University of Sussex recycling scheme gives new life to old duvets

Sussex University campus duvet collection
Duvets from Sussex uni will be repurposed as children’s car seat interiors and to cover floor surfaces in horse riding arenas
Students and staff at the University of Sussex in Brighton have set up a new recycling initiative collecting second hand duvets to be given new life in children’s car seats and as equestrian venue flooring.

At the end of the academic year, duvets and pillows from the university’s halls of residence and summer schools will be collected and used for children’s car seat interiors and to cover floor surfaces in horse riding arenas. The fabric can also be used to fill new mattresses and some will be donated to dogs’ charities for bedding.

A report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) suggests that, despite there being 12,000 to 15,000 textile recycling centres across the UK. Because recycling rates are weight-based, the lightweight nature of duvets means they may not be considered a priority waste stream to divert from landfill by local authorities.  As such, many end up being just thrown away.

The duvet recycling scheme at the University of Sussex, in partnership with Veolia, is one of a number of sustainable initiatives introduced by Geography student Megan Youngs during her internship year with SEF in the University Estates Team. Alongside the duvet scheme, she also helped introduce a Tetra Pak bin on campus and launched a partnership with recycling company TerraCycle, which collects cigarette stubs with the aim to recycle them into plastic products, while remaining tobacco or paper is composted.

Youngs, now in her third year at the university, has been shortlisted for Student Sustainability Champion of the Year at the Green Gown Awards. She said: “It was really fantastic to be given the freedom and responsibility during my internship to put some of my ideas into action on campus. It was great to feel that I was making a difference and I really hope to see these schemes grow over the next academic year and see what other waste reducing and sustainability innovations the university can explore going forward.”

Sustainability across campus

Based in the green hub that is Brighton, the University of Sussex has seen a drive towards sustainability across the board.

Life Sciences Technician, Crispin Holloway, has contributed to the university’s sustainability goals by helping set up a collection scheme for the polystyrene boxes used to deliver  scientific equipment on campus.

In Brighton and Hove, polystyrene is not collected at the kerbside, however, scientific equipment suppliers New England Biolabs (NEB) offer a return scheme whereby they donate 15 pence to the Woodland Trust for every polystyrene box returned to them by customers.

Currently, however, customers are only returning 18 per cent of polystyrene shipping boxes to NEB, something Holloway aims to change: “We all now know about the serious damage single use plastics have on ecosystems and the environment. Our labs take deliveries of materials needed for research in polystyrene boxes. Some can be reused as ice buckets but the majority go to waste or worse, mistakenly put into recycling bins, contaminating all the recyclable waste.

“Most polystyrene products are currently not recycled due to the lack of incentive to invest in compactors but thanks to the assistance and buy-in from colleagues and the support and know-how of Cat Fletcher we now have a solution to our problem through upcycling.”

Cat Fletcher, the Brighton-based Co-founder of reuse site Freegle UK and winner of the 2019 Resource Hot 100, has established a new partnership to collect other non-returnable polystyrene boxes from laboratories on campus at Sussex that can then be reused and repurposed – in gardening, for example.

Food sustainability

The university’s catering organisation Sussex Food employs initiatives across all its cafes on campus and the team is “always looking for further opportunities to reduce waste and recycle more,” says Alison O’Gorman, Deputy General Manager.

Sussex Food has recently been noted as one of the top collectors of crisp packets in the country as part of another link-up with Terracycle.

Forty-five thousand crisp packets, which are notoriously difficult to recycle due to their composite layers of plastic and metal, have been collected on campus and extruded into plastic pellets. The aim is to use these pellets to make new recycled products. However, on a wider scale, crisp packet recycling is not economically viable and research is being undertaken to explore alternative packaging materials for crisps, using amino acid nanosheets.

As well as recycling crisp packets, O’Gorman says: “We participate in the Simply Cups scheme where our collected cups are reformed into stationary and furniture. Our Mug for Life, which includes giving away cups for life to freshers each year, has increased reusable cup use up to 35 per cent and we have ambitions to make that 50 per cent or more by September 2020.

“We now have three sites which have taken the plastic free pledge and we are purchasing an aerobic digester to turn our food waste and take away packaging into material suitable for Biomass heating systems and as a fertiliser for use on campus which will create a circular economy for this waste stream.”

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