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Durham University

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Cutting back on single use plastics

(15 March 2019)

Staff and students at Van Mildert College

We’re reducing our impact on the environment by cutting out single use plastics.

We try to be a socially and environmentally responsible institution, whether that’s in how we build, heat or light our buildings, how we travel or how we buy in supplies we need to run.

So we’re proud to have signed the County Durham Single Use Plastics Pledge, pledging to:

  • Significantly reduce and work towards ultimately removing the use of unnecessary single use plastics from our operations; and
  • Encourage and support others to do the same.

What’s the problem?

Plastic rubbish harms our beaches, oceans and wildlife.

The UK Government estimates there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and that 100,000 sea mammals and one million birds die from eating or getting tangled up in plastic waste every year.

What are we doing about it?

We’re already testing a number of changes which we hope will help:

  • Providing students at Van Mildert College with reusable boxes for their lunches, and reusable cups for drinks;
  • Replacing disposable cups at our Mountjoy Centre with mugs and glasses;
  • And we’re looking at stocking vending machines in our Chemistry Department with cans, not plastic bottles.

Last year, we became the first university in the North to join the ‘Refill’ campaign to reduce plastic waste. Staff, students and members of the public can now refill their water bottle at our public cafes.

We’re also setting up a group to see what more we can do.

How’s it going so far?

At Van Mildert College, plastic straws have been replaced with paper straws, which are available on request. Disposable plastic cups are no longer available at water dispensers. Every fresher was given a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, and reusable boxes are now used for packed lunches.

A student-led ‘Green Committee’ has also run a Waste Awareness Week and a Fairtrade wine and cheese evening, and been raising awareness of the environmental impact of palm oil production.

Committee co-head Mei Chen said: “Everyone’s been really positive about it. They’re really happy there’s a system now that’s environmentally friendly. We’ve had other Colleges asking how we’ve done things, interested in doing it for themselves.”

What about the Pledge?

The County Durham Single Use Plastics Pledge has the support of Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary, Beamish Museum and others.

It was launched on Thursday 14 March, 2019, and the full text of the Pledge is linked below.