A UOW sign with an arrow to the food court and an arrow to the UniBar
A UOW sign with an arrow to the food court and an arrow to the UniBar

New sustainable initiative to reduce food waste and single-use plastic to be trialed

New sustainable initiative to reduce food waste and single-use plastic to be trialed

UOW Pulse awarded NSW EPA partnership grant to implement cutlery and return stations in the UOW Wollongong food court

The University of Wollongong (UOW) is set to trial the supply of reusable plates, bowls and cutlery for dine-in customers via a new return station in Building 11 food court on the UOW Wollongong campus. The initiative is meant to minimise single-use plastics and divert waste from landfill.

A new partnership announced on Friday, 1 July, between UOW Pulse, UOW and the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been awarded funding from the EPA for a 12-month trial of the new initiative to be launched in August 2022, at the start of Semester 2.

UOW Pulse, who manages student engagement and commercial operations at UOW, will lead the initiative and launch it on campus. The project will be the first in Wollongong to champion this kind of sustainability efforts. It is hoped it could be used to demonstrate what is possible in other food court areas across other universities and the whole region.

“I am excited by the new partnership between UOW Pulse, UOW and the EPA, and I am sure the students and staff will love playing a part in this important sustainable initiative on campus,” UOW Pulse CEO, Alf Maccioni said. 

Beyond the trial, the goal is to upscale the project across all food courts across the University after the testing phase is completed in mid-2023.

NSW Environment Minister James Griffin congratulated UOW Pulse and said the NSW EPA is delivering funding to 17 community partners to lead projects aimed at educating and changing behaviours in their community.

“To coincide with Plastic Free July, we’re delivering almost $900,000 in funding support to educate our communities. As we pivot away from single-use plastics, these community partnerships will help drive necessary change,” Mr Griffin said.      

Single-use plastic items pose an enormous threat to our environment. Plastic packaging and single-use plastic items make up 60 per cent of all litter in NSW. To combat this problem, some of the most littered single-use plastic items will be banned, preventing nearly 2.7 billion plastic items from entering the coastal, marine and bushland environments of NSW over the next 20 years.

The transition toward a circular economy is underway, with the NSW Government banning lightweight plastic shopping bags from 1 June 2022. From November, the ban will be extended to single-use plastic straws, stirrers and swizzle sticks, cutlery (including forks, spoons, knives, sporks, splayds, chopsticks, food picks) and expanded polystyrene (EPS) food service items.

UOW Pulse and UOW are committed to reducing waste to landfill and avoidance of single-use plastics, this project is the latest in a series of sustainability initiatives underway at UOW Wollongong. They all have a common goal of reducing negative environmental impacts.

UOW Pulse has previously installed the Pulpmaster waste-to-energy system that turns food waste and compostable food packaging into sustainable organic fertiliser and green energy. This system is diverting approximately 2700kg of organic waste from landfill each week from the UniBar and through back-of-house organics collections from other outlets on campus.

The provision of organic waste bins, started at the UniBar more than four years ago, has been expanded with organics bins now also located in all food courts on campus and at UniActive.

In 2018, UOW Pulse was recognised for their excellence in sustainability within the tertiary education sector in Australasia, winning the Campus Health, Food & Drink Award at the 2018 Green Gown Awards for the work overhauling its operations and food and beverage offerings at the UniBar. Thanks to these efforts, they managed to reduce the waste to landfill by 84 per cent.

The Sustainable Futures Committee at UOW oversees the pursuit and delivery of its sustainable objectives under the UOW Strategic Plan, including the integration of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and sustainability initiatives and targets across all aspects of the University’s activities. This project will support the implementation of SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 14 (Life Below Water).