Plastic-Free July

Plastic bottles washed up on a beach


Managing the waste generated by the University’s large population of staff and students is a key focus of the Environmental Sustainability team. Their Plastic-Free July campaign was initiated to invite individuals to consider their approach to single-use plastic.


The current annual plastic waste per person in the UK is estimated at 80kg annually, but only an estimated 31% is recycled.

Reduce, reuse and recycle.

The abundance of information on how to reduce plastic waste can be overwhelming. By taking simple steps, we can all reduce our impact on the environment. Below are three tips from our staff and students forgetting started:

  • Significantly reducing the amount of single-use plastic in your life should be seen as a journey – not as not something you can do overnight. Focusing on specific areas in your life separately can help make it feel less overwhelming.
  • Do a personal plastic audit. List the different plastic items you use in your life to help you identify specific areas you can improve.
Woman shopping in a store where all food is stored in refillable jars
  • Buy items from refill canisters, or use plastic-free alternatives. A good first step is switching to plastic-free toiletries and cosmetics, including refillable deodorant, body wash and hair products. Consider replacing plastic toothbrushes with bamboo and brightly-coloured sponges with natural loofahs. Look out for shops offering refill canisters for products such as pasta and rice.


Where can I find out about future campaigns?

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Stories from our staff and students

Megan Snaith – Balliol College, History and English

I realised that as a student it can be easy to fall into a hyper-consumerist, single-use lifecycle, and I became increasingly disconcerted with the amount of plastic piling up in my shopping basket, so started making changes. After attending a series of sustainability workshops, I improved my understanding of how to recycle properly, and started my journey to reduce single-use plastic in my toiletries. I’m aiming to eliminate plastic from my life as far as possible.

Lucy Paterson – PA to Professor Michael Douek, Director of SITU

Growing up near the Eden project, I loved learning about the recycled materials used to build the site. I started my journey by switching my regular toiletries for refill products, which is also more cost effective. I am also concerned about the impact of the fast fashion industry, so I opt for second-hand clothing from charity shops and refashioning my existing clothes as much as possible.

Iulia Pop – Programme Manager, Entrepreneurship Centre, Saïd Business School

I grew up in Romania, where the food markets offer the freshest produce grown locally by individuals. As a child I questioned my parents’ preference for the markets over supermarkets – now I know better. I now use refill stations for various products, choose sustainable toiletries and prefer to buy fewer clothes in my aim to be kinder to the environment.

Vered Balan – Environmental Sustainability Programme Manager, Estates Services

I recognised that my weekly food shop was the main obstacle in my plastic-free journey, and was a heavy burden on my conscience.  From talking to other families I learnt that time and budget concerns are common reasons for sticking with plastic. I’m aiming to compare the time and cost of shopping in farmers’ markets with regular markets, documenting the plastic waste from each.

Ben Foster – Department of Biochemistry, Medical Sciences Division

Juggling my personal efforts to reduce waste and plastic use at home with the use of vast swathes of lab consumables in my everyday work proves frustrating – with waste often including pipette tips and tubes. Joining my department’s Green Impact team has helped me to implement clearer signage for recycling and introduce the use of electronic lab books to reduce paper waste, and we’ve also increased our glass pipette and syringe work.

Britt Hanson – Exeter College, DPhil Student, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics

Lockdown and Plastic-Free July allowed me to dedicate time to increasing my awareness and practice regarding single-use plastic, through identification of problem areas and researching methods to reduce them. I previously pioneered the introduction of LEAF, a scheme to reduce single-use plastic in laboratories, in my own lab. This spurred my desire to reduce plastic consumption in my day-to-day life, and I’m aiming to keep it up beyond the campaign.

Hannah Willis –The Queen’s College, DPhil Student, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience 

Horrified by stories of plastic islands and micro plastics, I have tried to reduce my plastic consumption. I used Plastic-Free July as an opportunity to finally do the things I’ve been talking about for months. If everyone made small steps to change their plastic consumption, I believe we could turn the tide on the plastic crisis. I’m aiming to remove all plastic from my toiletries, use refill shops for groceries and buy sustainable fashion.

Visit to continue to follow these journeys.


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