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7 ways to make your university campus more sustainable

7 ways to make your university campus more sustainable

University campuses are mini smart cities, with their own residences that house thousands of students and staff, stores, medical facilities, gyms and research facilities. Because these areas are highly populated and function independently, they produce a lot of waste. 

From single-use plastics to paper, cardboard and greenhouse gas emissions, university facilities managers (FMs) need to begin implementing waste management strategies that are environmentally conscious. 

Here at Zip Water, sustainability is very important to us. This is why we want to support FMs in making the move towards green campuses through kickstarting initiatives and implementing new technologies. By bolstering campus waste reduction and disposal practices, FMs can curb the detrimental effects of waste.


1. Ban disposable items

Single-use plastic cutlery, plates, cups, bags, water bottles and straws are attractive to students due to their ease of use. However, these products take hundreds of years to degrade and contribute to ocean pollution which kills 100 million marine animals each year.

Encouraging students to switch to multi-use items such as reusable water bottles, cutlery, grocery bags, metal straws and thermoses, reduces waste and costs. These items are also customisable, so students can express their style while remaining environmentally friendly. Eco-friendly packs of these items can be sold or distributed during student events such as Freshers Week to promote awareness of sustainable practices.

Zip Water Chilly’s reusable water bottles

Zip Water Chilly’s reusable water bottles


2.  Limit plastic containers in campus shops and on-campus catering

The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging per year. Toiletries such as shampoos, conditioners and soaps as well as cleaning products and detergents all come in plastic packaging. With only 9% of plastic waste ever made actually recycled, these containers end up piling up in landfill or disposed of in our oceans.

Plastic packaging in the UK makes up 70% of our plastic waste and with pre-made food from campus kitchens commonly sold in plastic packaging, this drastically contributes to the amount of plastic waste that campuses produce.

To combat this, change up shop stock and sell eco-friendly and zero waste products such as bar shampoos, conditioners and soaps. They come with plastic-free packaging and can be stored in reusable containers which will significantly reduce waste. 

Adding plastic-free refill stations within shops where students can bring their own containers to fill with food staples such as pasta, rice and beans as well as cleaning products like dish soap and liquid detergent, will promote zero waste and eco-conscious practices.

Ethique solid shampoo and conditioner bars

Finally, consider transitioning to compostable packaging for pre-made food sold in campus shops or catering facilities. This will significantly reduce the production and use of single-use plastic in the first place.


3. Create a paperless campus 

Worldwide paper consumption has risen by 400% in the last 40 years and the paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world. This means that going digital and saving paper is crucial for using less water, conserving energy, protecting the environment and saving money for other important campus facilities.

Begin by avoiding printing single-sided documents and hand-outs and instead move to digital solutions. Use student platforms such as Blackboard to provide online hand-outs or Google Drive to create and send documents and agendas. This not only makes it easier to give and receive edits on work but also improves document security, enhances the ability to organise documents and increases cost savings.

Apps are another method to achieve better productivity and sustainability. Evernote - a note taking and organisation app - is available on a wide range of devices and allows the user to get rid of paper and keep all notes, documents and photographs in one place. Google Calendar allows for easy tracking of deadlines - removing the need for paper agendas. Similarly, apps such as Dropbox - a file hosting service - act as a paper-free filing system, allowing the user to easily store, organise, track and share important documents.


4. Sustainable transport 

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Because all methods of vehicular transport emit harmful pollutants, it’s important to promote earth-friendly transport as an accessible alternative on campuses to minimise our carbon footprint.

Encouraging students and staff alike to choose low-carbon, healthy transport options can be facilitated by university campuses. 

When walking or cycling isn’t an option, public transport still remains a great alternative to using personal vehicles. Universities can facilitate reducing single-occupancy car trips by creating links with bus operators to provide students discounted bus passes for the academic year.

Reworking campuses to provide better cycling infrastructure by increasing cycling paths and parking spaces as well as on-campus facilities such as showers and lockers will make students and staff more likely to choose this eco-friendly method of transport. 

Providing low-cost bike hire and Cycle to Work schemes will further influence sustainable practice and increase student and staff wellness. 

Creating personalised journey plans - currently being used by Nottingham University - allows for quick and easy digital advice on commuting. It gives the user route information, journey time, calories burnt and commute options - such as walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing. This allows for students and staff to quickly and easily plan their journey and determine which method of transport is best suited to them.


5. Recycling

Throwing out all rubbish as general waste contributes to the rapid growth of landfills - huge centralised sites of garbage that emit harmful greenhouse gasses. When students can’t reduce certain waste or reuse a worn out product, an important waste management method that FMs can make easily accessible is recycling.

Begin by introducing a standard style of bins across campuses - aim to have them colour coded with proper signage and images showing which waste goes where. By placing them near high-use areas such as sports facilities, classrooms and hallways, student accommodations and catering facilities, students and staff will be more likely to dispose of their waste properly.

Another method is to introduce sustainable recycling initiatives. This can be seen in the form of collecting furniture, duvets, clothes and kitchenware at the end of the school year to reuse, repurpose and recycle for future students. 


6. Reduce food waste

The UK produced 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, leading to 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant - 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

When food waste accumulates in landfills and decomposes - it emits high levels of methane. Landfills are the source of 18% of global methane emissions.

Universities can reduce landfill waste by connecting with a food-waste reduction network such as FareShare to donate unwanted food items, or with an organics recycler to recycle food waste into green energy and fertiliser. 

Alongside this, campus catering can offer regular food samples and carry out surveys to assist in identifying popular student dishes. This is to determine what food should be served to most accurately reduce food waste from students buying and throwing out unwanted food.

On-campus catering facilities such as canteens, student bars and student unions can also provide compostable takeaway boxes for students and staff to take food home instead of throwing it out.


7. Introduce campus-wide sustainable practices

The environmental impact of universities can be greatly improved through widespread eco-friendly practices. These include reducing reliance on fossil fuels by using renewable energy sources, switching to biological cleaning materials and organising student environment awareness day events.

Introducing touchless drinking water solutions will assist with energy and water conservation as well as eradicate plastic drinking bottles. Making water refill points available across campuses - such as the HydroChill touch-free mains-fed drinking water dispenser - will ensure that students remain hydrated with pure-tasting filtered drinking water. Staff wellness can also be improved thanks to touch-free drinking water solutions like the HydroTap Touch Free Wave in kitchen facilities.

The Zip HydroChill HC03 touch-free mains-fed drinking water dispenser

The advanced technology of our touch-free range not only improves student and staff health and university sustainability but also ensures safe and hygienic conditions in a post-pandemic world. Just make sure that you safely recycle your CO2 canisters with our CO2 canister recycling scheme.

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