Category Archives: News

Sustainability Week: the highlights!

Running Monday through Friday last week, Newcastle University Student’s Union (NUSU) collaborated with a wide variety of groups and individuals (including us the Sustainability Team!) to organise an action-packed week of sustainability events. Read on to learn more about the range of engaging and thought provoking sessions put on!

Image: an aerial shot of the Students’ Union building with other campus buildings, Leazes Park, and St
James’ Park in the background. Credit: Elemental Photography.

Monday 19 February

Second-hand Market
To kick off the week, Alex Theodosiou (NUSU’s Activities Officer) organised a market of student-run stalls for our university community to come together and exchange items. Championing reuse and the circular economy, the event helped to find new homes for a variety of items and thus extended their useful lifespans!

Information Stalls/Q&A with Newcastle University
Next, in the nearby King’s Road Boiler House, we in the University’s Sustainability Team hosted a Q&A and information fair on everything sustainability at the University and beyond! Stall holders included Newcastle City Council, the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, and the Student Brewing Society. Additionally, our Q&A panel included sustainability professionals from our team alongside postgraduate students, NUSU representatives, and our Pro-Vice-Chancellor Global and Sustainability, Richard Davies!

Give it a Go: Making Upcycled Crafts Tea Lights
Continuing the circular economy theme of the morning’s second-hand market, Monday finished with an upcycling workshop to create home décor at no cost to the planet! The social was a lovely, relaxed way to wrap up the first day with new people and a chance to get creative.

Tuesday 20 February

Swap Shop
Tuesday began with a return of the popular Swap Shop initiative at NUSU! The event drew colleagues and students from across campus to reduce purchases of new items and instead find new homes for all sorts of clothing via direct swaps. This non-monetary approach was continued at the end, with all unused clothing being donated to local charity shops!

Give it a Go: Charity Shop Tour
Following on perfectly from the morning’s Swap Shop, Tuesday afternoon featured a tour of our favourite charity shops in town and introduced colleagues and students to the range of quality items that can be found when low-impact shopping!

Image: students walk through Armstrong Quad surrounded by greenery. Credit: Nick Figgis.

Wednesday 21 February

Fossil Free Careers Workshop with People and Planet
Offering information and ideas for greener futures, the Fossil Free Careers campaign joined People and Planet to host an engaging workshop on sustainable work and decarbonising the recruitment industry.

Give it a Go: Beach walk and collecting items for upcycling crafting
Wednesday afternoon saw a trip to the coast to explore King Edward’s Bay and Long Sands beach and learn about the valuable crafts materials we’d elsewise simply walk past. The trip included gathering of shells, pebbles, and driftwood, all in preparation for the crafts session on Thursday!

Thursday 22 February

Sustainable Finance with John Adams
The first session on Thursday was a workshop with former banker John Adams on the financial flows and major state and corporate players fuelling climate change. The session widened to include a wide range climate change associated issues and offered food for thought on the ways that the financial and fossil fuels industries can be influenced to reduce their climate destruction.

Give it a Go: Making beach upcycled crafts
The second part to Wednesday’s beach walk, Thursday finished with an upcycling crafts session to transform the resources gathered the day before into stunning decorations!

Friday 23 February

Pond Workshop & Ouseburn Trip with Mike Jeffries
To finish off the week, NUSU Go Volunteer and Eco-soc came together with Professor Mike Jeffries of Northumbria University for a hands-on introduction to small scale freshwater habitats, the biodiversity they support, and how we can create and maintain them in our communities! This session was especially relevant as proposals from the Student Environment and Sustainability Committee for a pond habitat here on campus are currently being considered in plans of projects here at Newcastle University.

A huge thank you to NUSU and everyone who got involved to make this such an incredible week of community building, awareness raising, and sustainable action!

Green Impact: Grassroots sustainability at your university

Green Impact is a UNESCO award-winning programme tailored towards promoting socially and environmentally sustainable practices across a wide range of organisations, including public sector bodies such as our university. The programme, run by SOS-UK, works with colleagues (organised into teams) to foster sustainable action in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we in the Sustainability Team have been working hard to launch a bespoke version for Newcastle University! So, if you want to get involved with the University’s crucial net zero by 2030 target and help reduce energy use, water use, waste and more, read on!

Image: An aerial shot of King’s Quad. Credit: Elemental Photography

How does it work?

Green Impact is designed to be easy to set up and get stuck into and SOS-UK have even launched a new online toolkit for the programme to let you intuitively track your progress, compare your teams scores (only if you want!), and see your next targets.

