Thinking twice about trashing

Image description: Students take part in traditional post-exam trashing celebrations

The University is set to reintroduce the ‘What a Waste’ campaign first launched last year to discourage students from their current trashing practices. The campaign highlights the social, environmental and financial impact of the traditional post-exam celebrations. Many students are probably not aware that we are, technically, prohibited from “within six miles of Carfax [throwing], [pouring], [spraying], [applying] or [using] anything in a way that is intended or likely to injure anyone, damage (including defacing or destroying) any property, or cause litter.” According to the Proctors’ Regulations for the Activity and Conduct of Student Members, failing to abide by the above will result in, at the very least, a £80 fine. This, obviously, is not rigorously enforced but the point is a fair one. Trashing does indeed have its many cons. However, despite its potentially draconian tone, the ‘What a Waste’ Campaign is not here to be a spoil sport. It encourages and suggests alternatives to the status quo and this, I believe, is the key: alternatives. It isn’t about banning festivities altogether, but rather reframing them for a more socially, financially and environmentally-conscious climate.

Firstly, let’s take a closer look at the campaign literature. It emphasises the negative impact on students’ pockets as well as that on the University’s reputation and then, perhaps most importantly, the consequences of depositing many non-biodegradable substances on the streets and into the river. The first argument is certainly a little problematic. Trashing doesn’t have to be expensive, particularly not when sharing the cost of Lambrini, shaving foam and party poppers between a group. Not everyone will opt to shower their mate in Moet and those who can’t afford it would likely steer clear. Regarding the university’s reputation, the tabloid press loves a bit of Oxbridge-bashing and this is unlikely to change. You only need to google ‘Oxford trashing’ as I did, and the search results are predominantly coverage of how everyone here pelts one another with custard pies. Food used in trashing has been cracked down on, so this isn’t entirely accurate. It’s probably best to ignore the question of reputation as we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Besides, tourists do seem to love snapping some shots of silly string and sub fusc-clad finalists. (Sub fusc in and of itself is also a question of tradition or antiquated snobbery, so why single trashing out as the sole reason Oxford isn’t hailed as a haven of equality?) The litter, however, as mentioned in the code of conduct, is a problem – to which there are solutions, thankfully. All it takes is a bit of open-mindedness and a willingness to forego the powder paint.

However, despite its potentially draconian tone, the ‘What a Waste’ Campaign is not here to be a spoil sport.

In addition to the ‘What a Waste’ campaign, there are several student-run groups promoting a greener approach to trashing and Oxford life more broadly. Oxford Sustainability, Green Trashing Campaign and Oxford Waste and Climate Societies can all be found on Facebook and have been working together to make combining celebrating and respect for the environment more realistic. The Green Trashing Campaign, set up for this specific purpose, held two successful sales of green trashing supplies in June 2018. The proceeds went to RAG and proved there is indeed demand for the likes of bio-glitter and confetti. The Green Trashing Campaign’s ‘Guide to Green Trashing’, which can be found online, outlines the following advice:

  • Make your own confetti out of tissue paper or old newspaper
  • If going for glitter, look online for plant-based varieties – though they aren’t cheap.
  • Avoid shaving foams and paints
  • Recycle empty bottles and cans

To these, I would add that flower garlands, crowns, capes and novelty sunglasses are both easy to keep as a memento and to clean up if necessary, particularly if the only substances with which they have come into contact are paper and alcohol. Cheap to buy, these help provide the colour that you may feel is lacking in the absence of paint and party poppers.

Another valid argument against trashing would be the environmental impact of cleaning suits, shirts and other garments post-trashing. Dry-cleaning is the obvious solution to otherwise-unwearable clothing, but the perchloroethylene used in the process is both harmful to human health and that of the wider ecosystem. This would be an issue, however, we have access to services such as Oxwash, which focus on sustainable dry cleaning. They amongst others claim to utilise ‘wet-cleaning’ to achieve the same result as its more toxic counterpart. It also, surprisingly, uses less water than dry-cleaning.

Undoubtedly, in an ideal Oxford, trashing would not exist. There would be next to no injuries from people slipping on shaving foam, less disruption to residents and students preparing for exams to come and zero cost to the city council because there would be no mess. Realists will acknowledge, however, that engrained tradition cannot be done away with at the drop of a mortar board – and perhaps most of all because students enjoy the end-of-exams ritual that is trashing. Therefore, as a community of intelligent people, aware of the world around us, we must factor in the needs of others when uncorking the bubbly. Fun is an integral part of being a student and need not be compromised on, even if a few changes are made to the trashing staples. Respect your surroundings as you celebrate the hard work that your friends have put into their exams.

Image credit: Richard Nias via Creative Commons