‘Roses are green’ Working on making York more environmentally friendly


Maya Upmacis (she/her) investigates how York is becoming more environmentally friendly for Roses

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Image by Annie Watson

By Maya Upmacis

According to the QS World University Rankings, York is the eighth most sustainable university in the UK and 36th most worldwide in 2023. So, what does this stellar ranking tell us? The festivities of the annual Roses competition, taking place on home soil for the first time in four years (not including the virtual Roses in 2021), can demonstrate our achievements in our commitment to hosting an environmentally friendly game and acting sustainably as an institution. However, Roses can also illuminate any shortcomings in this aspiration and most importantly, suggest what we can do to improve in the future.

One of the largest threats to our environment is greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, particularly in the production of burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. Well, what have we done to challenge this? In 2019, York announced a divestment from fossil fuels. In the same year, the university also curbed single-use plastic (a large contributor to carbon emissions) by implementing a charge of 20p on every single-use cup bought. The staggering £68,000 raised by this ‘Latte levy’ is ring-fenced into sustainable initiatives such as YORCUP, the introduction of which has saved an estimated one million cups from landfill and recycled 28,000 single-use cups.

In 2022 this money has been invested into reusable bottles for new coming freshers (I, personally have held on to mine and find it very handy), and in purchases of aluminium cups in order to restrict plastic use for Roses 2023. Since hundreds will travel from Lancaster to York to sport and spectate, students can buy one of these cups found on any outlet on campus, thereby limiting waste and contributing to a somewhat plastic-free event. Perhaps Lacasterians may decide to take one home as a souvenir; a memento of who the real champions are (#rosesarewhite). If not, the charge on the single use cups is also donated to Your Cafe in York and was used to set up a recycling station outside of the YUSU reception, once again facilitating a balance between our consumption and environmental care which will prove particularly beneficial during the varsity weekend.

Moreover, it is thankfully not just York committing to a sustainable game, in previous years, the student union of Lancaster University (LUSU) have also pledged to compete on a low-carbon, level playing field. During ‘Roses Unlocked’, the year of the digitally-assisted, socially distanced tournament, Lancaster University partnered with ‘Zero Negativity Clothing’ to release sustainable merchandise. The company manufactures clothing with recyclable materials, followed by carbon offset delivery, ultimately massively reducing carbon emissions that occur,  especially since the support from people on the stands is popularly exhibited through purchasing merchandise. I was not able to find information on York’s merchandise but, I will suggest that we take a leaf out of Lancaster’s book by supporting smaller, environmentally ethical businesses in York.

Despite this achievement, the games are not perfect. One York student, Marti Stelling, watching Roses in 2022 at Lancaster, commented on the food waste; takeout containers being sold on campus were often “labelled as ‘eco-friendly’ [but], there weren't clear instructions on whether they could be recycled or where to recycle them” resulting in recycling bins used incorrectly. Flash forward to March of this year, Lancaster agreed to tackle food waste, which has been determined to cause nearly one third of greenhouse gas emissions, by working with the Too Good to Go app which offers the leftovers from restaurants and cafes in “magic bags”, which are sold at a significantly discounted prices and to hopefully be used in larger events such as future Roses tournaments. Small steps such as this one highlight active progression and propose a plea for unity between universities and institutions alike in accomplishing sustainability.

As York is an institution which is striving for carbon neutrality by 2030, the mechanics of the largest intra-university competition in Europe will make a difference. This year, in York, schemes that are already in place such as the WarpIt scheme and YOUCUP, will help to make Roses green. Whilst, we as individuals can aid this (insert a quick reminder to pick up litter and recycle during Roses), the question stands: are we doing enough? The University has outlined an ‘ambitious’ sustainability vision in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which I believe optimistically points to a more ecologically sound Roses.