skip to content



2021 is upon us, bringing not just a new year but new opportunities for making a positive sustainability difference! The Sustainability Team and others around the University will be working on many environmental issues over the coming months. To help target sustainability efforts, we’ve hand-picked three key topics which we’ll be encouraging staff and students to take on in earnest in 2021. The first of these campaigns, which will run throughout Lent term, is something which many of us are keen to address: single-use disposables.  

The ‘Single Out’ campaign

We’ve known for many years that the 'make, use, dispose’ way of life is having a big impact on our environment. Our use of single-use items not only fills up landfills, chokes our rivers and seas, but also contributes to dwindling natural resources.

Having said this, there are many great examples from around the University of Cambridge of staff and students taking action to take on single-use wastes which are having a real impact, like the ones highlighted below. 

Cutting out single-use items – examples from around the University 

  • Cambridge Archaeological Unit set up a simple labelling system to reuse sealable plastic bags used for collecting artefacts during excavations. With each one being put to use as many as six times, the team estimate they have diverted nearly 400kg of plastic from disposal. 

  • At the University Library, cleaning staff have switched to concentrated cleaning products which are mixed on-site for use in reusable bottles, saving on disposable spray containers 

  • The Isaac Newton Institute switched from giving long-term visitors to the building bottled or canned water, instead offering reusable, refillable bottles made from recycled plastic to visitors, for a £1 donation to Wateraid. 

  • The Graduate Admissions office found a way to cut down on printing of electronic application documents, saving 400 to 600 pages of printing a week!  

  • Churchill College eliminated snack packaging at the College bar, selling snacks by weight rather than in pre-packaged bags. 

Read more examples and case studies on reducing waste, and get tips on how you can do the same on our waste guidance pages.

Recent audits of the University of Cambridge’s waste show how big the issue of single-use disposable waste is, but this also reinforces just how big of a change we could make if we can better understand the issue of single-use disposables, and find solutions that help to reduce, replace, reuse or recycle the most problematic items. 


How can you help? 

While waste audits have given us some understanding of the single-use wastes the University generates, as shown below, this snapshot also demonstrated that there are large variations in the types and amounts of waste generated around the University. Gaining a better understanding of single-use waste from all corners of the University will help us to really narrow down our efforts on those items which add the most to our waste.