Choose to reuse – alternatives to single use plastic

Perhaps you carry a refillable water bottle in your bag, pack your shopping into reusable bags at the supermarket, or nab a discount for using your reusable coffee cup at your local café. Maybe you’ve even tried shopping in a local packaging free refill store?

Like thousands of others at the University of Leeds, you’re doing your bit to reduce the impact that single use plastic has on our environment and ecosystems. You’re also helping to support our mission to remove avoidable single use plastics across the University and Leeds University Union. Single use items also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, so you really are making a difference every time you choose to reuse!

But there’s still lots more plastic waste to tackle, so here are some ideas on how to help reduce single use plastic as an individual, in offices or in one of the trickiest places to tackle single use – the lab. What single use alternative will you try next?

Reducing single use plastic as individuals

  • Reusable coffee cups: Around 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the UK alone, that’s seven million a day! Most can’t be recycled, meaning it’s a significant contributor to plastic pollution. You can buy reusable coffee cups at outlets across campus including the LUU shop, and your daily caffeine fix is cheaper when you use it. Or why not treat yourself to a leakproof insulated coffee flask so you can make yourself a fresh coffee at home, and sling it in your bag for when you’re ready to enjoy.
  • Reusable water bottles: You’ve all seen the images of plastic bottles washed up on shores around the globe. Water bottles are one of the most common sources of plastic pollution but it’s also one of the most economical to fix! The university provides free water fountains at multiple locations across the university making it a no brainer to fill your bottle, not the bin – find your closest on our map.  You can also pick up a very special Chilly’s water bottle at LUU, with a design created through a student competition.
  • Plastic free lunches: Food packaging is one of the biggest sources of single use plastic on campus. Traditional lunch meal deals often contain a sandwich, snack and a drink all contained in single use plastic! Making your own packed lunch avoids this and saves you loads of money too.  Use a reusable container as a lunch box and head to the student kitchen in LUU if you want to heat it up. Is time a factor? The Refectory and other Great Food at Leeds outlets sell tasty plastic free meal deals from £3.95.
  • Chewing gum: Britons are behind only America in terms of gum consumption, chewing an estimated 130 sticks per person each year. Most chewing gum is essentially flavoured plastic and is a major culprit for littering. Glee and Chewsy are plastic free alternatives if you still need your fix.
  • Smoking and vaping: Cigarette butts – complete with hidden plastic – have for years been one of the most littered items around, but vaping can create an even bigger problem for plastic waste.  Disposable vapes include valuable materials such as lithium and copper and need specialist recycling as they’re considered electrical waste. Of course quitting smoking would be the best option for the environment and health, but if that’s not possible then consider a good quality refillable vape, purchasing the liquid in larger containers to reduce plastic.
  • Menstrual products: Both disposable period pads and tampons both contain plastic, even before you take into account applicators and packaging. The average person who menstruates is reported to use around 11,000 menstrual products over their lifetime, which is a huge amount of plastic! But plastic free products are available – including for free at LUU. And reusable products including period pants, reusable pads and menstrual cups are becoming incredibly popular too, proving to be effective and easy to use while saving you money each month.

Reducing single use plastics at work

  • Stationery: Does a biro count as single use plastic? Well technically no, as long as we use it until it runs out. But there are also alternatives we can choose – and in a world that’s increasingly digital it can be quite mindful to use a ‘proper’ ink pen or sketch out your ideas in pencil instead. Swap sticky tape for paper based alternatives, choose notebooks with cardboard rather than plastic covers and for those reports you really need to keep, use a good old fashioned hole punch instead of plastic wallets.
  • Packaging: Some of the most unexpected items come wrapped in plastic or in plastic postal packaging.  It’s really hard to know before you order what products use single use plastic packaging, but we can flag to our suppliers where we think they should be changing their packaging, and make sure any that does come our way is reused or correctly recycled. Buying items in bulk can help to reduce the total amount of plastic as well as reducing the emissions associated with deliveries – but make sure you’re going to use it all first!
  • Promotional items: Meeting a supplier, or putting on an event? Resist the urge to load up on the free promotional merchandise – a lot of it is made of plastic and if it isn’t going to be kept and used repeatedly then it’s single use!  Before you pick something up, think about whether you will really use it and if not, leave it behind. If you’re sourcing merchandise choose plastic free and sustainably sourced, and think carefully about what is going to happen to it after it’s left your event to decide if it’s worth having in the first place.
  • Tea bags: How much does your brew round contribute to the plastic pollution problem? You might be surprised to hear that some tea bags contain hidden plastic! Disposing of them can allow microplastics to enter our waterways and eventually our food chain. Check your favourite brands to see if they’re plastic free – while you’re at it you can also check to see if they’re Fairtrade. Or alternatively why not try loose leaf tea with a strainer?

Reducing single use plastics in the lab

  • Weighing boats: Most researchers will need to weigh out chemicals for buffers and solutions on a daily basis. But you can do this without using plastic! Weighing boats can be bought in various sizes and colours made from FSC certified paper or, if you’re looking for something more robust, why not try reusable porcelain or glass?
  • Serological pipettes: Glass serological pipettes come in the same variety of sizes as plastic ones but switching can reduce your plastic use by hundreds of pieces per month. Our Faculty of Biological Sciences has recently invested in an attachment for their dishwasher which can clean glass serological pipettes. You can autoclave them too for sterile uses, so now you can swap to glass, use less plastic, and reduce waste.
  • Petri dishes: Glass Petri dishes come in various sizes and prices start at only a few pence each. They’re easy to clean and can be sterilized between uses to prevent contamination of your cultures. You only need to use each one a few times to start saving costs, but you’re reducing plastic waste straightaway.
  • Starter cultures: Do you use 30ml universal tubes to set up your bacterial cultures? Some labs can get through dozens of these plastic tubes every day. But there are plastic free alternatives available! You can get autoclavable glass conical flasks in an array of different sizes, including 25ml which is suitable for most starter cultures.

What next?

Have you been inspired to try something new? Perhaps you can convince a friend or colleague to reduce single use plastic? Or perhaps you’ve got a suggestion you think we should include here. Remember that every item you choose to reuse makes a difference.

If you spot unnecessary single use plastic in use on campus, please let us know by filling in this form.  Or if you have a suggestion then get in touch with us at plasticfree@leeds.ac.uk.