New disposable cup recycling bins

Disposable cup bin located in hallway

You may have spotted some new disposable cup recycling bins on campus this autumn.

These new bins are from Forge Recycling and are designed to make it as easy as possible to recycle single-use disposable cups used for hot drinks with separate sections for the lids, the cup and any left over fluid.

As it is widely known, single-use cups are very difficult to recycle. This is due to their inner plastic lining, which is bonded to the paper outer, making it hard to separate the two materials. At the University this has previously resulted in disposable cups going into our general waste bins and then being sent for energy recovery through incineration rather than recycling. Although this route provides energy it means that the materials are not reused and additional raw materials are then needed to make new cups.

Working with local waste company, Forge Recycling, the new recycling bins mean that the  single-use cups will be sent to one of the few sites in the UK that are able to  recycle the cups. The cups are broken down and the bonded plastic insert is removed from the paper outer.  The segregated plastic is then sent for recycling while the broken down paper can be made into new paper products. This short video explains the process:

The new bins have initially been installed at selected Great Food at Leeds cafes across campus. We will also be rolling out additional bins at key locations across campus in the next few weeks.

At the University we strive to reuse as much as possible rather than recycling and are pleased that reusable cups are now being accepted in all GFAL outlets once again. The process is slightly different to ensure the safety of our staff and students, please follow the instructions of our staff closely to ensure that the touch points are reduced.

Great Food at Leeds has successfully ran a reusable cup campaign for a number of years no; providing the sale of Keep Cups at cost price as well as providing a 20p discount for any customers purchasing a hot drink with their reusable cup.

To find out more about how we recycle at the University please visit our recycling webpage.

#MyImpact: Sustainability Projects Assistant

Kate Marriot in front of a tree

Graduating from Leeds with a degree in Sustainability was a bit daunting. Any student graduating from University feels a bit lost when applying for jobs, trying to find one that will enable you make the impact you want in the world and that will use all the skills you’ve developed throughout your studying. But I was lucky enough to find both purpose and challenge over the past 11 months as a Sustainability Intern at the University’s Sustainability Service.

My role within the service has been so varied, allowing me to explore a huge breadth of sustainability in action. Throughout my degree, learning about climate change, circular economy, social justice, environmental politics and so much more, I began to feel more and more eager to have a practical impact on these elements of a sustainable future.

Through my role, I was able to support the University’s Climate Plan, embed sustainability across the University through our Blueprint programme, celebrate sustainability successes at the University and beyond through organising the Sustainability Awards, support connections with the community with the PIP programme and be involved in the University’s travel work, such as our emission reporting and work towards a sustainable return to campus. All this gave me a brilliant insight to a huge range of work streams within Sustainability.

My role working alongside colleagues surrounding the University’s travel was particularly interesting and enjoyable for me. Having an insight into the data collection for emissions reporting and being able to work in a small group to tackle problems was extremely rewarding. Similarly, I was able to take the time to up skill myself in using Arc GIS Pro, a software I was keen to learn more about, in order to support the return to campus work as part of the active travel working group. All the elements of the travel project work challenged me to expand my data management skills, stay up to date with national and regional travel updates and to learn a lot about good teamwork!

The Sustainability Service were bold enough to put a lot of trust in Hatty and myself, giving us the space to explore interesting topics, make suggestions and generally get stuck in. I was fortunate to have been able to perform a review of the Blueprint programme, talking to people in sustainability and beyond to gain their insights. With fantastic support from the team, I was able to suggest some improvements and deliver training sessions on these changes. Having this chance to explore how a project is run and be critical to make improvements was a brilliant opportunity and I am grateful to the Service for putting that trust in me.

One of the most valuable things this role has given me has been an insight into the amazing work done by people at the University at every level, both in academic and operational areas, and seeing what can happen when they can be enabled to work together, such as through living lab projects. It is so motivating to know that the University is home to people who work their socks off every day to try and make the University and the world a more equal and sustainable place. I know that whatever career I pursue in the future, that I will remember the wonderful people within the Sustainability Service and everything they have helped me learn.

#MyImpact: Sustainability Projects Assistant


Harriet Matthews stood by a tree

My name is Hatty and I have been one of the Sustainability Interns this year for the Sustainability Service.

I initially applied for the role because I wanted to gain a diverse experience and understanding of what it could mean within the incredibly broadly-termed ‘sustainability’ sector. I can definitely say I got a taste of this!

