Last Wednesday (20th February) saw the grand opening of LUU’s new Co-op store.
LUU have said that the decision to transform Essentials into a Co-op would “provide [students] with more choice of products, cheaper options and a speedier shopping experience”.
This decision to partner with Co-op was based on their “product range, ethical standpoint, value for money and contribution to the communities they operate in”.
The store is still managed by Leeds University Union, and run by its staff and members.
However, this change hasn’t come without controversy.
In 2008, Leeds students voted to ban the sale of water in Union shops, in a campus-wide referendum. LUU was the first union in the country to make such a decision.
During the academic year 2007-2008, LUU reportedly profited £32,000 on bottled water alone. In banning bottled water, the Union sacrificed profit for sustainability. This was a landmark decision, and one which demonstrated the values of Leeds University Union.
Now, this move from Essentials to Co-op has seen the re-introduction of bottled water to LUU’s shelves, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some shoppers have taken to social media, expressing their anger and frustration over the decision.
One tweet read:
“Really disappointed by @coopukfood takeover of @LeedsUniUnion shop. Empty sandwich shelves, but even worse the reintroduction of still bottled water to the union after almost *10 years* of a ban. @UoL_Sus did you know about this? A backwards step for #plasticfree 2023 campaign.”
In a follow-up tweet directed at Leeds’ Sustainability department, she said: “I hope these bottles will be removed soon in line with Union policy!”
LUU’s new Co-op has a water fountain within the store, and still sells reusable water bottles. Nonetheless, some still believe that the reintroduction of bottled water shows a complete disregard for Union policy.
On the 6th November 2018, the University of Leeds pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic items by 2023.
Some have also voiced their uncertainty online over what the move from Essentials to Co-op means for the #2023PlasticFree campaign. Co-op have committed to making 100% of their packaging easy to recycle by 2023, but haven’t revealed plans to eliminate single-use plastics in this timeframe.
In relation to these criticism, Chris Morris, Union Affairs, Officer said:
“Our new partnership with Co-op offers us a great opportunity to work on a national level towards our respective strategic approaches to reducing single-use plastic. We are committed to our target to remove single-use plastics and welcome challenge and support from our students and staff as we take this journey.”
Image: [Zahra Iqbal]
A petition has been set up to stop the sale of bottled water in LUU’s Co-op. At the time of writing (3pm), it has amassed 525 supporters. You can show your support here.