Post Plastic Generation on Facebook and join their Zero Waste Week. Or become a member of EUR Connect to connect with fellow students and alumni of the Erasmus University Rotterdam and discuss how we can tackle the big challenges of the future.