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Reuse is not only good for the environment as it gets the most out of valuable natural resources, it’s also a requirement for University staff. Section 18.6 of the University’s financial regulations state that “goods and services may be purchased externally only if they are not reasonably available elsewhere within the University”. 

We should all do what we can to seek out internal resources before buying new, as well as to prevent anything that’s usable or repairable from being disposed of as waste. There’s lots that individuals and departments can do to foster reuse, here are a few ideas: 

Waste reuse checklist

Relevant staff, in particular those with purchasing, storage and disposal responsibilities, have WarpIt accounts and are encouraged to use these  enlightened
We ensure refurbishments and clear-outs are planned ahead to identify reuse opportunities, and plan our use of WarpIt  enlightened
We ensure items are reused to prolong their useful life  enlightened
We donate to charity before disposal, wherever possible  enlightened
We encourage staff to actively engage with the issue of reuse  enlightened

The checklist above is a simple way of checking whether your department meets the reuse criteria. You can click each criterion for more information and case studies of how others have achieved these. See also our waste reduction criteria and recycling criteria to see if your department is a true waste and recycling champion.

Use WarpIt

WarpIt is an online marketplace to help redistribute resources legally and conveniently within the University for free. It is designed to make it easy for staff to find others with spare items - reducing procurement spend. It also helps staff who are disposing of “stuff” to find new owners - saving on waste disposal costs. On average a new item is added to the portal once a day, and 93% of those are claimed internally, helping save 13 tonnes of waste a year!

Ensure colleagues with purchasing or disposal responsibilities have access to, and are aware how to use, WarpIt. it's easy to set up a WarpIt account and find university members who can make use of your unwanted items.

Case study: "Don't be shelf-ish! - Biochemistry kit out archive room with help from WarpIt
Case study: The Fitzwilliam Musum saved £1800 by re-using surplus furniture from a project on the West Cambridge site

Planning ahead for building changes

A significant source of waste in the University, which could be reused, is furniture and office fixtures and fittings. Much of this results from refurbishments, office clear-outs and reconfigurations, or from furniture purchases. By planning these activities well in advance, it's possible to reduce the skips full of waste that often result from these activities. We recommend carrying out stock checks and audits beforehand. These can be carried out in-house, or with support of a specialist reuse company, as they will identify not just resources which can be reused or refurbished, but also items which are surplus and can be placed on WarpIt.

Case study: Project Light (the relocation of departments in the Gleesson Building) helped to save £17.6k for the University simply by carrying out a stock check of unwanted furniture prior to a major office move. By posting these items onto WarpIt well in advance of the move date, this gave time for other departments to claim and collect the items before clearance was required, saving on skip hire costs as well as the cost and environmental impact of buying new.
Case study: Furniture problem 'planted on' office - CU Investment Office find home for nearly a tonne of furniture
More ideas for reducing waste in University offices

Supplier ‘take back’ schemes

A number of departments have found that their suppliers offer ‘take back’ schemes for certain waste streams. Ordinarily, there is limited incentive for suppliers to the University to reduce the weight and volume or increase the recyclability of the items they sell to us. However there are reputational issues to ignoring this issue, and there can also be a financial imperative for suppliers to consider how they can recover the resources they need to make their products, rather than them ending up being treated as waste. In some cases, forward-thinking suppliers have provided 'take back' schemes to provide a dedicated means of recovering their products. Where these are available, they are a great way to ensure items are reycled, as well as cut waste disposal costs for the University. Examples include: 

  • BioPath stores use STARlab’s collection service for pipette racks and boxes. 
  • Zoology use NEB’s return labels for polystyrene boxes. 
  • The Faculty of Philosophy use a coffee packaging take-back initiative. 
  • The University Counselling Service has set up a successful pen and writing instrument recycling collection which raises funds for a local charity.
  • The University Library initiated a dedicated paper collection skip for book dust jackets, which are removed before books are shelved. This is provided free-of-charge, saving significant amounts against the dry mixed recycling collections.

See the Waste & Recycling A-Z for more details on these and other ideas for supplier take back schemes.

