University of Leeds unveils plan to become ‘plastic-free’ by 2023

The University of Leeds and Leeds University Union have pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic items, including coffee cups, disposable cutlery and straws, from their operations by 2023.

The commitment, which was unveiled on Tuesday (6 November), covers all of the University and Union’s offices, shops, campus buildings and laboratories, as well as its external operations across Leeds.

The first of the phase-outs will be completed across the organisations’ offices and catering by 2020, the University has confirmed, with laboratories and other facilities being offered support to source alternatives to disposable apparatus by 2023.

“The shift in public opinion about the use of plastics has been phenomenal, but organisations of all shapes and sizes need to champion change,” The University of Leeds’s Chancellor Dame Jane Francis said.

“I think this commitment will inspire lots of people to think about how the University – as an institution that leads the way on sustainability – can make a difference.”

During the five-year period, the University and Union will map plastic use across their operations in order to identify which single-use items they use the most of, and which will be the most challenging to replace.

The organisations will also work with partners and interrogate its supply chains in order to eliminate products and packaging from external companies from campus.

Student-led sustainability

The launch of the plastic phase-out, which is called Single Out: 2023PlasticFree, comes shortly after the University ran its first plastic bag-free fresher’s week, with students being offered biodegradable alternatives to plastic carrier bags at campus shops and food outlets.

This move was led by students involved with the University Union, who called for greater action on single-use plastic for the new academic year after successfully lobbying for campus-based food outlets to incentivise reusable coffee cup use.

This campaign led to the University introducing a 20p discount to students and staff who bring a reusable cup to its cafes and bars. The University now also stocks KeepCups in its shops – actions which have eliminated the use of more than 100,000 disposable cups to date.

The Union will now work to eliminate single-use plastic items from its performing arts theatre stage@leeds, with all with glasses and cups set to be replaced with compostable and recyclable alternatives.

Outreach and research

In a bid to drive resource efficiency outside of its operations, the Single Out campaign also involves several staff-led research projects into the environmental, social and economic impacts and opportunities of plastics in materials and processes.

These include a project to develop the next phase of biodegradable, plant-based plastics; an investigation into the flow and crystallisation of polymers in plastics to improve recycling and a study into how post-consumer plastic should be managed to maximise its circular economy potential.

“As a leading research university, we also have an important role in developing expertise,” Dame Francis added.

“From working on alternatives to plastics and helping improve waste management, we’ll be supporting the difficult challenges ahead to ensure plastics don’t end up in the natural environment.”

Sarah George

Comments (4)

  1. Derek Greedy says:

    That’s setting a great example and I take it that Costas Vellis is a prime mover

  2. Iain Ferguson says:

    It’s a very laudable approach in many ways. However, Leeds City Council has very limited food waste collections, so where are the students going to put the biodegradable bags?

    At the Co-op, we sell compostable carrier bags, but only in places where the local authority accepts them for food waste collection. (We don’t say biodegradable, it doesn’t convey anything about the proper conditions for disposal.)

  3. Sarah Marshall says:

    Whilst we need to move away from fossil fuel based energy in the future..we have to think carefully about how moving from plastic as a resource effects our CO2 as well as habitats/land use..where is all the plant material for bio plastics coming from? This cannot be from crops that take up more habitat/land and also we have decades of plastic to deal with, we reuse it as we capture it, burn it, bury it, turn it back to oil ( burn it)…people keep telling me about their bamboo toothbrushes,,it can’t all be composted anyway…I’ve got a plastic handle I’ve had it for 4 years and replace the heads..which is better?! I would have had used quite a few bamboo brushes over 4 years..?
    Out of interest where does all the plant material for the coop bags come from hopefully it’s an unused "waste" resource..the trouble is not everyone who gets a bag from the coop then will dispose of it in the area that they got it from so there is some potential for contamination of plastic waste stream..probably small? These bags obv. will not compost in marine environments..maybe some kind of boomerang bag- returnable bag scheme might be better in small communities and just get rid of the single use altogether and do I need a bag to put my food waste in if i have a plastic caddy? but that all said it’s a marginally better step maybe..what I would like from supermarkets is a clear statement about which plastic they use actually saves food waste, which is cosmetic, which gives better CO2 savings..this would stop the call for supermarkets getting rid of it all..provide some clear and proper information…

    Any single use product that replaces a plastic single use product has to be questioned in terms of it’s own’s not all about plastic when we are looking at sustainable resource use and CO2 etc etc

  4. Paul Symington says:

    I m tasked with removing all single use plastics – I would love to know more.

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