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Plastic-free UCL

UCL is committed to becoming a single-use plastic free campus by 2024.

What does this mean?

UCL will not consume or purchase any non-essential single-use plastics on campus by 2024. This includes recyclable plastics, compostable plastics and hygiene plastics e.g. hand sanitiser. Essential single-use plastics which currently have no accessible, safe, or sustainable alternatives will still be used at UCL, but will be optimised and reduced. These include personal consumption items and essential plastics e.g. lab gloves which have no accessible, safe or sustainable alternative, or straws which are still required to make UCL accessible for everyone.

Infographic of plastics, words are in the above text.

Definitions

  • Single-use plastic: UCL defines single-use plastic as items and packaging that are made wholly or partly of plastic, including all virgin, recycled, and bioplastic, that are deigned to be used once. Guidance suggests any items which are designed to last 6 months before being disposed of or recycled is not defined as a single-use plastic. 
  • Virgin plastic: Virgin plastic refers to all plastic that is made using fossil-fuels.
  • Recycled plastic: Recycled plastic refers to all plastic made from recycling.
  • Bioplastic: Bioplastic refers to all plastic made using biological, or biomass, feedstocks. Importantly, not all bioplastic is biodegradable, and items made from bio-based feedstocks are still plastic. For more information see here.

What can I do?

Track your actions!

We are documenting the actions taken across campus to reduce plastic – let us know about yours through this 5-minute form!

Plastic-free events

to use when planning your event. You’ll find ideas of things you can do to reduce plastic, as well as targets to achieve. Upload your results here and help us track our progress.
Platic-free periods

The average menstrual pad contains as much plastic as 4 carrier bags. Help us promote project period, UCL's campaign to start a conversation about period poverty and sustainable period products. UCL is the first university to offer free sustainable period products to anyone who needs it. Find out more here.

Ditch the disposable

Every year UCL uses 1 million coffee cups. Bring a re-usable cup to avoid being charged 25p for a disposable, or use the free CLUBZERO returnable cup scheme. To find out more about CLUBZERO and a list of participating outlets on campus, download the CLUBZERO app on your phone’s app store.

Our progress in six key areas

Why these areas? The six key areas are not intended to be an exhaustive list of single-use plastic consumers at UCL, instead, these six areas have been chosen because of particularly high usage of single-use plastics. Having the six designated areas gives more of a focus to our overarching commitment and allows us to more easily manage data monitoring and interim target setting, in a way that better addressing the nuances of each context.

Catering

What is included?

All UCL's outlets and catered halls: 6 coffee shops, 4 hot food outlets, 1 central production unit, 1 members club, 2 halls of residence, 1 shop and hospitality for the whole of UCL.

Plastic waste baseline: Catering currently accounts for 154,000 single-use plastic items per year.

Targets:

  • 2022: Single-use plastic free hospitality

  • 2022: Disposable coffee cup usage below 65%

  • 2023: Single-use plastic free kitchens

  • 2023: Single-use plastic free retail service (coffee cups, straws, food tubs, etc.)

  • 2024: Single-use plastic free supplier packaging, deliveries, and retail items (chocolate bars, crisps, etc.)

Our progress:

  • We now provide a 100% disposable free hospitality service, with reusable cutlery and crockery provided.

  • All our sandwich deliveries are now plastic free.

  • We have launched ClubZero across campus, returnable reusable coffee cups that can be used with a small deposit and dropped off at multiple sites around Bloomsbury.

How will we meet our targets?

We have a number of projects planned to enable our catering outlets to become totally single-use plastic free, including: mapping and identifying more areas for Tupperware storage, enabling us to eliminate cling film; recruiting more staff and improving facilities for washing up; get our coffee supplied in reusable buckets and milk in reusable pergals; and more!

Construction

What is included?

All UCL’s construction, renovation, retrofit, and maintenance projects split into three key areas: site offices, canteens and welfare, and site activities.

