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UTS’s plastic free food court might just be a world first

photo of students enjoying Chatime in the new UTS food court
UTS students enjoying drinks in compostable cups.

The University of Technology Sydney’s newest food court has opened for business without a single piece of plastic on the menu.

Patrons are encouraged to bring their own, reusable containers, or they are given meals and drinks in compostable packaging. Pre-bottled beverages come in aluminium or glass.

UTS was one of the first signatories of the City of Sydney’s Single-Use Plastic Pledge, and this landmark achievement takes the institution one step closer to the goal of being plastic free by 2020.

To make this happen, UTS’s sustainability team has been integrating sustainability clauses into the tenant leases of all new outlets and continues to work closely with vendors to make sure all packaging is fit for purpose and compostable.

Some of the packaging may still look, feel and work like single-use plastic but is actually made from PLA, a commercially compostable material derived from plant matter, such as corn starch or sugar cane.

These items, many supplied by Greenlister BioPak, can go with organic waste and other types of compostable packaging into clearly labeled bins throughout the university. They are then collected and commercially composted.

Clearly marked bins capture the industrially compostable PLA serveware.

This is a big step for some of the vendors, especially the larger chains, such as bubble tea seller Chatime, said head of sustainability at UTS, Danielle McCartney.

“For many of the outlets, it’s the first time they have used compostable packaging and their UTS outlet may serve as the pilot for the rest of their franchises.”

Ms McCartney said UTS’s plastic free food court is a first, having eliminated plastic straws, plastic-lined coffee cups, plastic packaging, plastic bags and plastic bottled drinks.

“We haven’t found any precedents in the media for a plastic-free food court to the extent that we’ve just implemented,” she said. “We believe that this is an Australian first, likely even a world-first.”

The university is also investing in facilities, such as water fountains and washing-up facilities, to make it easier for people on campus to choose reusable containers.

“Small actions add up,” Ms McCartney said. “If every one of our staff and students used one less disposable coffee cup or plastic takeaway container each week, there would be two million less plastic items in landfill by the end of the year. That’s huge.”

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Comments

15 Responses to “UTS’s plastic free food court might just be a world first”

  • Danielle McCartney says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Barangaroo’s food court is mostly plastic-free with the exception of bottled drinks which are supplied in plastic/PET (as well as other materials). All packaging supplied to UTS food court customers is compostable and the bottled drinks supplied come in glass or aluminium containers, not plastic/PET. Barangaroo deserves due credit for its early adoption of plastic free initiatives in the food courts particularly at such a large scale, as do other institutions like the University of Canberra which eliminated water in plastic bottles back in 2011.

  • Andrew says:

    I thought the food court at Barangaroo did pretty much the same thing a couple of years ago?

  • MM says:

    Fake news – single use plastic will always be single use. Until UTS commits to reusable containers – this is a world 1000th. Everyone’s been on the bioplastic bandwagon since they put ethanol in petrol. It’s a misnomer. For a TECHNOLOGY University with an entire department dedicated to sustainability – this is pretty pissweak.

  • Julie Barlow says:

    Fantastic UTS, great to hear we so need these initiatives, be better still with the franchises carrying through to other locations ,even then other food courts at learning institutions & dare 2 dream across shopping centres across Australia.
    Fabulous work may it spread across the world too like wild fire even getting some recognition 4 your institution UTS CONGRATS

  • Steve Rogers says:

    Thanks Danielle!
    How does it get to SoilCo?

  • Tim Keating says:

    Sorry, but PLA still qualifies as “plastic”. In fact, corn-based plastic is actually a major problem form most recycling systems, since it so closely mimics PET or PP plastics, and is a contaminant. Many people assume it’s readily recycled and that’s not the case.

    And calling it “compostable” is a stretch, since it can’t be composted in backyard composting, which doesn’t reach high-enough temperatures to break it down.

    And in both cases, anyway, people disposing of their cups in the trash or recycling bins or compost bins hasn’t been the problem with cups all along — the problem is with people tossing them in the street or the bushes, where they either sit there forever, or wash into the storm drains, where they become either a problem for sewage treatment, or make their way to the river, bay or ocean. PLA won’t break down readily, floating in the ocean and is still a hazard for wildlife.

    It’s really important that we not greenwash compromise measures that are supported by companies that can’t seem to see a way to stop the disposables without losing profits. But profits can no longer be the number one factor in the decisions we’re making to save life on Earth.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Tim.
      Quite true, there is a second part to this story and that is that UTS’s sustainability team are aware that PLA is as good as typical plastics in general waste streams or our waterways and so have a system in place to capture the PLA serveware along with organic waste to be industrially composted.
      I have added an image of these bins to the story and should also mention UTS has been running awareness campaigns in the lead up to the food court’s launch and have “plastic free ambassadors” stationed by the bins to help with staff and students understand with the transition.
      No rival to reusable of course, but in the right stream PLA serveware should be better than PET and PP plastics.

  • Frank Brown says:

    I recently ordered a pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) at the just-opened nearby new ‘The Exchange’ foodcourt in Haymarket’s Darling Square.

    The spoon provided with the soup was long, straight, plasticky and held no more than a teaspoon – totally unsuitable for a large bowl of soup.

    When I went back and asked for a soup spoon the manager told me they ‘had’ to use these as they were ‘sustainable’ made from sugarcane or something.

    I told him it would kill his business as no-one would buy soup if they couldn’t get a soup spoon with it.

    So yeah – when you get rid of something, maybe give more than a moment’s thought about an actual suitable replacement …

  • Hi Danielle and everyone involved: Such a fantastic initiative! Would you like to be added to the our Compost Club biopak.com/compost-club?

    We’d love to include you and the businesses in your food court using our packaging to inspire others to follow suit. Christina from BioPak

  • Danielle McCartney says:

    Steve, the organic waste and compostable packaging from the food court goes to Soilco.

  • Fantastic to see. Lets hope that this initiative spreads quickly.

  • Steve Rogers says:

    Looks great! Where are the products taken for processing??

  • Plaxy says:

    Very exciting to think about how this could spread via all the chains who are part of this.

  • Joy says:

    Great to read about this initiative, it will have an impact.

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