Since 2008, Leeds University Union was the first union in the UK to ban the sale of water in the Union’s shops and outlets after a campus-wide referendum where 4000 students voted. However after the new Co-op replaced the Essentials supermarket in February 2019, many students protested the introduction of the sale of bottled water.
The Gryphon can now reveal that the Co-op has sold over 30 thousand bottles of water that are 750ml or less since it opened. This amounts to roughly 625 bottles per week.
Sales of bottled water that was more than one litre were over 15 thousand in the same period which equals around 279 bottles per week.
However the Co-op have taken steps to encourage students to bring their own bottle with the installation of a tap in the store. Usage of this service has doubled in the second half of the monitoring period and is continuing to grow. It is hoped that will hopefully have an even greater impact in this area as time goes on.
As of Febuary, 15,600 litres of water had flowed through the tap that equates to 31,200 500ml bottles.
The Co-op shop also sells still water in cans and the Just Water cartons and some students think it is too excessive to ban all the bottled water being sold in union shop.
Ellie, a first-year student studying at the University of Leeds said “I think they should cut down plastic waste” but argued that stopping it completely would be difficult.
She argued that it is not only students who use the Co-op and some customers might get into a situation “where they need water but don’t have a reusable bottle”
However other students have argued this opinion will make it hard for the University Union to achieve ‘plastic free’ campus by 2023. The Gryphon revealed earlier this year that a monumental amount of plastic waste was produced by the Union’s club night Fruity with over 130,000 plastic items ending up in landfill every year.
A petition was started in March 2019 to stop the sale of plastic bottled water in the Union and received over 2100 signatures. Tom Paul and Megan Ardis, two students who were behind the petition in 2019 put forward the idea as a Better Union Forum proposal.
Forums allow students to put forward ideas that if passed by enough votes amongst a randomly selected group of students will then become Union policy for three years. The idea got 15 out of 16 votes, more than enough above the threshold to become policy.
However despite all the staff being students and the shop managed by LUU senior management, LUU has argued it is not in a position to stop the sale of bottled water as Co-op is a seperate company.
Since the policy passed at Union forum, Megan has been working alongside a range of student campaigners, as well as LUU, to lobby the supermarket to lower its plastic waste. However they are still waiting for a response from Co-Op.
An LUU spokesperson said:
LUU is working with the Co-op on a meal deal that does not involve a bottle as part of the deal as a result of student feedback and working with Megan. We hope this will reduce the number of bottles sold.
The Co-op has also implemented recent changes to its use of plastic in packaging at a national level (for example, the Co-op own-brand water bottle is 100% recyclable) and in collaboration with LUU is looking at specific initiatives to reduce plastic in its supply-chain.
Both LUU and the Co-op remain committed to improve sustainability and reduce the use of plastic in stores.