There are 5 steps to the Green Impact’s timeline of sustainable action:

  1. Sign up to Green Impact online.
  2. Chat to your colleagues about Green Impact teams in your work area and either join one that’s already been created or create your own (feel free to give the team a fun name!).
  3. Work through your assigned actions. Each action grants a certain number of points which then stack up towards the Bronze, Silver, and Gold action awards (50, 100, and 150 points respectively)!
  4. Our friendly student auditors will come round to check your progress in mid-May.
  5. An awards ceremony will be held in June, featuring engraved slates (recycled!) for teams that made it to Bronze, Silver, or Gold, and certificates for everyone who took part!

Why should you join?

  • Create meaningful sustainable change in your workplace: the work you and your team do will help to limit energy and water use, boost environmentally responsible planning of workplace projects, improve reuse and reduce waste, save budgets, and more! In other words, your efforts will actively contribute to sustainable development and Net Zero progress at Newcastle University. Additionally, you’ll find you can apply some Green Impact actions to your personal life too if you want to help save on bills and further reduce your environmental impact.
  • Improve your knowledge and skills on pressing environmental issues: Green Impact offers workshops and skills development opportunities to provide insights and understanding on sustainability and social and environmental justice!
  • Meet like-minded colleagues and boost your teamworking skills: the programme is highly collaborative and social with the joint effort required to complete actions and plenty of chances to network with environmentally conscious colleagues from across the University.
  • Collect your awards! Your sustainability work will be recognised at the Celebrating Success: Environment Awards in June!

Key dates

There’s a range of exciting events and dates coming up! Plus, keep an ear out for the further activities and sessions we’ll organise throughout via our Sustainability Network newsletter.

  • Green Impact session at Experience Week (come along for updates, news, and further information!): 11th March, 10-11am.
  • Deadline for actions (complete as much as possible before this!): 17th May
  • Celebrating Success: Environment Awards: June.
  • Join: right now! Or whenever you feel like it – the signup process is easy, just follow this link.
Image: Screenshot of the Green Impact online toolkit login page. Credit: author.

2023: A year in sustainability

2023 was a busy year for us in the Sustainability Team! We launched projects, ran events, helped the University to score highly in prestigious league tables, and welcomed new team members to continue and expand our work.

Delivering a sustainable Newcastle University is complex and multi-faceted work and requires a great deal of coordination and involvement between teams, colleagues, and students across the University. These efforts have led to sustainability improvements throughout our organisation, making our campus and community better for people and planet in a range of ways – read on for an overview of everything we’ve achieved together!

Image: An aerial shot of campus, featuring the Stephenson and Merz buildings in the foreground. Credit: Elemental Photography

Awards and accreditations

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a key priority for our university and so we were honoured to have contributed to the achievement of some exceptional scores in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. In the rankings, which are judged against the SDGs, Newcastle University placed top 25 in the world and 4th in the UK – a submission which takes a huge effort from our team and colleagues across the University!

That’s not all, however. We also kept our ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 accreditations for our Environmental Management System and Energy Management System, respectively. These technical accreditations reflect the care we put into our high-quality processes for managing the environmental impact of the University’s operations and we’ve now held both accreditations for almost a decade running.

Finally, 10 more labs gained Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) accreditation last year (including 5 at gold level!), doubling the size of our community of environmentally certified labs! If you work in a lab and are interested in joining LEAF, check out the information on our website.


We began several big projects with our colleagues last year, starting with the next phase of the University’s campus-wide solar photovoltaics (PV) project. This two-year programme will install solar PV panels on 32 academic buildings and accommodation sites, adding to our already expansive renewables network and reducing expected CO2e emissions by over 380 tonnes a year.

Additionally, we also began the installation of a biofuel combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Merz Court’s Energy Centre. This system uses greener biofuel to generate electricity while also harnessing waste heat to warm up our buildings – greatly reducing carbon emissions as compared to gas systems. These improvements will have a substantial impact as the Energy Centre provides district heating to a whole swathe of the campus, including the: Henry Daysh, Cassie, Stephenson, King Edward VII, Percy, and Old Library Buildings, plus, of course, Merz Court itself!

Image: An aerial shot of the Armstrong Building with the Old Quad, King’s Quad, and Student Forum visible. Credit: Elemental Photography

Engagement and events

Last year was a busy one for sustainability engagement too! Firstly, in January we launched our Sustainability Network to keep colleagues and students up to date on all things sustainability at our university. This community has now grown to 256 members and you can join them here. Additionally, speaking of mailing lists, our ongoing Furniture Reuse project hit 700 members!

