UC Sustainability Champion: Meet Helena!

Helena Ruffell | Masters Student in Environmental Science, Eco Volunteer and Zero Waste Inspiration

Helena Poster

This year, we’re proud to be profiling students and staff who we believe are contributing to the culture of sustainability at UC. We are running this campaign in the lead up to the 2019 UC Sustainability Awards, so get thinking about who you’ll be nominating this year! Nominations for the Awards are open from the 5 – 31 August.

In the meantime, read on and enjoy our next Sustainability Champion profile from the wonderful Helena – our passionate Zero Waster and Eco Volunteer, all while studying towards her Masters in Environmental Science (with a recently submitted thesis on micro-plastics to boot!)

Tell us about yourself!

I’m 23 now and have been at uni for nearly five and a half years! I first came to uni with no idea of what career I was interested in, and managed to find something I enjoyed along the way studying biochemistry as my undergraduate degree. I love being outside and exploring new places.

You’re studying Environmental Science. What made you decide to follow that path?

Through my undergraduate courses I learnt a lot about harmful chemicals and their effect on the environment (and us!). The more I learnt, the more responsible I felt to do something about the way we are trashing the earth (and ourselves). I started a Masters in Environmental Science to learn more about what I could do. My research project is on micro-plastics – plastics which are smaller than 5 mm, and are harmful to the environment as animals can mistake them for food. Eating too much plastic can result in a whole range of nasty effects on these poor animals. I’m looking at how much micro-plastics end up in the environment from what we wash down the sink in our houses (as the wastewater treatment plants can’t remove all of the micro-plastics).

Helena analysing the “pesky” micro-plastics in her wastewater samples to see what kind of plastics they are (polyester, nylon, acrylic etc). She’d like to say that this picture was taken before she started her Masters, and her lab coat is definitely not that clean any more!

What influence has this had on your personal life?

I couldn’t do a research topic about micro-plastics and not change anything in my life!! I started to stop using all sorts of unnecessary plastic (cling film, drink bottles, cutlery) and that just transformed into avoiding as much plastic products in general to reduce the amount of rubbish I make. It’s a scary thought to think that your first toothbrush as a baby still exists, and it might be in the belly of a whale!!

What is something that has made you feel really proud of UC?

I’ve met so many switched on people who are doing awesome things regarding sustainability! But the university is also really trying to reduce their impact too, just have a look at all the rubbish bins you can sort your waste into to stop some things like paper, organics, and recycling from going straight to landfill.

Where to next for you?

Once I finish my Masters I’m off on a trip overseas to Europe!! Follow my Instagram @eatsleepsustain to follow my progress and see my tips on how to travel without plastic (like using zero waste shampoo and conditioner bars, and my homemade natural deodorant below!)

Helena instagram 3Helena instagram 4


This message was bought to you by the UC Sustainability Office. Stay connected and follow us on Facebook, Instagram or sign up to our newsletter to stay in the loop about campus sustainability. This blog is part of our Sustainability Champions Campaign, where we profile UC students and staff doing great things for sustainability. This is part of our wider communications plan for the 2019 UC Sustainability Awards. Fore more information, and for the Awards nomination form, see our website.