In late March, Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, better known as Hyde Park, made headlines in several newspapers (local ones and even the BBC) for having been left in a disgraceful state by students. The morning after a particularly sunny day, the park was found covered in litter. Soon students began sharing articles and photos of the garbage-wrecked park on the Leeds Student Facebook Group, and a discussion ensued – largely concerning whether or not students were to blame.
Some felt that the park, being a spot mostly used by students, was in that state because of their irresponsible and reckless waste disposal. Others felt students were not the only ones to blame since other residents, like young professionals and older people, also use the park. Some placed the onus on the council, for not placing more bins. It all seemed to be a massive blame game. The news was largely critical of the students. Meanwhile, students themselves were divided on the issue.
In the midst of all this, there was some action taken that was more constructive: one student decided to create a bin bag dispenser and placed it at the park so people can use the bags to dispose of their litter. A student, Jack Colmer, was responsible for building it. He describes his dispenser as “a letter box, but for bin bags”.
The bin bag dispenser placed at Hyde Park (Credit: Jack Colmer, Leeds Students’ Group, Facebook)
Made of wood, this dispenser holds six rolls of bin liners. At the time, Jack posted a picture of it on the Facebook group and urged people to use and then refill it with more bags to help with the waste problem. While, as he also admits, this was a short-term fix, it still proved to be important since it led the conversation in a solution-oriented direction.
Since then, a student-led campaign has been launched to address the litter problem in Hyde Park. After Jack’s efforts, two other students, Kiara and Maria came up with an idea and started making posters to help raise awareness and discourage students from littering. In this process, the three of them have allowed students in the group to come up with funny and catchy slogans on the issue.
Posters designed for the ‘Hyde Park isn’t trashy’ campaign (Credit: Kiara Hambali, Leeds Students’ Group, Facebook)
Talking about the after effect of all these conversations and the campaign, Jack believes that it has “hopefully started a little bit of a trend where people are trying and reducing (littering) as much as they can”. He pointed out that the day after ‘420’ (which is also called ‘Weed Day’), littering seemed to be relatively lesser than on occasions before, when students have gathered in huge numbers. However, not everyone seems to believe the situation was any different on that day. There were still several complaints about cigarette butts and glass pieces lying around.
Since the incident in March, there have been increased efforts by various groups in the form of volunteer clean-up activities. I spoke to Scoop Leeds which is a “student-run zero-waste non-profit shop”, currently in the process of being set up for operation. After this incident, they decided to put their team to use and started a litter picking initiative, collaborating in the process with several other groups like Serve Society and the University Sustainability team. Their volunteers now pick up litter in and around Hyde Park, Monday through Friday, twice a day. They also have come together with other groups to form “an emergency litter pick group chat” which they use to quickly organise themselves after sunny day thrashings at the park.
After this particular incident in March, Scoop Leeds started a petition to request that the City Council place “big, labelled bins”, including recycling bins, at the entrances of the park. This is to attract attention to the bins which they hope would remind people to dispose of the litter properly when they enter the park. At this point they have gathered more than 500 signatures and they plan to take it to the council once it reaches a 1000.
Student views on the issue are quite varied. Charlotte, who volunteers for Litter Free Leeds (a community group that brings together volunteers from around the city for clean-up activities) said, “I find it really disappointing and embarrassing that students make the majority of the mess but the local community end up cleaning the litter through volunteer groups. Although I believe the area doesn’t provide enough bins, most people don’t make the effort to bag their rubbish or put it next to a full bin”. Another student, Dylan, thought differently. He commented, “I think that students were wrongly labelled as the sole culprits without evidence. We should be talking about sustainability and responsibility but instead it became an opportunity to moan about young people”. When I spoke to him, he made it clear that he found the discussions to be overly simplistic. He believes the problem is complicated and that simply blaming students adds nothing to the conversation.
The matter is complicated and it is true that shaming students will not solve the problem. While students need to be more mindful of their actions, more could be done by the council too. Both Jack (who approached the council with his campaign) and those working at Scoop (who are getting a petition ready for the council) pointed out that the council had not been responsive. Furthermore, members at Scoop also weren’t sure if their demands about recycling bins would be worthwhile since they weren’t even certain that the council separates the garbage they collect, in order to take things for recycling. Their inquiry into this did not yield any answers.. It seems a combination of things need to be done to actually improve the garbage situation at Hyde Park and it would require concerted efforts from various parties.
To sign the petition to get the council to place more bins in Hyde Park, please visit: https://www.change.org/p/leeds-city-council-labelled-recycling-bins-on-the-edge-of-hyde-park-leeds?redirect=false