Coming to sustainability with a greater interest and experience of the social, rather than environmental side, of sustainability, I both enhanced and furthered my interest in this area, and pushed myself to explore more of the areas which were often confusing – and slightly scary – to my non-science-y brain. Throughout my role, I have worked heavily on the #2023PlasticFree campaign, student citizenship programme, co-organising this years digital (suprise!) sustainability awards with Kate, and assisting in the coordination of the University’s submission for the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Awards. Myself and Kate have also done a lot of work in enhancing the use of social media to better engage with students.

This year has hugely broadened my understanding of both sustainability – crucially, encompassing  both environmental and social elements – and ways of working towards sustainable solutions in such a huge organisation. The diverse range of work I was able to help assist with over the course of the year highlighted to me the need to look holistically at the ways in which we create sustainable change in an educational setting, be that through research, operations, teaching, or leadership – all are equally vital. My role offered me the chance to look at all these areas, for example through how we combine the exciting ongoing research into plastic reduction and alternatives with how this can be implemented operationally.

My role in gathering the required data for this year’s submission for the Times Higher Education Impact Award was also a hugely rewarding project to work on. It involved me working across vast sectors of the University, seeking out data used as evidence for how the University is tackling the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It was a hugely striking insight into the broad — and fascinatingly specific — areas of what goes on behind the scenes to create a such a far-reaching sustainable impact at the University.

I have relished the opportunity to be a member of such a forward-thinking sector of the University, and the chance to provide insight as a recent graduate is something that enabled me to contribute to team discussions on a range of issues, from student engagement, stakeholder engagement, and even strategic direction of the team.

This year has instilled in me the sense that whatever career go on to pursue, sustainability has to be at the forefront; I have worked with countless of inspiring people across the University, and if anything, working within the Sustainability Service has demonstrated the importance of sustainability as an embedded component of how we all operate, in whatever field that may be – and wherever I end up!

My plastic free journey, and how you can join the #2023plasticfree pledge too

Everywhere you look, you’ll find plastic. Scientists have even found microplastics far away from humans, in the Arctic. It’s in the water we drink; the food we eat; the air we breathe.

Worried? I am. That’s why I’m doing something about it.

The clincher for the start of my plastic free journey was when I learnt that the great pacific garbage patch i.e. the world’s largest accumulation of ocean plastic, was twice the size of France. That absolutely blew my mind.

Studying a sustainability masters at Leeds opened my eyes even wider, and with all this plastic awareness, I knew I had to change my lifestyle.

How did I go plastic free?

First up, I ditched my shampoo. I can’t lie it was strange at first, rubbing what felt like a bar of soap (a shampoo bar) on my hair! Now, 2 years later, I can’t ever imagine going back. The natural ingredients have done wonders for my hair as well as dramatically cutting my plastic consumption. I now only wash my hair every 5-7 days!

After removing plastic from my hair routine, I switched my toothbrush to bamboo and bought a reusable razor. All of which are now second nature.

I get my food at refill shops and fresh fruit and veg from the local market. If I’m feeling lazy I go to the supermarket and let the packaging (or lack of it) decide what I’m having for dinner. By keeping plastic on my mind I keep it out of my bin!

Knowledge of the extent of plastic pollution drove me to set up Life Before Plastik, a UK plastic free shop, to help others with their journeys offering top tips and plastic free products.

Plastic free razor and shaving foam bar

Are you thinking about going plastic free?

My biggest piece of advice for anyone who is starting out on a plastic free journey is to never beat yourself up. Nobody is perfect and sometimes you can’t know that the diet coke you ordered comes with a straw or that a packet of sweets that looks like its only packaged in cardboard actually has plastic inside (both real stories that have happened to me). Being plastic free isn’t about being perfect but instead making a real impact over time.

How do you go plastic free?

My top tip for going plastic free is to do it step by step. I’d advise starting in one room, lets say, the bathroom. Get a bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste in a glass jar or tin, soap, shampoo bar and go the extra mile and get a reusable razor. Then look to changing things in your kitchen, beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm, a metal lunchbox and a dishwash block etc.

Making changes room by room will seem much more manageable and you can reward yourself each time you complete a room!

Plus why not try the weekly market at Leeds University Union. You can get fresh plastic free fruit, vegetables, and even bread. Delicious and free from plastic guilt.

With Christmas around the corner, you could even go one step further and have a plastic free Christmas. With so many options for stocking fillers and simple ways to wrap plastic free presents it’s not as difficult as you think! It could be the first step in your plastic free journey.

Written by Charlie Gill, University of Leeds 2019 Alumni and co-founder of Life Before Plastik. Follow Charlie on Facebook and Instagram @lifebeforeplastik.

For more information regarding the University of Leeds #2023PlasticFree pledge click here. 

Charlie Gill demonstrating a bamboo toothbrush and toothpaste