The ‘Grim North’ – Cliche of the Past or the Future?

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Are students the reason that old clichés about the ‘grim North’ could soon make a comeback?

According to Rosie, the sustainability engagement intern at the University of Leeds, Hyde Park and Headingley have ‘some of the poorest recycling rates across the whole of Leeds’. Less than 20% of total household waste is recycled in these areas, a statistic which is much lower than the city-wide average. This issue deepens due to the excessive amount of contamination in recycling bins. If an item that cannot be recycled is placed in a recycling bin, then none of the items in that bin can be recycled. As many as 8 out of 10 green bins in Leeds fall into this category.

Furthermore, the Hyde Park and Headingley areas have also been highlighted as members of the worst culprits in the UK for leaving rubbish and belongings, including white goods, on the streets after the changeover period in the summer. An excess of 350 tonnes of extra waste is generated when students move out of the city each year. In June, Leeds City Council were forced to collect bins on a daily basis in an effort to clear the rubbish. This situation is made worse by the lack of coordination within student households about ‘who buys what’ at the start of the academic year. Not every household needs a surplus of kettles!

The fact that the changeover period is a manic time does not provide a good enough excuse for laziness regarding waste disposal and recycling. It is one of the most important times of the year for everybody to do their bit and avoid the shocking statistics that have such a damaging impact on our planet (along with the label of the ‘grim North’).

Within the University, there are many events hosted that promote sustainability. The Sustainability Service’s key partner- Leeds University Union- runs an annual project called ‘Leave Leeds Tidy’. This provides designated collection points, for example outside Hyde Park Picture House, throughout June where students can drop off their unwanted items for them to be donated to charity. Every year tonnes of clothing, bedding, kitchenware and food is collected. Additionally, many students are also already looking for alternatives to buying new things: many students attend clothes swapping events in the city, such as the Community Clothes Exchange. This is a fantastic way to reduce the unnecessary purchase and disposal of clothing.

Students have also been making a difference through volunteering in sustainability projects. One recent project, ‘Welcome to Leeds’, saw volunteers joining the Sustainability Service out in the community. They welcomed new and returning students to the area and handed out copies of the University’s Guide to Living in Leeds with tips on living more sustainably and information on what to get involved within Leeds.

The most important thing that the ordinary person can do to help the situation is to learn what the problems are and how to address them. At the start of the academic year, it is crucial to find out what items people have so students don’t over-purchase items. If students are still needing something extra, why not pop along to a charity shop and save money buying it second hand?

It is also crucial to learn about recycling. One way to conveniently do this is with the Leeds Bins App, which provides clear information about what you can and can’t recycle, along with when the bins are collected in your area. Another hugely beneficial lifestyle change is to buy a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. A horrific amount of waste on campus is attributed simply to coffee cups which cannot be recycled. Yes, coffee is as essential as water for us students, but when they are put in the paper bin they contaminate all of this potentially recyclable waste. However, if you forget your reusable coffee cup one day, these plastic cups can be recycled at some stores such as Costa and Starbucks.

One key thing that the Sustainability Service at the University of Leeds is doing to potentially understand the situation better and to help develop more effective interventions to prevent student waste is working with academics in the Sustainability Research Institute and Psychology on a new Living Lab student waste research project. A survey has been developed to gather detailed information on the University of Leeds students’ waste patterns, which will aid the research project. Take the survey below –

The issue of rubbish in Leeds is not one to be taken lightly. Over the years young people have bought energy and creativity to Leeds, eliminating old clichés about ‘the grim North’. However, the more recent story would appear to be how students are contributing to making the North a place of low amounts of recycling, high amounts of contamination and huge amounts of waste. The efforts of the Sustainability Service at Leeds University is providing a strong opportunity for students to step up and start improving these statistics.

Here is what is listed on the Leeds City Council website as to what can and cannot go in green bins:


  • Paper– junk mail, office paper, newspapers, magazines, telephone directories, paperback books
  • Cardboard– brown card, glossy printed card, egg boxes, inner tubes from toilet and kitchen rolls
  • Metal Cans– drink cans, food cans, pet food cans
  • Aluminium aerosols (should be empty) – deodorant, cleaning products, hair products
  • Foil– food containers, take away trays, soft foil (should be clean and scrunched up)
  • Plastics– types 1 (PET/PETE), 2 (HDPE/PE-HD) and 4 (LDPE/PE-LD) these numbers can be found in a triangle on many plastic items. Examples of items include plastic bags, plastic food containers and see-through plastic milk containers with lids removed


  • Black bin bags
  • Syringes/needles
  • Kitchen food waste
  • Garden waste
  • Glass
  • Wood or timber
  • Plastic types 3 (PVC/V), 5 (PP), 6 (PS) and 7 (other plastics) for example some margarine tubs and yoghurt pots
  • Dirty food cartons
  • Polystyrene
  • Cartons and hot paper cups
  • Electrical items (including batteries)
  • Textiles (clothes, shoes, belts, bags etc.)
  • Shredded paper
  • Any other household waste