Plastic-free food court opens at UTS

Monday, 26 August, 2019

Plastic-free food court opens at UTS

Newly opened UTS Central — a future-focused student hub and faculty space on the UTS campus — showcases a plastic-free food court, where plastic straws, bags, plastic-lined coffee cups, packaging and plastic-bottled drinks are nowhere to be seen. The initiative is part of the university’s ‘Plastic Free by 2020 Plan’, developed in consultation with students and staff to phase out single-use plastics. The plan aims to change practices and behaviours in order to reduce the amount of plastic discarded by the UTS community each week.

“As a community, we have to stop thinking of plastic as disposable,” said UTS Sustainability Manager Danielle McCartney. “For generations, plastic has been cheap, convenient and a constant part of daily activities. We now have to retrain ourselves. With a small amount of effort, we can still enjoy a takeaway coffee or grab lunch on the run without adding to the plastic problem.

“UTS has made an unwavering commitment to sustainability, and the launch of our plastic-free food court is the latest step in improving sustainable practices across our campus,” McCartney said.

“We have taken an innovative approach to ensure the UTS Central food court isn’t contributing to the plastic waste problem. There has been a long process of integrating sustainability clauses into leases and working closely with tenants to ensure all their packaging is both fit for purpose and compostable.

“The work for UTS has involved educating vendors about sustainable alternatives like PLA [polylactic acid], which looks and feels like plastic but is commercially compostable along with our food waste,” she continued.

Accompanying the initiative is a user-end education project involving plastic-free student ambassadors who help food court visitors identify compostable packaging to ensure that all items are directed to the correct waste stream.

“Our outlets deserve a lot of credit for getting on board and changing their packaging,” McCartney said. “For many of the vendors — including major-brand franchises — it’s the first time they have used compostable packaging and their UTS outlet may serve as the pilot for their wider business.”

All takeaway packaging in food court outlets is compostable and bottled drinks come in recyclable aluminium or glass containers. UTS students and staff are also being encouraged to bring their own re-usable cups, containers and cutlery. The university is investing in water fountains and washing-up facilities that enable re-usable alternatives.

“Our students and staff also need to play a big part,” McCartney said. “Refusing to take single-use items like cutlery, takeaway containers and drinking straws sends a powerful message.

“Small actions add up. If every one of our staff and students used one less disposable coffee cup or plastic takeaway container each week, there would be two million less plastic items in landfill by the end of the year. That’s huge.”

Image credit: © UTS

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