Secondly, we’ve been working on this Sustainability blog throughout the year. We posted 30 blogs in all, offering updates, tips, and information on everything from wind power at the University to sustainable hacks around the house.

Finally, 2023 saw a whole range of events with environmentalism at their core, including:

  • Sustainability Week – five days of sessions covering green infrastructure, climate anxiety and more,
  • A Veganuary Bake sale to raise funds for biodiversity charities,
  • Spudfest – a festival offering free food and dedicated to highlighting innovative agricultural research,
  • Leave Newcastle Happy – our joint campaign with the City Council and Northumbria University to ensure that waste from the student move-out in summer is dealt with responsibly,
  • The Dr Bike project, launched last summer to support active commuting to campus. In eleven sessions the project has managed to rehome 50 second-hand bikes and helped over 200 people with advice, resources, and repairs!

The team

We’ve seen some exciting changes to the team this last year. Firstly, Melissa Stephenson, previously a Sustainability Officer, became the University’s new Waste Manager – a vital role in the University that she’s quickly got the hang of! Additionally, our team has grown to a total of ten sustainability professionals with the appointment of:

  • An Assistant Sustainability Officer – Charlotte Robson,
  • A Sustainability Communications Placement – Evan Bromage,
  • And two Sustainability Officers – Phoebe Sowerby and Jordan Heeley!

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved with sustainability last year, we couldn’t have done it without you! 2024 will bring fresh challenges and opportunities as we draw ever closer to our 2030 Net Zero target, so stay informed with this blog, the Sustainability Network, and our website and let’s make this year just as good as the last!

Sustainability Highlights 22/23

With the next academic year due to begin, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on the University’s sustainability activity. From buzzing eco-friendly events and collaborations to receiving exciting awards, this year has been packed with sustainable achievements. 

We held some great events… 

Climate Action at Newcastle University 

On the 10th of November 2022, we invited colleagues and students to join us at a conference-style, collaborative event on climate action. This was a great event where delegates were able to discuss future climate action plans and hear more about more about sustainable initiatives in the higher education sector. 


In December 2022 the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences held Spudfest in collaboration with the Sustainability Team, Keenan Recycling Ltd, EAT@Newcastle and Newcastle Food Bank. This event showcased some of the exciting research on our farms and helped to avoid food waste. It was a spud-tacular event! 

Sustainability Week 

Sustainability Week was a weeklong event in March 2023. We held a variety of activities throughout the week aimed to engage and inspire the University community. Activities included a tour of the National Green Infrastructure Facility, a climate anxiety workshop and a full day festival! 

Environment Awards 

At the end of June, we celebrated the Environment Awards. This was a lovely afternoon where we celebrated the achievements of the University community. From acknowledging the work of LEAF members to celebrating our Grounds Team, there was plenty to celebrate! 

We received some exciting awards… 

In December we received the news that we retained our ‘First Class’ sustainability ranking by the People and Planet University League for the 10th year in a row. 

We were ranked 4th in the UK and joint 24th in the world for sustainable development in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. 

In June, we were externally audited on our Environmental Management System (EMS) and Energy Management System (EnMS). We were recertified to ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 respectively. You can learn more about what this means in our EMS and EnMS blog post. 

We brought our campus to life… 

Our grounds team planted over 1500 m2 of wildflower beds across campus. These really came into bloom in the hot summer weather and have made our campus look great!  

A group of volunteers and the Sustainability Team carried out hedgehog surveys on campus. Newcastle University holds a Silver Award from Hedgehog Friendly Campus. 

In December 2022, we became a founding member of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance. This initiative was launched at COP15 and requires universities to calculate a baseline of their effects on biodiversity and set targets to minimise their impacts. 


And some more great Sustainability activity… 

In January we started the Sustainability Network, a place for communicating sustainability news with the University community. The network currently has over 200 members and is still growing! Sign up to the network here

In October we restarted this blog! This page has become a wealth of information about sustainability in the University and around Newcastle. We currently have over 20 blog posts up on a variety of topics ranging from travel to food. Make sure to watch this space for more posts. 

We would like to say a big thank you to everybody who engaged with our activities this year. Our work wouldn’t be possible without your support. Stay tuned for some more great work in 23/24! 

Placements with the Sustainability Team: Interviewing Annabel

Annabel has been in the Sustainability Team for just under a year. She has had the job of Sustainability Communications Placement Graduate (such a short and snappy job title, I know!). She has been one of two placement colleagues in the team hired for 12 months, and managed to get a sustainability engagement job in London with a waste and recycling focus, so has recently left the University.

We interviewed Annabel on how she has found her placement year, making her the subject of a blog post after being the author of so many! 

