Skip to main content

University of Leeds pledges to go plastic free


The University of Leeds and Leeds University Union have together pledged to become single-use plastic-free by 2023.

Single-use plastic items are designed to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.

The campaign, Single Out: 2023PlasticFree, crucially commits the University and Union to phase out single-use plastic across the board, not just in catering and office spaces.

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University, said: “This is a huge commitment and a big challenge for us, but we are determined to play our part by acting together to reduce our plastic footprint.

“We’ve already made so much progress, with strong recycling rates and catering initiatives such as our reusable cups becoming an integral part of our operations.

“We hope this pledge inspires all staff and students to take up the challenge of collectively reducing our use of throwaway plastics, across campus and beyond.”

Chris Morris, Union Affairs Officer at Leeds University Union, said: “As a Union, we are delighted to announce this joint pledge to be single-use plastic-free by 2023.

“Students have often been ahead of the national agenda, with freshers’ week plastic bag free and ensuring we have biodegradable alternatives in the Union – this pledge is another step where the University community can lead the way.

“We are looking forward to working in partnership with the University to make sure we all have a positive impact on this future defining issue for the planet.”

Mapping plastic use

The five-year campaign will involve mapping plastic use across the University and Union, and then identifying action plans for more challenging areas.

It will also include working with partners and supply chains to phase out the amount of plastic products and packaging coming onto campus.

The pledge commits catering and office spaces to becoming single-use plastic-free by 2020, with longer-term support for lab space and other services to help them identify and develop available alternatives to critical disposable plastic equipment and apparatus by 2023.

Championing change

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey and prominent polar scientist, is the University’s Chancellor. She said: “The shift in public opinion about use of plastics has been phenomenal, but organisations of all shapes and sizes need to champion change.

“I think this commitment will inspire lots of people to think about how the University – as an institution that leads the way on sustainability – can make a difference.

“As a leading research university, we also have an important role in developing expertise. From working on alternatives to plastics and helping improve waste management, we’ll be supporting the difficult challenges ahead to ensure plastics don’t end up in the natural environment.”

Leading research

The 2023PlasticFree campaign will profile the University’s influential research into the environmental, social and economic impacts and opportunities of plastics in materials and processes.

Examples of current research includes:

• Researching processes to produce the next generation of biodegradable bioplastics – plastics derived from renewable biomass that will break down quickly and safely once disposed. The research is being led by Professor John Blacker from the School of Chemistry

• Predicting the flow and crystallisation of polymers in plastics to improve processing and recycling, led by Professor Daniel Read, School of Mathematics

• Increasing understanding of how after-use plastic is managed within cities to maximise circular economy potential. The research, led by Dr Costas Velis from Civil Engineering, will help identify plastic pollution sources, pathways and where to target action.

Ideas and initiatives

Dr Ellis added: “Everyone can play their part, and we’d love staff and students to tell us what they are already doing to support this pledge.

“In the coming months, we’ll be getting a better understanding of our plastics use, helping develop action plans and encouraging new ideas and initiatives.”

Examples of recent initiatives at the University include a geochemical research laboratory in the School of Earth and Environment, which replaced its centrifuge tubes racks (which could not be recycled) with reusable equipment.

The University’s catering service, Great Food at Leeds, has saved more than 100,000 disposable cups being used in University cafes and restaurants by selling branded KeepCups, which come with a free hot drink and 20p off every subsequent purchase.

The bar at stage@leeds has also committed to being single-use plastic-free, with cups and glasses being replaced with vegware or paper, all recyclable and compostable.

Support the #2023plasticfree pledge on Twitter @UoL_Sus, Instagram @uol_sus or email ideas to

For more information over the coming weeks, including FAQs, visit