> The initiative
The UTS Central Plastic Free Food Court opened in 2019 setting a new benchmark for Australia. All take-away food packaging is commercially compostable and all drink containers are recyclable glass, aluminium and paper board. The move is a manifestation of the university’s commitment to on-campus sustainability and is part of UTS’s Plastic Free Plan designed to phase out single-use plastics on campus, developed in response to the environmental concerns of staff and students.
The Food Court has eight independent retail tenants, some well-known national and international brands and all leases contain sustainability clauses stipulating tenants must support and accept BYO containers, and that take-away packaging must be certified compostable such as paper, bamboo, cardboard and PLA. The Food Court has a separate waste stream with a bin for food scraps and the compostable packaging, another for Return and Earn scheme recyclable drink containers, and third general bin for everything else.
Staff, and especially students love the initiative as it is a demonstration of how the campus aligns with their values. Futhermore, since opening the Food Court has been visited by other large universities and building and portfolio owners. Information and details, including the sustainability lease clauses, have been freely shared with interested parties (e.g. City of Sydney Council, AMP, Sydney Opera House, UNSW, Macquarie University, Newcastle University). The plastic free food court has even been replicated in other places including Macquarie University in Sydney.
While the retailers had some initial concerns, as soon as the benefits and positive feedback from their customers became apparent, they were very much on board. Some of the national and international chains are even exploring how to expand the compostable packaging to other outlets – taking the impact well beyond UTS.