Skip to main content

The Big Plastic Count at Leeds - let's get counting!

Highlights 2021-2022
Homepage News

As part of the #2023PlasticFree pledge we’re bringing the Big Plastic Count to Leeds from Monday 16 May. Get ready, get set, go - let’s get counting single use plastics together!  

We’re working to eliminate single use plastic items from University of Leeds and Leeds University Union (LUU) operations as part of our #2023PlasticFree pledge. However, in order to keep eliminating them, we need to keep identifying where these plastics are. 

That's why we’re encouraging students and staff to take part in the Big Plastic Count at Leeds.  Together, we will be counting single use plastic items that we find on campus and reporting them using a simple online form, with the chance to win a zero waste goody bag!

Our Big Plastic Count in Leeds is running alongside the  Greenpeace x Everyday Plastic Big Plastic Count campaign. As well as spotting plastic on campus, you can contribute to the UK's biggest ever investigation into household plastic waste by reporting your home plastic use on their website.

What is the #2023PlasticFree pledge? 

In 2018 the University of Leeds and Leeds University Union (LUU) made a joint pledge to remove single use plastic from across its operations by 2023This pledge was one of the first and boldest pledges of any Higher Education organisation. The target showed our ambition and leadership in finding solutions to global problems.  

What do we mean by single use plastics?

Single use plastics are simply plastic items that are used only once before being disposed of. They include disposable masks and gloves, food and drink packaging, disposable coffee cups and plastic petri dishes in labs.

Single use plastics take a lot of hard-to-replace resources and energy to produce and have negative impacts on ecosystems and human health. Their lifespan is very short and they're often in a bin almost before you notice you’ve used them. If you are lucky they may be recycled, but most are incinerated or go to landfill. Increasing quantities of plastic end up in our oceans and even in our food chain.

What's happened with the Plastic Free pledge?

Some great progress has been made since the beginning of #2023PlasticFree - you can find out more about successes so far here. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has of course had a big impact.  

Working and studying from home during the pandemic reduced the amount of single use plastic in some areas. But single use plastic was also an important part of the response, through items such as masks, gloves, food packaging, cleaning and sanitising products.

Despite the continued impact COVID-19 is still having, we remain committed to working towards our goal of eliminating unavoidable single use plastic wherever possible. But to do that, we need to understand  what single-use plastics are currently in use at the University, and where to find them.

How do I take part in the Big Plastic Count at Leeds?  

The Big Plastic Count at Leeds will run until the end of May - so get counting next time you're on campus!

We've created a simple online form which asks you to tell us where you work or study, and which areas at the University you have spotted single use plastics in.  You then simply list what you've seen, including the item type, how many and where they were. 

To make it even simpler, you could snap a picture of any single-use plastic items you see during the day, ready to fill in the form later!

If you are based in a lab, there is a dedicated survey especially for you. It's been developed by our Student Sustainability Architect Ashley Victoria, whose project is focused on exploring alternatives to single use plastics in laboratories. You can access the labs survey through the main form, or go direct to the labs section of the form.

If you know colleagues who would like to participate but do not have regular online access or would prefer the form in an alternative format, please contact us at  

What else can I do?

We know there are not enough plastic free alternatives available at the moment, but we can all help reduce single use plastic at the University.

Simple things like bringing a refillable water bottle and reusable coffee cup to campus are a great start. You even get a free drink if you buy a KeepCup from University outlets!

We can also vote with our wallets by choosing plastic free alternatives where  available - whether buying lunch or equipment for a lab.


Keep up to date on the latest news

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our work reducing single use plastic is linked to the following SDGs:

  • Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • Goal 13: Climate action
  • Goal 14: Life below water
  • Goal 15: Life on land
  • Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.