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Environment and Energy

Each day 7 million hot drinks are consumed in disposable cups in the UK, and until recently many of us believed that these cups were easily recycled. Unfortunately this is not the case. While technically recyclable, the cups are made from a combination of paper and an internal lining of plastic polyethylene, which are difficult to separate and can therefore only be dealt with by a small number of specialist recycling sites across the country. This, combined with contamination by the drink itself and people simply putting the cups in the wrong bin means that only 1% of the cups that we use are recycled!

Luckily for us, the University Catering Service (UCS) have been tackling this issue on our behalf for the last few years. This work was recently recognised when UCS won the ‘Sustainability’ award at the annual awards for the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO). The awards were held on 25 July, Paula White Catering Manager is pictured above (second from the left) along with Nick White, Head of Operations (far right), receiving the award. The theme of the Sustainability award this year was reduction of disposable cups, an area where the UCS has excelled in recent years! What did they do that was award-worthy?

The first thing that the UCS did to reduce disposable cup use was to encourage staff and students to use refillable cups. University branded ‘Keep cups’ are sold at all outlets and staff who use these cups receive a 20p discount on each drink that they buy. These cups pay for themselves in no time, and more importantly, the use of these cups over the last three years has meant that UCS has avoided using 66,000 disposable cups!


Figure 1: University Keepcup

Those who do not use a refillable cup have not been forgotten, though! In UCS cafes you will still find disposable cups, but with a difference. The cups available in UCS (along with the plates and cutlery) are compostable, made by the British company Vegware, from sustainably sourced card and plant-based Polylactic Acid (PLA). This means that they can be put into the food waste bins, from where they will be sent to an anaerobic digestor that generates sustainable biogas.

Not content to tackle just coffee cups, the UCS are now looking at another waste from your morning cuppa. Coffee grounds are now collected by the UCS and sent for processing where they are turned into fuel logs to be used instead of virgin timber. Watch out for more information on this scheme in a future edition of Greenlines!

The reduction of waste from hot drinks is not the only thing the UCS is working on; menus have been changed to shift to foods with a lower environmental impact, single-use plastic is no longer on sale in outlets, and in collaboration with #OneLessCambridge campaign, UCS is working on increasing access to water refill stations, and providing stylish, University of Cambridge-branded re-usable bottles for purchase (figure 2). UCS are guided in their sustainability mission by the Sustainable Food Policy which was developed with input from leading academics across the University.

Water bottles

Figure 2: One Less water bottle

The team at the University Catering Service have a passion for sustainability, which has extended to other catering providers in the University and Colleges, and it is wonderful to see their work being recognised by peers in the industry.

Congratulations to everyone involved and we cannot wait to see what you do next!

Figure 3: The University Catering Service team with their award