Welcome to the new and returning students in Department of Economics and Related Studies!  We are excited to start the autumn term.

There are many opportunities to follow a more sustainable life at the University and in York, and this site contains a number of ideas.  Find out how to get around with the minimum of cost and carbon footprint, how to cook imaginatively and cheaply, how to keep those ever-expensive energy costs down and the variety of ways you can get involved with the University and the local community to contribute to sustainable living.

One more thing – do tell us what you would like to see on this website!  Please comment on what you find useful, and tell us about what’s missing.  We are looking for bloggers on a variety of subjects and volunteers to manage the website.  Contact us at eco-nomical@york.ac.uk  – and have a fantastic term!

International Development Society Conference on Climate Change

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Comprehensive assessment by scientists shows that it is extremely likely that human activity has been the dominant cause of global change since the mid-20th Century. While the carbon footprint of the world’s most poverty-stricken billion people is only 3 per cent of the world’s total footprint, they are the most vulnerable to its consequences.

This is the reason why this year’s conference organised by the International Development Society revolves around climate change, its effects on developing countries, and the necessary domestic and international policy steps to undertake in order to improve the situation.

Climate change affects developing countries in several ways.

Firstly, it has disastrous effects on the state of world agriculture. This will be especially the case in developing countries that have limited financial resources and technologies available to adapt to such environmental impacts.

To explore this topic further, we are hosting Dr Claire Quinn, from the University of Leeds, who will speak to us about the effects of climate change on agriculture in Africa. Dr Quinn is an environmental social scientist with over 20 years of experience working on interdisciplinary projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.

After Dr Quinn, Professor Fiona Nunan, from the University of Birmingham, will talk to us about policy solutions in developing countries. She will talk to us about her book titled Making Climate Compatible Development Happen. Her first book Understanding Poverty and the Environment: Analytical Frameworks and Approaches makes an innovative contribution to the literature on environment and development by bringing together a diverse range of analytical approaches and frameworks that can be used to study human-nature interactions.

After, Patrick Curran, Policy Analyst and Research Advisor to Professor Stern, will deliver a talk titled Unlocking the sustainable and inclusive growth story of the 21st Century: The central role of developing countries. Curran researches at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE. Before that, he worked at Camco Clean Energy (South Africa) supporting the development of climate change and energy policy in sub-Saharan Africa.

We also have a speaker from the International Institute for Environment and Development in Edinburgh. Binyam Gebreyes will speak about climate policy in Ethiopia and the International climate change negotiation in the context of Least Developed Countries. Before joining the IIED, he worked for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of Ethiopia serving as an environmental law expert: main responsibilities involved coordinating matters related to multilateral environmental agreements including domestic ratifications and supporting national implementation of those treaties.

Finally, Adrian Villasenor-Lopez, Research Fellow from the Centre for Health Economics here at York, will talk to us about environmental policy and human wellbeing. He undertook a postdoc at the “Centre for the Socio-Economic Impact Evaluation of Environmental Policies (CESIEP)” at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile where he worked evaluating the success of programmes in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile in terms of their impact on human wellbeing.

We are also hosting Jo Musker-Sherwood, from the NGO Hope for the Future. Her passion for climate justice stems from time volunteering in Peru and a year she spent working with asylum seekers and refugees. Together with campaigners and MPs from across the UK, she has been working as part of the campaign to find ways of communicating the urgency of the climate crisis to UK politicians.

During the conference, we will offer coffee and tea, as well as lunch. During the lunch break, we will host a quiz in which you can participate and test your knowledge about such an important topic! The winner will receive a prize.

Participation to the conference, which will be held in the Ron Cooke Hub Lakehouse on Saturday 23rd of February, is free, but we do ask you to book your place through Facebook or YUSU. We are proud and excited to present well-established and interest academics who are experts in their fields. See you there!

Students can book their tickets on our facebook event:
Or directly on YUSU:

The International Development Society Committee

One Planet Week, 11-17 February 2019

It’s that time again! One Planet Week takes place 11 – 17 February 2019, and the theme this year is Sustainable Materials.


As part of the week’s celebrations, the Green Impact team here in the Department of Economics will be holding a herb plant sale on Wednesday 13th February at 11 am, in the reception area of our building.  The seedlings are planted in temporary pots made from newspaper, with labels made from milk bottles.   Do support this event if you can. All money raised from the sale will support York Toilet Twinning.

