Plastics pledge success stories

Significant steps have been taken towards our target of becoming single-use plastic-free by 2023.

Colleagues across the University have been praised for chalking up some notable successes during the plastic-free campaign

Colleagues across the University have really taken the plastic-free pledge on and accomplished some brilliant things. November 2019

Last November, we celebrated removing more than one million pieces of single-use plastic from the University in the first 12 months of our joint campaign with LUU.

And on the second anniversary, our commitment to fulfilling this bold pledge remains as strong as ever. The covid-19 pandemic might have made it necessary to increase the use of some single-use plastic items to keep our staff and students safe, but a huge amount of progress has still been made towards reaching our goal.

Among the many amazing achievements, the Purchasing Team has included the #2023PlasticFree pledge into our Sustainable Procurement Standard, focussing on removing single-use plastic and encouraging innovation in the supply chain. Just one example of this has seen single-use plastic removed from our Office Depot catalogue, which could cut out more than 8,000 plastic items during the next year alone.

Laura Wilkinson-Hewitt, a Research Technician in the Protein Production Facility at the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS) and a Staff Sustainability Architect, has led the way in making positive changes in laboratories by sourcing alternative materials for commonly used, single-use plastic items, such as reusable glass Petri dishes and syringes. It’s estimated her efforts will save another 4,000 pieces of plastic per year.

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability, said: “I’m excited to see the progress we have made towards removing single-use plastic by 2023.

“We have set ourselves a bold and challenging target, and there is still lots for us all to do. In some areas, this challenge is greater than others, but it is vital that, working together, we do everything we can. 

“As a world-leading University, it is vital we show leadership in finding and implementing solutions to address current global problems.”

Outstanding efforts

Other notable achievements, both on campus and further afield, include:

  • Residential Services making changes to the items they purchase and their operational processes, as well as employing a Student Sustainability Architect to engage with students on the importance of the pledge, helping reduce single-use plastic in halls.
  • Great Food at Leeds (GFaL) ensuring any operational changes in response to Government guidance on covid-19 have aligned with our pledge. Being able to accept reuseable cups again in its cafes and installing specific coffee cup recycling bins in busy locations are just two examples of this outstanding effort.
  • Purchasing thousands of reusable face coverings in response to the covid-19 pandemic, providing them free of charge to staff and students. FBS is also part of a nationwide trial to find a reusable alternative to disposable facemasks within the NHS. FBS is one of 50 organisations trialling the reusable facemasks and providing feedback to manufacturers for ongoing improvement.
  • The School of Civil Engineering getting involved in a worldwide collaboration to track the flow of plastic pollution around the world, highlighting ways for governments and industry to take urgent action to reduce this.
  • The Leeds Anchors Plastics Network – a group of organisations led by the University, involving Yorkshire Water, the NHS and Leeds City Council – developing a collaborative project focused on removing plastic litter from the River Aire at Leeds Dock.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg! To find out more about the different ways our staff and students have been making a difference, follow the Sustainability Instagram and Twitter accounts, where these achievements will be shared during the next couple of months.

#2023PlasticFree campaign update. November 2020

One of the new coffee cup recycling bins on campus

Why is this pledge so important?

We’re taking the lead on tackling global challenges, such as single-use plastic, because it causes widespread pollution and is produced using carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

We’re using our research, teaching and influence to find solutions to tackle single-use plastic, as part of our commitment to addressing climate change through our Seven Climate Principles and our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

You can view the Sustainability blog to find out more about what single-use plastic is and what we include in our pledge. 

What next?

We’ve made huge progress since we announced the pledge in 2018 and we set ourselves some challenging targets, including removing single-use plastic from University catering and offices. Due to the events of 2020 generating many unforeseen challenges, there are some items we still need to implement solutions for in these areas and we’re continuing to work on these. 

We’re confident we can carry on driving significant progress towards achieving our targets, working collaboratively with our community to find alternatives to single-use plastic, with a particular focus on its use in research and laboratories. We will learn from the work already undertaken to further understand the challenges faced in these areas and test solutions for key products, such as petri dishes, pipette tips and syringes.

#2023PlasticFree campaign update. November 2020

Making positive changes in our laboratories to reduce single-use plastic

The soon-to-be-launched #2023PlasticFree Standard will provide additional clarity, support and governance to drive the long-term changes required across all areas.

And we cannot fulfil the pledge without you! We need the ideas and input of staff and students to reach our goal of becoming single-use plastic-free by 2023. Please contact us with your ideas to support the campaign or to find out how you can help.

You can also sign up to the Sustainability newsletter to keep up to date with the latest #2023PlasticFree news.

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