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Michael Spence Column for Disagreeing Well: Does the USU have a point?

In the weekly column where we air an ill-thought out hot take, Ariana Haghighi lets loose!

One rainy afternoon on 7 February, the leaders of Clubs and Societies on campus gathered around their laptops. Soon after their clammy hands entered the Zoom code, they were faced with catastrophic news: the USU’s new eco-friendly measures.

Mouths visibly dropped after USU something’s Andrew Mills announced that free-floating stickers were banned from USU Welcome Week due to environmental concerns. C&S Presidents rushed to private message their Treasurers, wondering incredulously how they would recuperate the $50 or $300 paid to Vistaprint for their glossy platitudes. Bolder society executives voiced their concerns aloud, questioning the allure of an unadorned and undecorated Welcome Week.

Over the years, the USU has made environmental strides that appear as a form of green-washing; although the Courtyard straws are bitingly biodegradable, and many students are still picking bits of the “edible” plates from between their teeth, the USU has a concerning history of fossil fuel investment. Their claims of progress are certainly grounded in truth, but do not detract from the validity of concerns surrounding the inordinate waste produced in the span of three days at Welcome Fest. 

Stickers are a tempting choice for club merch; they are cheaper than clothing and are marginally more useful than business cards or flyers. However, after the first day of Welcome Fest, Eastern Avenue and the Law Lawns – housing over 260 club stalls – stickers and their backings were strewn on the pavement like leaf litter. I even saw a first-year eat one off the floor of Taste Cafe, mistaking it for even more free food. If we, as Club executives, interrogate ourselves beyond the initial temptation, do we realise the futility of it all? I have the roller derby society’s (RDSOC) sticker branding my tablet, but have I ever skated? Will I ever skate? 

If we can agree that loose stickers do not create an impetus to be more involved (or at least, there are other alternatives such as good salesmanship), is it time to exchange them for more lasting goodies? Without utility, throwaway merch serves no purpose beyond propaganda and pageantry. Most importantly, this pomp fades away by the weekend’s arrival, and the bulk-printed plastic squares often collect dust in a pocket or unused tote bag. Yes, the USU maintains a trend of eco-capitalistic measures. But perhaps now they have a point?

Disclaimer: Ariana’s Cartoon Caption Contest Club’s stickers were printed pre-announcement, and notebooks were hastily purchased during the Zoom to ensure the stickers found a longer-lasting home.

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