leamington waste
Image: Evianne Suen / The Boar

Warwick students respond to Leamington residents’ waste complaints

Students at the University of Warwick renting accommodation in Leamington Spa have called on their landlords and Warwick District Council (WDC) to help resolve issues regarding leftover waste.

The news comes as Warwick’s Students’ Union (SU) announced that students on campus have donated £38,444 worth of goods to the British Heart Foundation, and donation bins will be introduced in Leamington following the success.

The issue of leftover waste and items from houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) – which are often accommodation for students – was first raised in July by local campaign group Leamington Together.

In photos provided to The Boar, leftover items “of exceptionally high quality” included furniture, duvets, clothes, unused food, and electrical appliances. A giant teddy bear was also spotted sitting on top of a bin.

leamington waste

A giant teddy bear left on top of a bin on Russell Terrace, along with bags of duvets. (Image: Leamington Together)

Leamington Together called the phenomenon “a waste of resources” and “technically fly-tipping”, suggesting students to donate their items to charity shops. They also called on landlords, the University and WDC to take action.

“Students are doing an amazing job in terms of raising awareness about single use plastic and waste production, but it’s upsetting to see all the recyclable waste they left behind,” an anonymous resident added.

Warwick students who rent accommodation in Leamington have since spoken out against the issue of leftover waste.

Speaking to The Boar, they revealed that a lack of action from landlords and WDC, the inaccessibility of charity shops and bins, as well as difficulties in vacation storage are a few of various factors that have exacerbated the problem.

One student continued to say that it was “just one manifestation of” tensions resulting from “the divide” between students and residents.

While Leamington Together said that “students don’t understand the rubbish collection schedule”, resulting in leftover piles of real refuse and recyclable waste, students revealed that bins or collections provided by the council throughout the year are “nowhere near adequate for multiple occupancy living”.

An anonymous student, whose seven-person house did not have a recycling box, repeatedly attempted to order one from the council to no avail.

Despite trying to leave their recyclables in cardboard boxes as permitted by the council, they remained uncollected.

“[T]wo weeks between recycling collections really isn’t sufficient for a house that size,” the student said, adding that a high volume of waste is “hard to avoid” for a HMO.

Students revealed that bins or collections provided by the council throughout the year are “nowhere near adequate for multiple occupancy living”

Her house received complaints from neighbours as a result, but the council failed to reply to their email “highlighting the reasons for the issue”.

Responding to enquiries from The Boar about this issue, Warwick District Council said: “Students are advised to speak to their landlords in the first instance if there is not sufficient recycling containers in the property.

“Residents can use their own containers to present their recycling for collection however we ask that these are sturdy containers with handles and no bigger than 55 litres.”

William Hand, another Warwick student who rented accommodation in Leamington, raised the same issue of lacking bins and collections, and how “[m]issing so much as one collection…derails [waste treatment] for the entire year”.

As a result, piles of rubbish bags are left in gardens, driveways and communal spaces “waiting to be disposed of”, yet “the council won’t take additional bags alongside the already overstressed bin facilities provided.”

“This leads to an accumulation of the problem, and large buildups of rubbish, giving students a bad name,” Mr Hand continued, when the scenario “can occur with even the most conscientiously minded students”.

Jackie (not their real name), who studies Biomedical Science at Warwick, acknowledged the council’s provision of extra collections at the end of year, but shared their experience with bin collectors who would “actually take out a bag from the bin and leave it behind because the lid didn’t close fully”, even if it was “only by two centimetres”.

“If it’s an extra moving out collection, it seems silly that they refuse to take an extra bin bag or two,” they added.

When moving out of South Leamington at the end of July, they also “personally saw relatively little rubbish left behind”. While “a few houses had seven or eight bin bags, they were also seven to 10 people houses…that’s a reasonable amount of rubbish to have from moving out.”

The way private student property agents can help is if they amend all student contracts and add a common clause that allows students to leave items like desks, movable drawers, clean utensils at the end of tenancy with the permission of the agent,

– Mardav Gala

Jackie also identified the problem of landlords denying students the option to leave behind usable items such as spare cutlery and small electronics like lamps or toasters, “leaving students no choice but to get rid of them if they cannot take” the items home or transport them.

“Landlords should be more open to letting people leave behind clean, useful items for future tenants,” Jackie suggested. “Spare plates or glasses…are often things people don’t want when they leave university.”

Mardav Gala, who is entering his final year of university, shared similar thoughts. While moving out of Clarendon House before summer in a rush, he left behind “a duvet, my pinboard and a couple of other things back in my room”, for which he was fined £30 as a “cost of removing items”.

“The way private student property agents can help is if they amend all student contracts and add a common clause that allows students to leave items like desks, movable drawers, clean utensils at the end of tenancy with the permission of the agent,” he proposed.

“It adds to the value of the flat and the new cohort would not have to repurchase the same items if they are okay with using the ones left behind.”

Responding to this suggestion, Tara & Co, the property agency behind Student Homes, said that they “would be very open to something which landlords could opt for in relation to leaving adequate items, and not charging a ‘one size fits all’ charge”.

They continued: “I think a collaboration between us and the students would be very welcome in order to tackle this issue. We are always open to discussions about this to look to facilitate positive changes within student housing, to help both residents, neighbours and the town.”

Mr Gala explained that besides “the high costs of vacation storage for penultimate year students”, “proximity to charity shops and the number of items…to be given away” – including the cost of transport – is another problem.

Jackie agreed, pointing out that “if you have a lot of things you want to donate to a charity shop, it can actually be quite hard to get them there if you don’t have a car”.

