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 it’s 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 sourcing 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 for this ranking can be found here.
In 2017, Western Sydney University signed the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Higher Education Commitment. This means that it has committed to undertaking research in sustainable development, providing courses for students in sustainable development and responsible consumption and ensuring that its campus is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
The university undertakes a range of sustainability-related research, including sustainable agriculture, soil biology and food security.
It has a range of living labs on its campus to aid with teaching and research in areas such as renewable energy, water recycling and and natural and cultural heritage.
The University of Reading is working with students to embed sustainability and sustainable development into all courses to educate students about the importance of sustainable living.
In addition to this, the university offers a range of modules on environmental and social issues to all undergraduate students, regardless of which faculty they are studying in. There is also a free online two-week course in which you can investigate the impact of climate change and the research being done into it.
The university has a range of sustainability projects, including the Research Woodland and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme.
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The student guide to sustainability
The University of Manchester has a range of sustainability measures on campus to reduce waste. The Want Not, Waste Not shop on campus sells a selection of zero-waste products including spices, pulses, cleaning products and beauty products.
The university is also working to reduce plastic at all its events, by replacing balloons with paper bunting, using potato-based tokens instead of plastic ones and eliminating plastic water bottles and printed flyers.
There is also a range of research being conducted at the university into the impact of microplastics in UK rivers and new ways of using plastic and reducing its use.
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 clothing swap shop and MetMUnch, a student network that focuses on training and pop-ups all around food, nutrition and sustainability.
The University of Galway has signed the SDG Accord, which means it is committed to embedding the SDGs into its education, research, leadership, operations, administration and engagement activities.
Students can also get involved by joining dedicated clubs such as the environmental society, the energy society, the organic gardening society and the vegan society.