University criticised for imposing £150 trashing fines

Image description: Trashing on Merton Street

University authorities have announced a “strictly enforced” crackdown on trashing, in the face of staunch opposition from Oxford SU.

Trashing is a tradition in which students finishing exams are sprayed with alcohol, foam, confetti, and other substances by their friends outside the Examination Schools. Many will then proceed to jump in the river to wash it off.

Although trashing has been a staple of Oxford undergraduate celebration for decades, it has long been a source of controversy. Opponents of the practice believe that it is recklessly damaging to the environment and that it is a symbol of decadent privilege in a city which struggles with significant inequality. The University website claims that clean-up efforts cost £45,000 per year, or about £3.60 for each of Oxford’s 12,500 undergraduates.

“wasteful and disrespectful”

In an email to all students on Wednesday, the University said that “if you litter by throwing, pouring or spraying substances after your exams, you will be liable to a £150 fine”. 

The University justified the move as necessary to “protect the environment, save money, and respect our community.” It stressed that “we want you to celebrate after your exams”, but the Senior Proctor, Professor Jane Mellor, said that trashing was “wasteful and disrespectful”. 

She added: “We know that our students are committed to sustainability and urge them to extend this to their exam celebrations this year.”

University officials have taken varying approaches to enforcement in past years. Attempts have been made to restrict trashing to Merton Street, and to encourage the use of sustainable, biodegradable materials. In 2018, the University launched a ‘What a Waste’ campaign and threatened to levy fines of up to £300.

vilifies, patronises and scapegoats students”

Oxford SU said in a statement yesterday that it was “disappointed” by the University’s “punitive approach”. Accusing the University of implementing a plan which “vilifies, patronises and scapegoats students”, it claimed that “the University as an institution is responsible for its reputation of elitism” and that “it is not students’ responsibility to save the University money”.

“While we, like many students, believe that environmental sustainability and being mindful of the wider Oxford community is essential, we do not believe that this campaign is a suitable solution to the issues associated with post exam celebration and we understand the distress and upset this will be causing students.

“The use of fines creates a disproportionate punishment as it will have a great impact on some students, depending on their financial situation. It means that students who can afford the fine will continue to trash, while only the students who can’t afford the fine will be prevented from participating.”

The SU reiterated “the importance of post exam celebration for students”, especially “in light of the pandemic and its impact on student experience.” It said that it believes in promoting ‘Green Trashing’, and called for a greater emphasis on encouraging students to use sustainable materials and clean up after themselves.

Image credit: Sheng P. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)