There are many fantastic events going on across campus, the following short list contains just a few highlights.  For more information, check out the UoY Sustainability webpages, or their Facebook and Twitter feeds: #OPW19

  • Discover more: about innovations in sustainable materials, Tuesday 12th February, 12 noon – 4:00 pm, Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building; or about sustainable architecture on Tuesday 12th February, 6:00 – 7:00 pm, Physics P/L/00.  On Thursday 14th February, 1:00 – 2:00 pm, you can find out how we can reduce our ocean plastic pollution (as shown in Blue Planet II), at the Ron Cooke Hub, RCH/037.
  • Catch a film: Watch an extraordinary documentary by Leonardo Dicaprio on climate change, Before the Flood, on Tuesday 12th February, 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm in Environment, ENV/105x.  Or Learn more about the working conditions and environmental impacts of the clothes you buy at The True Cost screening on Thursday 14th February, 5:00 pm – 18:45 pm in the Spring Lane Building, SLB/118.
  • Shop sustainably: visit the Food Fair and Swap Shop in Constantine Forum on Tuesday 12th February, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm . While you are there, why not visit Scoop, a student led, not-for-profit cooperative selling healthy and ethical goods.  Or drop by the Ethical Clothes swap on Monday 11 February, 12:00 noon – 5:00 pm in the Norman Rea Gallery: donate clothes to get clothes back, or purchase clothes at £5 or less an item.
  • Take a sustainability quiz: how sustainable are your current habits?  Take the One Planet Week Quiz to find out.


Eco-nomical wins Excellence Award 2018

We are delighted to announce that the Economics Green Impact team has won an Excellence award for all the work done, and Eco-nomical, in 2018. Well done team!

For more details about the Green Impact initiative:



York Festival of Ideas 2018

York Festival of Ideas 2018 is taking place until Sunday 17th June 2018.  There are a number of free events on sustainability topics, including imagining the future, building sustainable communities here in York, food waste and cycling.

Imagining a World Without Food Waste – Tuesday 12th June, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm


A panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities of preventing food waste, followed by an interactive audience Q&A and accompanying exhibition.  For further information and tickets, visit the Festival of Ideas website.

Impossible Futures? Environmental Utopias for the 21st Century – Wednesday 13th June, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

What might a green utopia look like?  Using examples of science fiction and popular non-fiction, find out by booking tickets here.

Cycling City: Why Aren’t We There Yet? Wednesday 13th June, 7:00 – 9:00 pm

In York, just 15% of people regularly use a bicycle to get around. How can we grow participation and make York a cycling city?  Visit the talk web page for more information.

Imagining the Impossible: Life Without Cars – Saturday 16th June, 7:00 – 8:30 pm

Cyclist and author Josie Dew has cycled over 505,000 miles across six continents and 49 countries. Join Josie at Cycle Heaven as she discusses life without cars.

Building Sustainable, Successful Communities – Sunday 17th June, 2:30 – 4:00 pm

A panel of architects and housing policy experts discuss how to create successful communities.  For further information and to book, visit the Festival of Ideas website.

Show us your mug competition!

Show Us Your Mug!The Department of Economics Green Impact Team are running a competition, open to all students and staff at the University. To enter, take a reusable mug to any cafe on campus, send us a photo of your hot drink, and you could win a prize.

The student prizes are:
Chilly’s water bottle
Mobile phone solar charger

We also have a staff prize:
Gardeners/allotment tool and tuck box

We have an additional prize, a selection of locally roasted coffee, for a photo of a Department of Economics reusable mug.


The deadline for entry is the end of Friday 15 June 2018. Send your photo to us at @uoyeconomical on Twitter or Instagram, #showusyourmug, or email eco-nomical@york.ac.uk

Winners will be announced on the Eco-nomical website and on twitter @uoyeconomical, on Monday 18 June 2018.

Why are we running this competition? Over 99% of all disposable coffee cups in the UK are not recycled, leading to about 2.5 billion coffee cups being thrown away every year. There has been discussion in parliament about the introduction of a ‘latte levy’, while major retailers have taken action in the last few months, by offering increased discounts, adding a surcharge on disposable cups or pledging to recycle coffee cups.

Walk Cycle Festival, 28 May – 3 June 2018

York Bike Belles are hosting the city’s second, week-long Walk Cycle Festival from Sunday 27 May – Sunday 3 June 2018.ilya-ilyukhin-122332-unsplash

The festival launches with a community party in Rowntree Park on Sunday 27 May from 11 am – 4 pm.  The schedule of events for the rest of the week include several guided cycle rides – for example, to hear the dawn chorus, to paint a mural, or to a social with a BBQ and live music.  Or if you’d prefer to walk rather than cycle, why not try the Parklife Walk with champagne picnic, or a Promenade with the Bard.

If your bicycle could use a tune up, throughout the week you can get a free bike check at Cycle Heaven at the Angel on Bishopthorpe Road, and a free hot drink from Angel on the Green. Free bike fixes and security marking are available at the community party on Sunday 27 May.

