Best universities for recycling and sustainability

Explore the top 100 universities championing responsible consumption and production in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 

May 19 2021
Best universities for recycling and reusing


Plastic use has become one of the biggest issues of this generation with bottles, bags, food packaging and straws littering our beaches and clogging up our oceans. 

While we have a long way to go to rectify this, there are many things you can do to help to preserve the planet. And one of those is holding your university to account and understanding what they are doing to consume materials responsibly. 

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are a good place to start if you are looking to see which universities are dedicated to reducing plastic waste, minimising the use of disposable items and working to recycle more and which have policies in place for the sourcing of ethical goods.

To put together this ranking we mapped how universities around the world are committing to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a global call to action to tackle poverty, climate change and inequality. 

The SDGs look to tackle some of today’s biggest global issues and SDG 12 covers responsible consumption and production. More on the methodology of this SDG ranking can be found here.

1. University of Manchester

The University of Manchester has produced a report outlining how it is committed to each individual SDG. In terms of SDG 12, the university is carrying out research in relevant areas including chemical production, waste management and household sustainability. 

The Bluedot music festival, held by the university, is free of single-use plastic, recycles the majority of waste, initiates car-sharing schemes, provides coaches for festival goers, collects all food waste for composting and provides free water-refill stations. Festival goers also have the opportunity to offset their carbon footprint. 

The university is committed to using local suppliers and provides courses for students to learn more about responsible consumption. 

2. Newcastle University

Newcastle University has committed to becoming a more sustainable campus with a range of measures in place. The university has committed to its sustainable waste management system and has implemented the “reduce, reuse, recycle” principles. 

Students can attend workshops and talks on how to increase the sustainability of daily life and tailored workshops on areas of sustainability. 

Students are encouraged to submit their own ideas for sustainable projects, campaigns or events. A range of student societies, such as EcoSoc, Newcastle Food Co-op and the Bee Society, encourage students to discuss and implement sustainability projects across campus. 

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3. University College Cork

University College Cork has been trialling and implementing a Green Campus programme since 2007. Since then, the university has reduced its carbon emissions by 36 per cent and its waste tonnage by 25 per cent. The student-led committee meets regularly to discuss ideas and campaigns to improve the campus. 

In 2018, 8,000 students signed a petition to make the university free of single-use plastic by 2023. The university also launched Ireland’s first plastic-free café on campus. Glass bottles have replaced plastic bottles and it doesn’t serve any plastic-wrapped food items, cutlery or sauces. The café also has an integrated water fountain system. 

=4. Arizona State University (Tempe)

The College of Global Futures at Arizona State University empowers students to make a long-term impact in sustainability and innovation. The college is separated into three schools, one of which is the School of Sustainability. 

Within the School of Sustainability, students study courses in sustainable food systems, sustainable energy and sustainability management. 

Students are also encouraged to undertake research focusing on sustainability or to undertake sustainability internships. Student societies include Sustainabilibuddies, Campus Student Sustainability Initiatives and Green Light Solutions.  

=4. Manchester Metropolitan University

In April 2021, Manchester Metropolitan University launched the “Give It, Don’t Bin It” campaign, which encourages students to donate unwanted items and leftover food to charity partners including the British Heart Foundation and Manchester Central Food Bank. Donation banks and boxes are situated all over campus. 

Students wishing to get involved in sustainability can choose from a range of initiatives across campus, including the Sustainability Ambassador scheme and Climate and Social Action Week.

Students also run a swap shop that enables students to swap clothes with each other and MetMUnch, a student network that focuses on training and pop-ups all around food, nutrition and sustainability. 

Best universities for recycling and sustainability

Recycling and sustainability rank 2021
1 University of Manchester United Kingdom
2 Newcastle University United Kingdom
3 University College Cork Republic of Ireland
=4 Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
=4 Manchester Metropolitan University United Kingdom
6 University of British Columbia Canada
7 University of Strathclyde United Kingdom
8 Bournemouth University United Kingdom
9 University of Wollongong Australia
=10 Glasgow Caledonian University United Kingdom
=10 Western Sydney University Australia
12 University of Leeds United Kingdom
=13 University of Auckland New Zealand
=13 University of Reading United Kingdom
15 Brunel University London United Kingdom
16 University of Calgary Canada
17 King’s College London United Kingdom
=18 Cardiff University United Kingdom
=18 University of Gothenburg Sweden
=20 University of Exeter United Kingdom
=20 University of Leicester United Kingdom
=20 Polytechnic University of Valencia Spain
=23 University of Maryland, Baltimore County United States
=23 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University United States
=23 Western University Canada
26 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
27 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
28 University of Jaén Spain
29 University of Liverpool United Kingdom
30 King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi Thailand
=31 Université Laval Canada
=31 University of Sydney Australia
33 University of Surrey United Kingdom
34 La Trobe University Australia
35 University of Toronto Canada
=36  McMaster University Canada
=36 Simon Fraser University Canada
38 New York University United States
=39 De Montfort University United Kingdom
=39 Queen’s University Canada
=39 Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember Indonesia
42 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
=43 University of Dundee United Kingdom
=43 UNSW Sydney  Australia
45 Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University Saudi Arabia
46 University of Waterloo Canada
47 Aalto University Finland
48 University of Coimbra Portugal
49 University of Westminster United Kingdom
50 University of Miami United States
51 Chulalongkorn University Thailand
52 Miguel Hernández University of Elche  Spain
=53 Bangor University United Kingdom
=53 Dalhousie University Canada
=53 University of South Florida (Tampa) United States
56 Nottingham Trent University United Kingdom
57 Aalborg University Denmark
58 University of Malaga Spain
59 Lehigh University United States
60 Metropolitan Autonomous University Mexico
61 University of Indonesia Indonesia
62 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
=63 Concordia University Canada
=63 University of Guelph Canada
=63 ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon Portugal
=63 KEDGE Business School (Bordeaux) France
=67 Diponegoro University Indonesia
=67 York University  Canada
69 University of Victoria Canada
=70 University of Minho Portugal
=70 Ozyegin University Turkey
72 Northumbria University United Kingdom
73 KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sweden
74 Padjadjaran University Indonesia
=75 Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain
=75 Dublin City University Republic of Ireland
=75 University of Waikato New Zealand
78 Kyoto University Japan
79 University of Johannesburg South Africa
80 University of Greenwich United Kingdom
81 Florida International University United States
82 University of Alicante Spain
83 Keele University United Kingdom
84 RMIT University Australia
85 EAFIT University Colombia
86 Suranaree University of Technology Thailand
87 University of Malaya Malaysia
88 Middlesex University United Kingdom
=89 Universitas Gadjah Mada Indonesia
=89 University of Otago New Zealand
91 Tilburg University Netherlands
92 University of Iceland Iceland
93 University of Northampton United Kingdom
94 Tohoku University Japan
95 University of Eastern Finland Finland
96 Hiroshima University Japan
97 JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research India
=98 University of Alberta Canada
=98 University of Aveiro  Portugal
100 Massey University New Zealand

View the full ranking here 

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