The Centre for Dementia Prevention formed its own volunteer sustainability team in 2016, and were awarded the Bronze Sustainability Award in March 2017, and the Silver Award in March 2018. Having achieved the Silver Award the Centre for Dementia Prevention believed it could improve even further and compete for the Gold Award in 2020.
The Sustainability Awards
The Sustainability Awards began in 2010 and gives offices and labs within the University of Edinburgh opportunity to be recognised for improving sustainable practices within their respective departments. The awards are organised and governed by the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Department who set out various sustainability goals for the department to reach. These are aimed toward improving practices across six themes: Engagement and Communications, Resource Efficiency, Travel, Energy, Purchasing, and Health and Wellbeing. There are three award levels, bronze, silver, and gold – with each becoming increasingly more challenging to achieve.
The criteria for the Gold Sustainability Award is different to the bronze and silver awards, which required a series of sustainability targets across the six themes to be met throughout the year. Instead the gold award focuses on a single unique project that demonstrates a significant and meaningful impact with a lasting legacy to the department and University.
The EcoBrick Project
The Centre for Dementia Prevention has tried to do something unique with its EcoBrick Project. Something like this has never been done before at the University. The goal of EcoBricks is simple. That is, to reduce harmful plastics from entering landfill, the environment, and the oceans. It is estimated that only 9% of plastics ever produced have been recycled, with 40% of plastics being of single-use. With 8,000,000 tonnes of plastic reaching the oceans each year globally, plastic is not just a University problem but a global one. The EcoBrick project was created in order to raise awareness of plastic use, to reduce the department’s landfill waste, and to hopefully encourage long-term changes in plastic consumption habits of the staff.
What is an EcoBrick?
An EcoBrick is simply a plastic bottle filled with shredded, non-recyclable, single-use plastics that would otherwise find their way to general waste and landfill. These plastics include anything that cannot be recycled, such as food and sweet wrappers, plastic packaging, and crisp packets. Such waste can take up to 500 years to decompose, and leaves a trail of toxic microplastics in its wake.
Whilst the concept of EcoBricks is simple, the process is demanding. We collected the plastics by creating a special EcoBrick bin and encouraged staff to put their plastic waste in it. The materials then had to be washed and dried, shredded by hand using scissors, and packed into bottles. A very resource intensive enterprise! The EcoBrick project aimed to collect plastic, make EcoBricks, and create a structure built from the EcoBricks which could be used to raise awareness of plastic waste and EcoBricks.
Current Progress – One Week To Go!
EcoBricks themselves can be used in construction, to make furniture, or art. Our intention was to firstly raise awareness of single-use plastic consumption. When items wrapped in plastic are bought in a shop and then discarded in a bin, it is very difficult to gauge how much plastic one actually consumes and sends to landfill. Secondly, we hoped to change staff behaviour in regards to shopping habits and plastic consumption.
We are now entering the final stages of the project and all the evidence will soon be submitted to the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Department for review. As part of the final stages we aim to finish packing the EcoBricks, and create something with some of the EcoBricks. That something will depend on how creative we can be, and what resources we have at our disposal.
In terms of offset, since April 2019, we have created 24 EcoBricks which have been validated by the EcoBrick community. This equates to 6.10kg of single-use plastics diverted from landfill, and 18.53kg of C02 sequestered form the atmosphere. Although it is difficult to gauge how much waste that is in practical terms, it may be helpful to note that one 500ml water bottle can hold as much rubbish as a 20L waste basket! Some of these plastics have also been collected from members of the local community, meaning that waste has also been diverted from the community and not just the department.
A Lasting Impact
In October, a survey was sent to the Centre for Dementia Prevention staff, and the feedback is very positive regarding our goals mentioned earlier. Forty-eight percent of staff increased recycling more than they did before the project started. Very encouragingly, 70% of staff actively bought less single-use plastics. This may have been through buying loose fruit and vegetables instead of packaged, for example. What is even more encouraging is that 91% of staff indicated they would continue with their personal changes to plastic use and consumption in the longer term. Regardless of whether the department achieves the Gold Award or not, this alone ensures the project has been a success.
Please check back soon to see if we have achieved our goal of obtaining the Sustainability Gold Award.