If you’d like to give cycling a go, York Bike Belles are holding their next Cake Confidence event on Saturday 26 May – offering chats, bike loans, and cycle confidence training.

For more details, including a schedule, visit the York Bike Belles website.


Green Chemistry Lecture, 13 March 2018

Green Chemistry for tomorrow’s world today – Tuesday 13 March 2018, 19:30, National Science Learning Centre, University of York

Dr Avtar Matharu from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence is giving the Archbishop Holgate’s Annual Science Lecture on the topic of green chemistry, and how we can develop circular economies.

Admission is free and no booking is required.



How plastics made from plants could be the answer to the world’s waste problem

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James William Comerford, University of York

Plastics are incredibly useful materials with extremely diverse properties, allowing a multitude of different applications that benefit our lives.

Bottles and forks aside, in the medical field alone plastics have been used for artificial heart valves, medical implants and devices, controlled drug release, specialist surfaces and coatings that repel water, organic batteries – the list is endless.

But, with marine plastic debris estimated to reach 250m tonnes by 2025, governments across the globe are starting to think about how to overcome this significant problem.

A fundamental part of this issue is that non-sustainable, single-use plastics account for up to 40% of global plastic production. This equates to around 128m tonnes. The vast majority of these plastics have low recycling rates and do not biodegrade in an acceptable time span – polypropylene can take millennia to break down properly.

Worse still, if these plastics find their way into the marine environment, the motion of the sea along with sunlight can cause the plastics to fracture into small particulates called “microplastics”.

The presence of macro and microplastics in our oceans has been shown to have a detrimental effect on marine life. But the potential effect on human health is much less well understood.

A ban on the production of cosmetics and personal care products containing plastic microbeads came into effect at the beginning of the year. Though realistically, this only accounts for an estimated 680 tonnes of microplastics per year in the UK.

The problem with plastics

It is clear then that plastic waste is a complicated problem – spanning economics, sustainability, social pressures and recycling infrastructure in both developed and developing countries. But while it’s widely known that plastics can be an issue for the environment, what isn’t often known is that the persistence of plastics in the environment is actually closely linked to how they are made.

The overwhelming majority of plastics are made using oil-based materials, meaning that, by their chemical nature, many plastics have no oxygen content. This makes them very hydrophobic (water hating) and, as such, it is very difficult for common bacteria or enzymes to break them down if they enter the environment.

Over the past few decades, there has been increased awareness of our dependence on a limited oil supply and this has driven research into alternative, sustainable sources of chemicals. In particular, the concept of using bio-based materials as a resource rather than oil-based materials has really gained momentum. Sustainable bio-based material can be waste crops, waste wood, waste food – in fact, any waste biological matter.

Most importantly, these natural, bio-based materials can easily be broken down into smaller chemical building blocks – called “platform molecules” – which in turn, can be used to make other useful chemicals, including plastics.

Nature’s building blocks

Using these platform molecules, the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York, has been working with the plastics industry to create a new generation of bio-based polyesters. These are often used to make fibres for clothing, as well as films and containers for liquids and foods. The resulting materials are entirely plant based, recyclable and – importantly – fully biodegradable.

Aside from sustainability, the huge benefit of using biomass as a resource is the high quantity of oxygen that is incorporated into nature’s chemical structures (celluose, glucose etc). By using bio-based materials to make bio-based plastics, the oxygen content is kept in the material. The hope is that by having a high oxygen content, the bio-based plastics will have high, but controlled biodegradability. This means that the bio-based plastic can totally and safely break down into benign starting materials.

But although this new generation of sustainable plastics is a huge step forward, and a compostable plastic is of huge benefit, this is by no means the end goal for all bio-based plastics.

Circular economy

The circular economy is all about keeping resources in a constant loop, reusing and recycling them as many times as possible. This helps to minimise waste and reduce the need for brand new resources.

Treating plastic waste as a resource rather than a problem is an important change than needs to happen over the coming decades. This will help to preserve our remaining chemical materials, as well as protect our environment.

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.

Plastics are a fundamental part of modern society and they are here to stay. Ultimately, society has to move away from oil-based products towards sustainable bio-based alternatives. But regardless of whether a plastic is oil-based or plant-based, the biggest impact you can have on the life cycle of a plastic product is to reuse and recycle it.

As a consumer, this means you have a choice and the power to make a positive impact. Find out where your nearest plastic waste recycling point is and look to promote home collection and the proper recycling of all types of plastic waste.

The ConversationSo next time you use the last of the ketchup, help to preserve our resources by making sure your plastic waste stays in the recycling loop.

James William Comerford, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.