Reducing single-use plastic in student halls

Residential Services have been working hard to embed sustainability into their operations since 2011, and so when the University of Leeds made the #2023PlasticFree pledge in 2018, they were eager to incorporate this into the action plan they were developing through the University’s Blueprint programme.

Within the first year of the pledge, one of their catered residences, Devonshire Hall, made great progress towards removing single-use plastic by identifying alternatives to water bottles, condiment sachets and spreads. They did this by providing glass water jugs and glasses and purchasing large dispensers of condiments and spreads then decanting them into reusable containers. These savings removed an estimated 86,000 pieces per year from Devonshire Halls operations.

Further changes include working with water fountain provider Bronte to install mains-fed water dispenser units, rather than using bottle-fed machines. All single-use plastic cups have been removed from these fountains and replaced with paper, ceramic or glass cups instead, which has removed an estimated 25,000 single-use plastics cups.

For their cleaning practices, they have worked with their contractors to find a ‘zero-waste’ cleaning product that is being used daily at nine of their eleven residential sites. They no use Jangro Enviro starch-wrapped pellets that dissolve on contact with water. The box of 150 pellets can produce the same volume of cleaning chemicals previously provided by three 5 litre plastic containers. Changing their operations in this way has meant that so far, they have removed 450 of these plastic containers from our waste stream.

Understanding the impact that plastic can have through resource depletion and carbon emissions, means that Residential Services are taking their environmental responsibility seriously by considering sustainability at every level, including through their purchasing decisions. For example, their 850 plastic sweeping brushes have been replaced with wooden ones.

Residential Services also recognise the important role they can have in engaging with students. They have proudly promoted the pledge and their commitment to it across their accommodation sites, and for two-years running they have sponsored a Student Sustainability Architect to focus on student engagement of the #2023PlasticFree pledge.

Looking forwards, Residential Services will be working through the remainder of their single-use plastic action plan. This includes sponsoring another Student Sustainability Architect to support their reduction of single-use plastic and working collaboratively with Meet in Leeds, the University’s conference provider, to remove single-use plastic from the accommodation offer provided. These include toiletries, single-use plastic cups and in-room hot drink facilities. They will work with their supply chain to review innovative developments from the wider industry and find the best solutions for their service.

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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 4: Quality education
  • Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.