WasteNott — the plastics challenge

Why is WasteNott taking place?

The University of Nottingham first completed the UI Green Metric global ranking of universities in 2010 and has continued to be placed in the top two institutions every year since. (These rankings measure each participating university’s commitment in developing an environmentally friendly infrastructure, looking at six indicators; setting and infrastructure; energy and climate change; waste; water; transportation; and education).

But when it comes to sustainability, we can always do more. 

In a survey, 99% of respondents told us they want to see the University of Nottingham reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste generated on campus.



What happens to waste thrown away on campus?

The University of Nottingham operates a system where waste is taken to a Materials Recovery Facility in east Nottingham, and sorted by size, weight and material.

Food waste is then sent away to be turned into renewable energy and biofertiliser via anaerobic digestion. Plastic items are either recycled into other products, or if they aren’t recyclable then they are used for fuel at energy-from-waste plants and factories.

This efficient sorting process means over 95% of our waste is diverted from landfill. Nevertheless, we want to move towards producing less waste and recycling more of what we do throw away.  



Are plastics all bad?

No. Plastics can be invaluable: they are a fundamental part of advances in medicine, construction, technology, transport and much more.

One of the oft-cited problems with plastic, however, is the tendency for people to use it once then throw it away – in the case of coffee cups, bottled drinks, straws, plastic bags and other everyday items. Half of all plastic items produced now are designed to be used just once and then thrown away – and only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. Clearly there's a big need for improvement – and we all have a part to play.



Why is there an extra charge for drinks in single-use cups?

In order to encourage students, staff and visitors to avoid single-use cups, we’ve moved towards a flat charge for disposable cups in university outlets. However, you can get a discount at these outlets by using your own reusable cup.

This change follows the model of the charge implemented for plastic bags in 2015, which saw an 85% reduction in use of bags from supermarkets.

Proceeds from the levy will be reinvested in our Environmental Initiatives Fund and Waste Nott fund to help reduce waste on campus and set up sustainability initiatives.  



Why is it difficult to recycle single-use coffee cups?

Although it is possible to recycle conventional single-use hot cups, the process is difficult in practice. This is because many coffee cups have a plastic lining which needs to be separated in order for the paper cup to be recycled. Additionally, there are currently only a handful of UK facilities that can carry out this process – and the cost and emissions from transporting cups to these facilities is another consideration.

While we always encourage recycling, one of our top focuses of WasteNott is to encourage reusable hot drink cups – in other words, helping reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place. 



Why don’t University outlets use compostable cups, such as Vegware?

Many individuals raised this as an idea in our survey in May. Unfortunately it’s not always as straightforward as swapping one item for another. Composting facilities work to different standards, meaning only certain composting facilities accept biodegradable cups. Our food waste is currently treated via anaerobic digestion, which does not accept food packaging such as biodegradable cups. Additionally, facilities that do accept biodegradable cups are too far away from Nottingham to be economically viable.  



Where can I find a reusable hot drink cup?

Reusable cups and bottles are now widely available in shops, cafes and online. We’re also now selling  across our university cafés - and several of our third-party caterers on campus are also selling their own versions. 

Reusable cups presented at cafes should be clean and should have a lid to prevent spills. It’s important to note that some reusable cups are too big to be compatible with our coffee machines- we recommend looking using a 12oz cup.  



Can I find a water point on campus?

Yes. As part of this campaign we have ordered several new water fountains to be installed across UK campuses – adding to many which were already available. Find a fountain.



What about bottled water at meetings? 

If you are organising a meeting or event, you can request jugs for water coolers and glasses to be provided instead of bottled water via University delivered catering.  



What about switching single-use plastic cutlery to disposable wooden cutlery?

We want to tackle the issue of disposable cutlery rather than replacing one throwaway item with another. Wooden cutlery has more embedded carbon than plastic cutlery, and trying to ensure wooden cutlery does not contribute to deforestation is another issue. Currently plastic cutlery put in our mixed recycling bins at the University is sorted at our waste contractor’s facility for recycling, whereas wooden cutlery would be sent for incineration as it is not recyclable.



Why are some outlets providing plastic straws?

We've moved to paper straws as standard at all university-run outlets. Bendy plastic straws will still be available for all who need them – just ask a member of staff. If you encounter any problems when requesting bendy straws, please email sudisabledofficer@nottingham.ac.uk.

Plastic straws may still be available front of house at third-party outlets as these are not directly managed by the University or Student’s Union. If you'd like to see a change at these outlets, we encourage you to contact them directly. 



Why aren’t we targeting international campuses in this campaign?

We are looking at ways in which we can expand the campaign to include our international campuses.



Sustainability Team

Estate Office
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

email: sustainability@nottingham.ac.uk