A waste of time? Why getting students to reduce their waste is important

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Since 2011, the amount of capital funding a higher education institution (HEI) receives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has depended on how much that HEI has reduced its carbon emissions. Each individual HEI in England has to have its own carbon reduction strategy, targets and associated carbon management plan.

The carbon management plan must include a baseline for 2005 and, against that, carbon reduction targets for 2020, with an implementation plan. The overall target for the higher education sector is a 43 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 as against a 2005 baseline, but each HEI sets its own target.

The targets apply to scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions that occur from sources owned or controlled by the HEI, for example emissions from combustion in boilers/furnaces/vehicles. Scope 2 emissions are those from the generation of purchased electricity consumed by the HEI.

There is a further class of emissions, Scope 3. These are all other indirect emissions which are a consequence of the HEI’s activities, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the HEI – for example, commuting, supply chain (procurement), waste and water. HEIs have to calculate their Scope 3 emissions but (at present) do not have to report on these, nor set a firm carbon reduction target for them. They do however have to include Scope 3 emissions in their implementation plan; in other words, HEIs need to have a plan, including timescale and resources, to reduce their carbon emissions arising from waste. The HEFCE has produced guidance to assist HEIs in measuring their Scope 3 emissions.

As well as these legal requirements to look at the waste they produce, there are financial incentives on HEIs to reduce their waste output. Landfill tax is set to increase to £80 per tonne from 2014, making it more costly to dispose of waste, and the mantra “reduce, re-use, recycle” is becoming more commonplace as Defra tries to promote the EU’s waste hierarchy and the move to a zero waste economy. A more efficient use of resources is an easy way for an HEI to save money.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are the reputational benefits of being recognised as an environmentally sustainable organisation. This may well be a factor that influences students’ choice of institution. The HEFCE are currently consulting on ways that higher education contributes to sustainable development and how the HEFCE can support this.

For more information and advice on reducing waste, please contact Ben Sheppard.