UCL News


Greener UCL: improving waste management

8 January 2008


ucl.ac.uk/efd/" target="_self">UCL Estates & Facilities

This year, one of UCL's New Year's Resolutions will be to work towards a greener, more sustainable UCL, together with all members of the UCL community.

One important environmental issue for the university is waste management. UCL is currently reviewing its existing waste management strategy, which is reducing the proportion of UCL's waste going into landfills, and increasing re-use and recycling.

Tony Overbury (UCL Estates & Facilities) leads waste management at UCL - which means the disposal of all waste products generated by the university.

He explains: "We're currently conducting a review, and should have a firm waste management strategy in place by early 2008. This will aim to move UCL up what we call the "waste hierarchy".

This hierarchy, he explains, starts with the top policy of not procuring unnecessary items, followed by finding ways of reusing items (such as computer or furniture donation policies), followed by recycling, then energy-conserving and non-energy conserving incineration and then, at the bottom of the hierarchy, the landfill. The more of the 'top' practices an organisation uses, the better.

UCL Estates & Facilities is already making efforts to avoid the last resort of landfill. For example, 90 per cent of clinical waste and 90 per cent of hazardous waste from the university undergoes treatment by incineration, and the clinical waste incinerator is scheduled to be connected to an energy recovery system from mid-year. An estimate from one of UCL's contractors indicates that 25 per cent of general waste (eg not from recycling bins) is recycled, while a further 10 per cent is incinerated.
Over the next few years, Estates & Facilities aims to improve UCL's performance, so that items only go to landfill when absolutely necessary.

"UCL aims to work with contractors with the best performance in this regard. It takes some time to install the right services for recycling and the best treatment of general waste, but that is what we are working towards" he comments.

"We are putting the right structures in place. However, saving waste is just as much down to the behaviour of individuals, centres and departments at UCL"|.

How can I save waste at UCL?

When it comes to saving waste, advises Tony Overbury, you should ask yourself these questions in the following order:

Do I need it?
The first and best way to save waste is not to obtain things you don't need.
Many of the items that are disposed of at UCL were never used in the first place,  including vats of unopened chemicals. Whether you are ordering for yourself or for a department or group, ensure you don't order in surplus, and check that your department doesn't have what you are ordering already.

Do I need the packaging?
So you've decided you need an item - but do you need all of the packaging that comes with it? Having enough is important to stop your delivery from damage, but if you feel you're getting excess packaging, you can often negotiate with your regular suppliers and delivery companies to get it reduced. Suppliers can also give details about the sustainability of the product and its packaging. 

Can I re-use it?
If an item has come to the end of its original use for you, then re-use is the first option you should consider. For instance, many UCL computers have been handed down so many times that they are beyond use, which is excellent practice. But where a PC is still usable, UCL has a policy to offer its unwanted computers to Computer Aid, which refurbishes PCs donated in the UK, to not-for-profit organisations in developing countries.

This practice with computers can be applied to many other items, such as office furniture and unwanted stationery. Staff at UCL can search and advertise REbay,
a science equipment pinboard which is located on UCL's pinboard (UCL username and password required).

Can I recycle it?
UCL Estates & Facilities are working hard to assess and extend recycling services around UCL, so please be patient while changes are implemented, says Tony Overbury. In the meantime, recycle what you can. Green recycling sacks are available from Facility Services on x37001 if you don't already have them. Glass recycling points are located around the main sites, which take different colours of glass. A significant proportion of these are contaminated by the wrong colour glass or wrong item, which can mean that the whole bin is no longer recyclable so it is very important to put the right items in the right bin.

Where can I find out more?
The UCL Estates and Facilities website, linked at the top of the article, gives some guidelines on best practice for improving waste management. Further information will be added through 2008.