Dean’s Letter: Our COVID consumption

A message from Professor Paul Kofman, Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics.

Dear Students,

Some of you might know that I like to run, mostly marathons and ultra trail runs, for most of my adult life. I’m lucky that this is an acceptable ‘socially distanced’ pastime.

On my runs, often near the University campus, I see many people still supporting their local cafes, or I am overtaken by the many food delivery bikes. While I think it is fantastic that people support their local food businesses at this difficult time, there has also been a downside to this trend, which Associate Professor of Marketing, Daiane Scaraboto has brought to light in an article about consumer behaviour during COVID-19 driving plastic consumption, which has resonated strongly with people in Australia and overseas.

I’m sure many of you can relate to the scenario that where you would have previously met a friend at a café for lunch or dinner, you might now do a video call with them while eating takeaway delivery from a plastic container within a plastic bag. That reusable coffee cup you used to take every day to Bar Commercio, Books and Bites or 7 Seeds while at campus, has now been replaced by a takeaway cup, with many cafes refusing to use reusable cups due to a hygiene risk. Our steadily improving environmental habits have been eroded just as quickly.

Daiane and her co-authors point out that our use of plastics extends beyond disposable food and drink containers to the sharp increase in disposable gloves, masks and waste from increased use of cleaning products. Single use plastic bags were increasingly abolished before COVID. Now, despite no strong evidence that they are a more hygienic option, they are being introduced again in countries like the US.

How do we combat this? Daiane reassures us there are recyclable and compostable options for our favourite temporary takeaways and urges the restaurant sector to seek advice from sites like the Boomerang Alliance’s Plastic Free Places guide on how they can make a positive change. Some cafes have been very creative in this regard. I note Carlton’s Ima café, which I’m sure many of you have visited, offers its takeaway coffees in used, sanitised jars. As for what we can do individually, Daiane says you can ask about using your own containers for takeaway or at the very least refusing disposable cutlery or napkins. Consumer demand feeds supply so let’s think about the potential long-term effects of our behaviour.

Today is University Mental Health Day, and now more than ever, your mental health is very important. Physical activity and social contact with your peers can play a huge part in this. You may not want to take up marathons or ultra trail runs, but I encourage you to find something that keeps you moving and connected. You could join a drop in dance party, engage with your peers in the FBE Current Students Facebook group, or take part in a fun trivia event. And remember, the University's counselling services are available to you.

Stay active, stay connected, and stay safe.


Paul K