Set up reuse facilities

As well as using WarpIt for sharing items with other departments, there can be many options for reuse within a department or building. To make this easier, it can help to have reuse facilities in a central location which is accessible and visible to staff. A 'reuse station' for exchanging items within your department is a simple but effective way to do this, and could include options for stationary reuse, reusable envelopes, as well as a collection point for any specific recycling streams.

Case study: The Department of Plant Sciences made the most of reuse opportunities by setting up a 'reuse corridor' for packaging, envelopes and stationery among other things. Departmental staff can bring items they no longer need here and trade them for other goods if necessary. 

Reusing and replacing items  

Often, items which are branded as 'disposable' can in fact be reused. Alternatively, there are many simple changes to product selections that will allow for a single-use item to be replaced by an item which is reusable or refillable. All that's required is a close look at common items, thinking what alternative ways of using the item, or alternative produces, could help minimise disposal. There are lots of examples of departments around the University going down this route:

Case study: Cambridge Archaeological Unit use substantial quantities of plastic press-seal bags to collect artefacts during excavations. As the weather and working conditions in the field are often rough, archaeologists are forced to use durable and heavy-duty plastic bags to ensure finds are safely put away and with the correct labelling. This means replacing them for a biodegradable variety is not an option. However in the Unit’s efforts to reduce plastic waste, they have opted to begin reusing bags for finds during excavation, with each one being put to use as many as six times thanks to a simple re-labelling process (pictured). Through this simple change, the team estimate they have diverted 396.3kg of plastic from disposal, equivalent to over two tonnes of CO₂ emissions – around a quarter of the carbon footprint of the average person in the UK. 

Case study: The University Catering Service has taken great steps towards minimising waste associated with their operations, and are now almost entirely ‘single-use plastic free’. As well as providing tap water and encouraging reusable cup use through a 25p cup charge, the UCS team have worked to identify replacements for plastic items, shifting to more recyclable glass bottles and metal cans.  

Case study: At the University Library, cleaning staff have trialled alternatives to single-use cleaning bottles. The result is products which are delivered in concentrate form and mixed on site for use in reusable bottles, helping to minimise a key source of single-use plastics. 

Donate, don't dispose

There are a number of charity donation options for many waste streams. At the basic level, BHF and other donation bins are available around the city. Items posted on the University’s WarpIt portal are automatically offered to local charities in their last five days before expiry, however if they are not claimed it's worth getting in touch with local charity shops such as Salvation Army and EMMAUS who can come to collect bulky items like furniture.

Check out the Waste & Recycling A-Z for other ideas on charity donation

Sell unwanted equipment

The ‘Unigreenscheme’ laboratory resale service was set up in the University of Cambridge in 2018. In one year the initiative diverted 1,699kg of unwanted equipment from waste disposal, by selling it for reuse in other organisations. This also resulted in rebates of £5,700 to the University. There’s also the University’s Equipment Sharing Project, which facilitates sharing of equipment between departments. 

Engage staff on reuse

While simple changes in policies and procedures will have an impact, encouraging staff to think about how they can contribute towards reuse objectives will multiply the impact further. Here are some examples: 

Case study: To raise awareness of the issue of expanded polystyrene in the CRUK Cambridge Institute, staff built up a ‘polystyrene wall’ in the entrance to the department to showcase how much of this waste was being generated! This visual intervention has helped encourage staff to use supplier take back schemes, as well as galvanised support for a longer-term solution to the issue. 
Case study: In 2018, Lucy Cavendish College organised a clothes swap where students and staff swapped unwanted clothes for new ones. As well as helping to ensure clothes gained a new lease of life, it was a great sociable event for staff and students to take part in!
Case sKtudy: The Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology gently nudged their colleagues towards reusable cups when they asked staff to deposit their disposable cups into a collection bin. After a couple of weeks, the Green Impact team pinned the cups to the staff notice board. The impressive display helped to show the sheer number of cups that were being disposed of, thus encouraging staff to shift to a reusable alternative. Staff were also provided with a reusable KeepCup, helping cut the use of disposable cups significantly. 
Case study: In May and November 2018, the Environment and Energy Section organised a repair café. Many items were brought along by staff and students to be repaired, which would have otherwise ended up in the bin, and hundreds of conversations took place about how to reduce waste! Cambridge Carbon Footprint run Repair Cafes throughout the year so why not get in touch to ask if your department can host one? 

Next up: Recycling guidance