Reducing single use plastic at the University

The University and our Students’ Union has committed to eliminating avoidable single-use plastics by 2022. Focusing on catering, labs and stationery, this ambitious plan is a regional initiative along other universities and colleges in Greater Manchester. Our Single-Use Plastics Action Plan details our approach to meeting this target.

Our progress so far

  • Since September 2019, we have introduced a 20p charge on all hot drinks sold in disposable cups in our Food on Campus outlets. These profits go towards local sustainability and community projects. This charge has helped avoid more than 35,000 single-use cups in January and February 2020.
  • We have introduced reusable cups in our Fallowfield campus bar Squirrels, switching to a plastic-free drinks service.
  • Our Food on Campus outlets only use Tiffin sandwiches, packaged in biodegradable plant-based packaging, so you can enjoy your sandwich without using plastic.
  • Our in-house delivered catering from Taste Manchester is completely plastic-free, using cardboard sandwich boxes instead of single-use plastic and reusable drinks containers.
  • We encourage our staff and students to carry reusable water bottles - you can find the location of your nearest water dispenser on our Sustainability Map. Many of our Food on Campus outlets are available to members of the public on the Refill app. See here for a list of our drinking dispensers on campus.
  • Our Want not Waste shop sells a selection of zero waste products, including spices, pulses, grains and sugar, helping you to avoid excess plastic packaging. The store also offers tea, coffee and beauty products, as well as cleaning products. Customers can bring their own containers or bags to fill up products and pay by weight or item. This can help reduce both cost and food waste.
  • We are a registered Terracycle collector for various schemes, including the Crisps Packet Scheme and Oral Care Scheme (see here).
  • Our Manchester Museum is taking actions to reduce its plastic, including selling soft toys made from recycled plastic bottles and working towards removing all plastic wrapping from greeting cards.

We encourage plastic-free actions at our events

  • Our Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre now uses potato-based tokens for its annual science shows, instead of plastic tokens. This has avoided 21,000 plastic tokens each year. The Centre has also removed 16,000 plastic straws annually.
  • The University of Manchester Careers Service have taken steps to reduce single-use plastics at their events. Held in February 2020, the My Future Festival used paper bunting instead of balloons, eliminated plastic water bottles usually given to exhibitors and avoided 1000 printed flyers.

What we're working on

  • Our School of Biological Sciences has launched a project to reduce the amount of plastic in their undergraduate teaching laboratory classes. This ‘Plastic 6R’ approach (refine, reduce, reuse, refill, replace, recycle[d]) is estimated to reduce 37 pieces of single-use plastic per student each year. This will avoid more than 24,000 pieces of plastic annually. We are working towards extending this procedure across our University teaching laboratories.
  • Our award-winning 10,000 Actions, now 50,000 Actions and Team Actions platform encourages staff and students to make small commitments in their daily lives, including reducing their plastic consumption through individual and team-based actions.
  • We have regular stationery amnesties, to reduce the procurement of unnecessary materials including plastic, as well as avoiding their disposal and associated costs. Remaining stationery is donated to charity if it cannot be reused internally.
  • We have introduced single-use face mask recycling across campus.

Our research

  • The University of Manchester is leading on the UKRI funded ‘Rethinking Resources and Recycling’ project which is one of eight research projects funded through PRIF (Plastic Research Innovation Fund) that will explore new and different ways of making, using and recycling plastics. This multi-disciplinary collaboration targets both the technological and societal interventions needed to address the 5 million tonnes of plastic waste being generated in the UK annually.
  • Our research also covers microplastics, which have been found in marine environments including seafloors and UK rivers. In the first detailed catchment-wide study of its kind in the world, researchers in our Department of Geography discovered that UK rivers are densely contaminated with microplastics.
  • Our researchers are racing to understand how microplastics are transported to the deep-sea floor in an effort to combat the growing ecological problem.

Has your team reduced its plastic?

We’d like to know if your team or department has taken action on plastic. This could include removing plastic cups from water dispensers or eliminating plastic packaging from your publications. Any action will help us increase our total number of pieces of plastic removed and share best practices across the University. Please fill in this form and email the completed document to