Free Water Bottles Anyone?

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Over 10 years ago, in 2008, students at Leeds participated in a referendum that saw a historic banning of the sale of single use plastic bottles in the student union. Being the first Union in the country to do so, Leeds students held their heads high in being the forerunners of placing sustainability before profit.

Despite this, today in 2019, as the world moves ever closer towards environmental destruction, the new Co-op at the university union has decided to overturn the ban for the sake of its own profit margins. But Leeds students shouldn’t be worried right? After all, Co-op have given out free reusable plastic water bottles to hundreds of students…

Out of context this seems like a generous and enjoyable move. Plastic water bottles hidden around campus like an easter egg hunt let students break up their studies by searching for a free way to boost their sustainability. But when broken down, Co-op’s advertising strategy reveals their disturbing attitude not just towards sustainability but to Leeds students too.

After singlehandedly undoing ten years of environmental consciousness on campus, Co-op have tried to divert our attention from their lack of respect for the eco-friendly desires of Leeds students to a barely advertised and out of touch campaign to give us free things. A million plastic bottles were bought every minute across the globe in 2017. That number will increase by 2021. Between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. A few hundred reusable water bottles should not be the point of forgiveness for the huge steps back Co-op is taking in terms of protecting our planet.

Beyond this, Co-op’s twisted ideas of environmental responsibility have been put on display for all to see. Despite claiming to be a company that cares for the environment, Co-op’s attempt to win students over with reusable bottles points to a lack of genuine resposibility over the products they sell. 

Giving out bottles has sent a clear message. Co-op expects us, the students, to shoulder the burden of their environmental blunders. By taking a ‘here’s the chance to be sustainable if you want to and here’s the chance to destroy our planet too’ stance, Co-op are eschewing their own responsibility in favour of the profits they get from ruining the one world we have to live on.

Finally, Co-op have shown that they do not care for student life, or indeed for students. They overturn our referendums, sell products directly against the wishes of students, jeopardize the future of the planet we live on, and then try and buy out our outrage with more bottles.

If we want to make a difference and make sure we don’t fail the students that worked so hard to introduce the water bottle ban, we won’t let Co-op’s attempts at buying us out dampen our rage. Co-op, and the Leeds University Union itself, need to understand that undermining the value of student referendums and taking steps away from protecting our planet can’t go unpunished. Even more so if they do both in the same breath and then try to silence us with more plastic.


A Leeds University Union spokesperson said:

“Our partnership with Co-op offers us a greater opportunity to work in collaboration towards our respective strategic approaches to single-use plastic on a scale much larger than just the Union. Co-op are as dedicated to work towards our goal as we are and have already made industry-leading strides, including all of their own brand still, sparkling and flavoured water to bottles being made of 50% rPET material. 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. We will be looking at and making public the purchasing choices made by our members within Co-op once we have been trading a little longer and will be inviting members to feedback on their concerns.“

Image Credit: Becca Hodgson.