Consumption and waste

Like every large organisation, the university generates a broad variety of waste. Educational, administrative and research activities are the cause. Aside from the usual rubbish, paper and organic refuse, UCL also produces radioactive, chemical, sharps and IT waste. This requires specific collection chains and a permanent dialogue with municipalities home to a university campus. For both specific and general waste, UCL works to minimise its impact. The best waste is no waste.

Awareness-raising at the source

Preventing waste is certainly the best and most efficient way of attacking the problem, by combining environmental and cleanliness concerns. Awareness-raising campaigns frequently target students and staff. Simple actions are encouraged and some kots à projets (UCL’s theme-based student accommodation), such as KapVert, actively raise awareness in the community.

Streamlining bureaucracy

The university’s administrative departments use several million sheets of paper each year: from 26 million in 2005 to 18 million in 2016. This significant reduction was driven by UCL’s Purchasing Department. Its coordinator Jean-Michel Karkan says, ‘We opted for paper made from sustainably managed forests, whose grammage is less than that of standard paper. Duplex printing is the default setting. Invoices are preferably transmitted digitally. As often as possible, we buy the most sustainable and environmentally friendly office equipment.’ These small acts reduce not only consumption but spending. Equipment reuse, recovery and sharing – including in laboratories – and buying long-life goods are encouraged at various organisational levels.

Going the extra mile

Sustainability labels are now a requirement for the Purchasing Department. ‘Meeting environmental and social criteria is imperative to our public procurement policy,’ Mr Karkan insists. ‘We encourage the entire university community to do the same.’

Students: agents of change

Effective initiatives also come from the student body. Students are genuine engines of change when it comes to responsible consumption. Thanks to student demands, student clubs abandoned disposable cups and adopted reusable ones, fair-trade beverage vending machines and drinking fountains proliferate in lecture halls, and student websites campaign for ‘sustainable dissertations’. These ideas succeeded thanks to project co-management by students and various university departments committed to the transformation. Faculties are also driving change. Many require unlaminated, duplex printed dissertations.

Did you know? ♦

UCL is the first Belgian university to require student clubs to use only reusable cups. The 2010 initiative was driven by Kot Planète Terre as a means of reducing the annual disposal of 2.5 million plastic cups.