“It often isn’t as simple as ‘taking things to charity shops’,” said Andrew Kersley, who also resided in Leamington at university.

If you have a lot of things you want to donate to a charity shop, it can actually be quite hard to get them there if you don’t have a car

– Jackie

“For anything substantive like furniture, no single shop can take the item, often wanting to send teams from their central hub to collect it some weeks later.”

Mr Kersley acknowledged that Princes Drive Recycling Centre – which was suggested by Leamington Together – “flexibly takes such items”, but it “has extremely limited opening hours and little to no awareness from students unfamiliar with the area”.

Jackie raised the solution of the University adding “a few collection points around different parts of Leamington”, similar to RAWKUS’s leftover food collection on campus before summer.

On a similar note, Mr Gala said: “Most items that are discarded while moving out are items that are in use until the very last day.

“Therefore, I strongly believe that charity bins around major student locations in Leamington Spa – installed towards the end of Term 3 – should have a positive impact.”

This summer, Warwick SU set up red collection bins across campus for the British Heart Foundation and collected 2,746 bags of “unwanted clothes, books and other saleable possessions”.

This amounted to “approximately £38,444 of saleable goods” and diverted “22 tonnes of items from landfill and the general waste stream.”

As a result and to increase donations in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), the SU has arranged a year-round donation bin in the main reception of The Union Leamington, a private accommodation complex for students.

“We hope British Heart Foundation will be willing to replicate this type of donation in new private student accommodation currently being built in Canley,” they continued.

“Our long-term goal is to lobby the councils to have red bins installed in student-heavy areas of the local community.”

Our long-term goal is to lobby the councils to have red bins installed in student-heavy areas of the local community

– Warwick SU

The campus charity bins were part of their “Moving out without losing out” campaign, which will also see a new clothing swap on Wednesday of every Week 7, where donations will go to support Canley Community Centre. The SU also directed students to their WasteLess webpage.

They revealed to The Boar that the number of complaints compared to previous years dropped by over 40% “from a number of proactive steps to help reduce waste”.

One of which includes pioneering the additional grey bin collection in South Leamington on 29 June arranged by the University and WDC, which students such as Jackie said was a bit too early as most student move out later.

Nonetheless, the SU said the scheme “was well used by students” and four tonnes of waste was collected, adding that they hope for it to continue next year.

They also stated that they will recommend additional recycling collection to be included, and the scheme expanded to other local areas.

Jackie said the issue of leftovers is “just one manifestation” of the “major divide between local residents” and students particularly in the north of town.

“To say we give nothing back to the town and that we can afford to throw away stuff is just simply not true. The problems are much more complex than these residents are making out,” Jackie continued.

“I can understand their frustration, but I think they have fallen into the trap of taking it out on students, the majority of whom are not to blame.”

A fourth-year Biological Sciences student took issue with Leamington Together’s claim that the area is not a “university town” and the “student corpus puts tremendous pressure on the town’s resources and services” while residents “get very little back”.

We are always open to discussions about this to look to facilitate positive changes within student housing, to help both residents, neighbours and the town

– Tara & Co

Citing research by the University of Warwick on its surrounding areas, he said that the quote “paints students as parasites” and the economic impact of students living in Leamington is “undeniable”, through ways such as student-run volunteer projects.

In the same vein, Andrew pointed out that the student population “could represent up to 15% of the town’s residents”, which is “higher than in traditional university towns like Leeds or Cambridge”.

He explained: “On one level then it all comes down to the fact that Leamington’s thousands of student residents are an alien and nomadic population, destined to move in huge numbers from a mid-sized town whose already austerity hit infrastructure isn’t designed for such an exodus.

“It can’t be forgotten that student housing is a lucrative industry and huge swathes of the student housing market are controlled by a small oligopoly of landlords,” he added, who “offer little to no guidelines, services or support, beyond threatening yet more fees for excess rubbish.

“This comes alongside a litany of other fees, tasks and attempts to deny the return of a deposit from landlords with a captive market of students and little to no oversight.”

Meanwhile, “huge letting agencies care little if the aftermath of their often extortionate profits land on the shoulders of the already overburdened council, students and residents.”

Responding to the students’ statements, Leamington Together emphasised that they are “most definitely not anti-student”.

They elaborated: “The growth in student numbers is patently benefiting local landlords and the University equally. At the same time, local councils are completely compromised financially.

Those who are benefiting financially need to take active responsibility for the issues that they’re actually accountable for

– Leamington Togther

“This is a perfect storm as increased pressure on public services: waste management and transport particularly, is deleterious for the community as a whole.”

The campaign group continued: “Landlords need to be held to account, as does the university. The local council may be inefficient and ineffective, but I’m not sure that in this instance ‘council bashing’ is the answer.

“Those who are benefiting financially need to take active responsibility for the issues that they’re actually accountable for.”

In their response to The Boar, the council added that they work “closely” with the University and SU “to proactively communicate with students regarding refuse and recycling”.

“This includes a social media campaign, a direct email to all students with advice on refuse, recycling and bulky waste collections and a letter to all known student landlords,” they said.

“This communication takes place twice a year, at the start of the academic year and towards the end of the academic year. In addition a welcome postcard is sent to all known student occupied properties at the beginning of term.

“If students are experiencing difficulty in managing their refuse and recycling we encourage them to contact us making it clear that they are a student property.”

An anonymous Warwick student commented: “The council knows this happens every year and they never do enough to help us move out, many of us don’t have the ability or funds to dispose of the waste properly. We are residents too, and the council should treat us as such.

“Local residents and businesses just see us as walking cash, and treat us like cattle. Why are they surprised that we don’t go out of our way to help them, when the majority of them treat us with contempt.”

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