Plastic waste baseline: Construction currently accounts for 150 tonnes of single-use plastic waste per year, which is nearly a quarter of UCL’s total plastic footprint.

Our Progress:

  • With construction partners Mace, we have created a single-use plastics scorecard for construction sites.
  • Along with the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, Mace have created a framework for materials lifecycle assessments (LCA) for large construction projects.

How will we meet our target?

We will ensure all the relevant staff receive up to date training to use our online waste data reporting and tracking tools to ensure our data is more accurate and insightful. We will also seek to embed the single-use plastics scorecard in all our future projects and strive to set plastic reduction targets within new contracts. Longer-term, it is essential that we look to ‘design out’ single-use plastics from the beginning. For currently essential single-use plastics used as the most sustainable means to protect construction materials, we will seek to set up takeback schemes with suppliers.

Laboratories

What is included?

Working within UCL's LEAF programme (Laboratories Efficiency Assesment Framework), all UCL’s laboratory spaces, both research and undergraduate, will focus on six key items which make up the bulk of all lab plastics: pipette tips, pipettes, microfuge tubes, gloves, centrifuge tubes, and petri dishes.

Plastic waste baseline: Labs currently account for over 38 million single-use plastic items per year.

Targets:

2024: Eliminate all non-essential consumables
2023: Ensure every lab space has at least one take back scheme for non-contaminated single-use items

Our Progress:

  • We have reviewed all of our main suppliers and created a list of new recommended suppliers based on their single-use plastic and sustainability credentials.

  • For the first time, we have attempted to understand the scale of plastic use in labs through our single-use plastic baseline. This is a huge step enabling us to focus and drive future action.

How we will meet our targets?

We will work with procurement managers and lab coordinators to reduce the number of suppliers we use, enabling items to be ordered in bulk, saving packaging and ensuring only items with the lowest plastic footprint are consumed. We will also be setting up a lab plastic working group to foster more collaboration and cooperation between labs. In addition, we will seek to expand the chemical inventories we currently have to all labs, so unnecessary products are no longer purchased, reducing packaging wherever possible.

Offices

What is included?

Using UCL's Green Impact programme, all stationery, IT, print, cleaning, and catering products used in UCL’s office spaces, excluding personal consumption will be included.

Targets:

  • 2024: To provide a full range of single-use plastic free stationery items and office supplies.
  • 2024: Use 100% remanufactured print cartridges.

Our Progress:

  • All orders from Banner, our stationery provider, are now packaged with recycled paper void fill. This saves 316 square meters of plastic void fill per year – that’s enough to cover 1.2 tennis courts.
  • We are currently working to remove plastic packaged products form our eMarketplace, replacing these with cardboard packaged alternatives.

How will we meet our targets?

When our contract with our stationery and print providers renew, we will embed single-use plastic requirements within these contracts. This ensures that suppliers and providers take action, reducing plastic before it even arrives at UCL’s campuses.

Events

What is included?

Societies, SU, accommodation, venues and hiring, departmental, Slade, Bartlett, and graduate events.

Targets:

  • 2023: All events single-use plastic free.

  • 2022: Single-use plastic free graduations.

Our progress:

We have created several resources to enable you to plan a plastic free event, including a single-use plastic scorecard for events planners. 

How will we meet our targets?

We will have our new student volunteers, The Loop Ambassadors, at major events throughout the year to ensure best practice is followed. We will also pioneer UCL’s first official single-use plastic free events and communicate these with our wider community to show what is possible.

Logistics

What is included?

All postal and delivery packaging associated with logistics on UCL campuses.

Targets:

  • 2024: Eliminate all non-essential single-use plastic packaging in deliveries.
  • 2024: Recycle all essential single-use plastic packaging.

How will we meet our targets?

We will work to cancel all junk mail deliveries to UCL, and embed plastic packaging metrics in our parcel tracking system.

UCL's Plastic Waste Innovation Hub

The hub is a multidisciplinary team of UCL researchers collaborating with other researchers, industry, government, and the public to help solve the plastic waste catastrophe. Find out more here.