Sustainable UCL


Not Just Plastic Waste

Single-use plastic is embedded in almost every part of life, yet when it becomes waste its impacts are not evenly distributed.

shipping containers, could contain waste

1 February 2022

Contribute to our Plastic Waste Reduction Database

Why is plastic waste an environmental justice issue?

Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean and 80% of that is single-use. According to the World Economic Forum, that’s like emptying the contents of one waste truck into the ocean every minute. This is a huge environmental issue, and it’s a justice issue too. The UN Environment Programme recognises that plastic pollution disproportionately impacts marginalised communities and those living in proximity to plastic production and waste sites. Importantly, when we ‘dispose’ of an item, it doesn’t just cease to exist. Our act of ‘disposing’ is really one of movement and transformation. Understanding how waste is a dynamic element of global systems of production and consumption is crucial for moving towards environmental justice.

What are we doing about this?

At the beginning of July, we launched a form to capture all the plastic reduction actions that are happening on campus. This will enable us to track our progress towards our goal of becoming single-use plastic free by 2024, and will guide institutional level actions in areas that can have the highest impact.

We’re also encouraging as many people as possible to take part in Plastic Free July, though we acknowledge that overemphasising individual actions can detract from the systemic and institutional shifts required. While taking part in Plastic Free July is about making small changes, it is not about shifting responsibility away from institutions, but about bringing together all our actions to create a culture at UCL of choosing to refuse plastic.

This kind of collective action ensures that plastic waste is no longer forgotten about the moment it is discarded and helps us make meaningful change.

Where does our waste go?

Knowing where our waste goes is central to environmental justice. Our mixed recycling is taken to a facility in Kent where it is sorted, baled, and sent on to be made in to new products. Meanwhile our food waste goes to anaerobic digestion, compostiong that takes place in the absence of oxygen, allowing food waste to be composted while also producing renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. Our general waste is recovered for energy in the UK. Check out this interactive map provided by Suez, the company who deal with our waste.

How can you get involved?

 Consider completing this short form to contribute to the Plastics Reduction Database.