University of York single use plastic scheme saves 1m cups from landfill

The initiative – which allows customers to buy cups with hot drinks to go – offers a simple solution to the problem of mounting rubbish on campus.

What began as a simple calculation – how many disposable cups are thrown away each year by University of York students and staff – has catalysed a highly effective new waste management policy.

Estimating that around 500,000 single use plastic cups were sent to landfill from campus in 2018 alone, caterers at the northern England institution decided to take action and bring the total number down. 

Three years later, around 1.1million single-use plastic cups are thought to have been saved through the use and promotion of reusable vessels. The initiative replaced a previous ‘Bring Your Own Cup’ effort, which offered discounted drinks for those who used their own container for beverages. 

YORCUP was rolled out in January 2019, in collaboration with the University of York’s Students’ Union (YUSU) and staff working in commercial services. At the same time, a 20p ‘latte levy’ was also introduced across all on-site hospitality outlets, applicable whenever a single cup was used. 

Now, first-time customers pay £5 for a cup, receiving the initial drink itself for free and avoiding the 20p charge. In return, they also receive a green sleeve which signals their buying into the scheme. This means customers can hand their dirty cup back to any eatery on campus, and still have proof they are using the system to qualify for another cup and avoid additional charges.

According to the University of York’s figures, 6,493 reusable cups have been purchased so far, while the latte levy has raised £53,327 at the time of writing. This money is being used to invest in more sustainable initiatives on campus and across the local community. These include installing single-use plastic cup recycling bins across the university, and donating produce and funds to food banks and a nearby ‘pay as you go’ cafe. 

Jane Anness, head of Hospitality, Catering and Retail at the University of York, said: ‘We are very proud that our scheme has raised the profile of our sustainability initiative in both the city of York and the wider field. Our commitment is demonstrated through our continued running of this scheme throughout the pandemic.’

‘The success of the YORCUP scheme shows that both students and staff care deeply about our environment, both locally and nationally, and about making a difference,’ said Patrick O’Donnell, President of the University of York Students’ Union. ‘The widespread take-up and adoption of the scheme, across both University and YUSU outlets, shows that it’s easy to play your part in making our University a more sustainable community.’

In related news, the Environment Investigation Agency has urged the United Nations Environment Assembly to focus on scientific fact while drawing up a new treaty on plastics. 

Image credit: Zeyu Jiang



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