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Thinking Global, Acting Local

The first year cohort of Leiden University College The Hague recently under took a local lesson which saw them collect 10200 pieces of plastic from their local communities. Of the total collected, 52% was plastic.

Two hundred first year students of LUC The Hague recently took to their respective local communities in a concentrated effort to collect rubbish and reduce pollution. The students were given the assignment in the course Global Challenge: Sustainability which this year sees the rollout of a series of local activities integrated into the course that complement weekly online lectures.

Remote Teaching

As the world sits in the grip of a pandemic, students are no longer required to live on campus in order to partake in classes. With most of the students stuck behind a screen at home, the challenge as such was designed to facilitate those both decentralized and based at LUC's Campus at Anna van Buerenplein through its local lens. With this in mind, LUC students undertaking the course were challenged to make a small, but real difference starting at their own, local level.


The challenge was facilitated and measured through the app Litterati, which allows users to gather and intergrate data to monitor using citizen science. The rules were simple: all 200 students were asked to spend 30 to 60 minutes collecting trash around their homes. While the challenge was an integrated aspect of the course, many students used it as an opportunity to step beyond theory and readings to make a tangible and concrete difference in their community.

LUC Student Anoush Alibhai from Kenya on the Plastic Challenge

Having only started their LUC journey a mere two and a half months prior, first year student Anoush undertook the challenge from Kenya. She attributes her interest in studying at LUC The Hague to its interdisciplinary approach to different global challenges, as well as the broad approach to learning that it fields. She accredits her specific interest in LUC’s programme to the opportunity students have to explore many different fields and personalize their learning. Anoush collected the most trash with over 300 pieces in total of which over 200 of them were plastic.

How did you manage to collect this much plastic?

“Here in Kenya, waste management is a big issue, especially along the coast and at beaches. Therefore I focused my efforts on a public beach (Nyali beach) where I live. This is a tourist hotspot and a common place where people spend their weekends (which explains why there is so much trash). I did not have to move around that much in order to pick up so much trash, as I just focused on the entrance of the beach access. I was very surprised to pick up so much without having to move from this specific part of the beach.”

How did this challenge complement the online learning and remote teaching?

“As much as I have learnt a lot already in GC Sustainability and other courses at LUC, going out and doing something for my community and environment, as well as just being more aware about these issues, is a really different learning experience. ” 

Do you plan to take this further in the future?

“Yes! I would love to continue doing clean-ups and find a way to get the local community more involved. It is very important for us to realise that this is an issue that we are part of and that we can tackle on our own, without waiting for the government to respond.”

What was the key thing you learning in the assignment? 

“I was surprised to find so much plastic, in a short period of time, and in only a small area. I have always known that waste management and disposal is an issue in Kenya, but this activity made me realise the extent of this issue and the lack of public awareness of this issue”

Thijs Bosker on teaching Sustainability

This particular assignment was designed by LUC’s Dr. Thijs Bosker who specialized in Environmental Science, including the issue of plastic pollution as well as the involvement of the public in research via citizen science: 

“In Global Challenges Sustainability we focus on some of the major environmental challenges we face as humanity. To make the topics more tangible, we now have a Local Lessons component within the course. During the local lessons students apply some of the content to their daily lives. The litter collection focused on plastic pollution, and in the subsequent seminar we not only discussed the results, but also related it to risk perception. We tried to answer the question whether the societal focus on plastic pollution distracts from bigger issues, such as climate change or biodiversity loss, or whether it helps to create more awareness.” 

Article Written by Jayne Fitzgerald.

Leiden University College The Hague offers a broad, flexible and interdisciplinary residential Liberal Arts and Sciences programme with a focus on Global Challenges. In this bachelor programme students specialize in relevant fields like world politics, economics, governance, international justice, human & cultural interaction, global public health and environmental sciences.

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