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Dirty Laundry

Why the campaign against Washstation is more important than it seems.

The Students’ Association, has come under quite a lot of flack recently for being too sedentary on a myriad of issues: climate change is still a worry, Brexit remains unresolved (pardon the pun) and eternal world peace, at the time of writing, appears no closer to becoming reality. Instead, many believe that the Association has been turning its attention to far too menial a problem – the circuit laundry system present across university halls, otherwise known as Washstation. For some, I can see why this may come across as something unimportant, trivial, and pointless. However, I believe that the campaign being led against Washstation is a crucial one – one that touches on far more than mere washing machines.

Given that washing machines are the manifest reason for the campaign, it’s worth looking at why. As anyone who lives in halls will tell you that, firstly, they are far too expensive. On the cheapest settings, an eco-wash and dry cycle will set you back £3.40. To those who don’t reside in halls, this may not seem overly expensive at all; a good washing for the equivalent of almost 3.5 Greggs sausage rolls probably seems reasonable. Sadly, the price problem is only one in an extended series of hurdles and hiccups plaguing the system.

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Clothes get lost – seemingly sucked up by the machines – or have allegedly come out ruined. The ‘laundry card’ for which you must pay £2, before even putting any money on it, is a jumped-up piece of plastic that, if lost or stolen, disappears alongside all the money that you’ve put on it. The site itself has the air of ‘I’m in year 10 and this is the first time I’ve ever used HTML’ to it, and, adding insult to injury, online payments can only be made in multiples of £5. I’m sure it is – hypothetically – possible to do your washings in such a way that you eventually reduce your balance to £0, but so unlikely given the prices of each wash, that you may wonder why they don’t allow you to put a custom sum of your choosing onto your card.

Of course, you don’t actually. They do this – exploiting students who have to choose between personal hygiene and a dodgy, overpriced service – because they can, and because they make a killing from it. According to Npower, per hour long wash the average washing machine uses 16p worth of electricity, so where is the extra cost of £2 coming from? It certainly isn’t the detergent, because you have to buy that and put it in with the laundry yourself!

Photo: Unsplash

Only in this context can it be seen just why the campaign against Washstation is so important: it is not simply a campaign against frustrating washing machines, and it is certainly not a campaign against having to buy our own laundry detergent tablets. It’s a campaign against a company that is unjustly taking advantage of students who have no means of resistance – beyond death and taxes, laundry is (for most people) a certainty of life in the modern day.

Anonymously, it’s easy to make fun of a campaign that seems so mild in its ambition. Publicly, it’s slightly trickier. In reality, any current criticism of ‘low-aiming’ campaigns doesn’t hold water. At a university as well-established and well-structured as St Andrews, big changes don’t need to, and shouldn’t, be made. Instead, over time, seemingly small but definitively achievable goals should be the focus if students’ lives are to be improved. The campaign against Washstation is an example of this approach: it is a manifest problem; it is affecting large numbers of the student population, not only here, but across the country; and above all else, the campaign’s desired outcome – a better deal for students – is tangibly within our reach.

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