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Ditch the Disposable

At UCL, around 1 million single-use cups are thrown away every year!

Waste and recycling are among the most prominent issues on the sustainability agenda at UCL, and the subject of a significant number of enquiries received by the Sustainability Team.

We’re already doing a lot to reduce our impact in this area: the university sends zero waste to landfill and our recycling rates are around 65% - an impressive level within the HE sector. However, we want to go much further with an ultimate target of 85% whilst reducing our overall waste volumes substantially.  We’re constantly working with our waste contractors to make further improvements but success also depends on the support of the wider UCL community.

Recent feedback tells us that staff and students are particularly enthusiastic about initiatives to reduce single-use packaging – drinks cups and plastic bottles are high on the agenda. This is why we’re launching our new ‘Ditch the Disposable’ campaign.

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Despite existing discount incentives only 5% of our hot drinks are currently served in reusable alternatives.

As part of a collective commitment to addressing this problem and reducing our associated environmental impacts, all UCL’s main catering providers will be pricing single-use cups separately from 3rd September 2018. The 15p price difference is ‘cost neutral’ and will be clearly shown on all tariff boards. Recent research demonstrates that this is much more effective than discounting.

Various types of reusable cups will be available on a not-for-profit basis at UCL cafes and the SU shop – and for a regular coffee drinker they should pay for themselves with the savings made.

The initiative follows an extensive consultation period and is fully supported by all our catering providers, the Student’s Union and the NUS. It also reflects recent recommendations from Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee which have already been adopted at a number of other UK universities.

We’re hoping to achieve an initial target of 30% of drinks served in reusable cups and will be tracking progress closely.

Join the movement and bring your reusable cup to any campus café!

Pledge to Ditch the Disposable & support our campaign.


Questions

Why is UCL implementing this initiative?

  • UCL is committed to minimising waste, as set out in our institutional Sustainability Policy. Single-use cups/ plastics are an obvious area for improvement and there’s strong support for initiatives to help tackle the issue. Green UCL receives a large number of enquiries on this issue from students and staff, partly driven by increased media coverage at a national level. Separate pricing for disposable cups has been recommended by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and some other universities have already implemented it. As a leading University – and one of the UK’s largest - we’re keen to be early adopters.

So what actual difference does this make to the overall price of a cup of coffee?

  • Our outlets are effectively pricing disposable cups separately from the drinks. However, overall prices may have increased slightly in some outlets due to inflation. Of course, buying a reusable cup will pay for itself by helping to avoid any extra cost.

I’ve already been getting a discount for using a reusable cup. Will I still get this?

  • In effect, discounted prices will become the new ‘standard’ prices.  We’re just separating the price of the coffee from the disposable cup to increase the incentive to ‘ditch the disposable’. All UCL’s main caterers have agreed to standardise this at 15p. As per the highly successful plastic bag charge, we anticipate that this will be a more effective way to prompt a switch to reusable cups.

What sort of reusable cup should I use?

  • Reusable cups will be available to purchase from UCL catering outlets, and the Students’ Union shop – on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis. Green UCL has also given away 5000 reusable cups over the past couple of years. However, cafés will also be accepting different types of cups, so feel free to bring your own if you already have one. We would just request that your cup has a lid to minimise spillages. Our cafés can’t accept previously used disposable cups.

Why can’t you just recycle the disposable cups?

  • Single-use cups are more difficult to recycle because they are generally lined with plastic. Although UCL’s waste contractors can recycle them (most can’t), the quality of the resulting material is relatively poor. In any case, recycling requires energy and has waste products of its own. So, although recycling is preferable to landfill, eliminating waste at source is a far more effective, environmentally-friendly approach.

Why 15p?

  • We’ve reviewed what other institutions and businesses are doing on this issue, and consulted on what is considered the appropriate price level required to influence behaviour change away from disposables. 15p was considered a good starting point, although we’re aware that some have already moved up to 25p and will keep the pricing under review. Bear in mind that the 15p is not an ‘extra’ charge and UCL’s caterers will not be profiting from the initiative.