The Sustainability Team plans to welcome placement students/graduates into the team each year, so read on to find out more about the role

How have you found it? 

I have really enjoyed this year! I was a little worried before starting my job that I would struggle, especially as I did not have an environmental background, but everybody has been really supportive, and I have learnt so much. 

Your role is varied, but what have you spent most of your time on? 

I would say there is no one task I spend more time on than others as it really varies depending on the time of year. For example, during audit season a lot of my time was spent conducting/writing up audits. One thing that I would say has been continuous throughout the year is contributing to our blog, twitter, and newsletter and engaging with the staff/student population. 

What has been your favourite part of your role? 

My favourite part of my role has been feeling like I am making a difference. I love knowing that every bit of work I do has a purpose and contributes to positive change at the University. One of my favourite things I organised this year was a Climate Anxiety workshop. As something I am very passionate about, I was excited to be able to get a local organisation to come and host a workshop for University Mental Health Day. The workshop was both interesting and engaging and everybody who attended thoroughly enjoyed it. 

What have you learnt from your time with the Sustainability Team? 

So much – it’s honestly so hard to pick one or two things! I have learnt a lot about sustainability within higher education and about the running of Newcastle University as a whole. I didn’t realise how many people were involved with the upkeep of the University. From, disposing of all kinds of waste to the planting of wildflowers each person has an important part to play. 

Everybody within the sustainability team has been a huge inspiration to me. Their passion for making positive change inspires me to work hard and be the best that I can. The team has been so supportive and have created an amazing working environment. I couldn’t recommend working for them enough!   

What skills have you acquired or honed? 

I would say the main thing that this role has given me is confidence. At the start of my time with the team, I was so nervous to do small tasks like send an email to someone I didn’t know or with a more senior role. I also wasn’t sure that I could make an impact with my work as the newest member of the team. Now reflecting back on all the things, I have accomplished this past year, I would say my confidence has grown massively. 

Another skill I would say I have improved is my problem-solving skills. As my role is so varied, I get a range of different tasks to tackle each week. From helping with the Fairtrade accreditation to assisting with the University’s furniture reuse programme, each task is a completely new experience and a chance to learn from a new perspective. 

Have you been able to link your work to the Sustainability Team’s goals and the wider University’s goals? 

For sure! Everything myself and other members of the team do is working towards the University’s target of Net Zero by 2030. Most of my work involves engaging with staff and students and showing them the sustainability initiatives, we are working on. It is impossible for us to reach our target without the involvement of the wider University community and so I know my work is important in helping us achieve our goal. 

Another target the team had this year was to ensure our Energy and Environmental Management Systems were recertified. I helped work towards this target by helping with the internal audit process and helping ensure standards are met. I really enjoyed this part of my job as it allowed me to see parts of the University I had never seen before (such as the farms!) and learn about our management systems. 

Have you been able to link your work to the wider climate crisis and things like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)? 

I would say that when working in sustainability, the climate crisis and the UN SDGS are always on your mind. Every week, myself and my colleague Charlotte create blog posts engaging with sustainability activity within the University and in the wider world. This gives me an excellent opportunity to think about the work the University is doing and how it relates to the SDGs. 

This year when I helped host a Sustainability Week in March the SDGs were at the forefront of our planning. We made sure that every activity we held linked to the SDGs and the University’s core values of social and environmental justice. 

What do you think of our office, and working in Estates and Facilities? 

I like it! I have to admit, at first, I was a little apprehensive about working in a big open plan office as I had never done this before. This job was my first office-based role and I remember walking in on my first day being absolutely terrified! However, I quickly got over my nerves once I realised how friendly everybody in the office is. The Estates Office uses hot-desking instead of giving everybody a set seat and I love the way I get to meet new people and experience a new part of the office every day. Everyone in the office is also always happy to have a chat and help you out when you need it. 

How about working at Newcastle University, how have you found that? 

Being a staff member has allowed me to experience a completely side of the university to when I was a student. As an undergraduate, I didn’t know about the interesting public lectures that went on each month or the great one-off events hosted around campus. Being a member of staff allowed me more time to explore these events and find out about the great work going on. 

I also loved getting involved in voluntary work across campus. Staff members at the university are also encouraged to volunteer around the University in different departments. During my time in my role, I acted as an interviewer for the Medical School, took part in research for Open Lab and helped marketing with an open day. All of these experiences were extremely rewarding, and I loved being a part of them. 

How have you found flexible working (working from home, working on campus, and flexible hours)? 

I have really liked having the ability to work flexibly! It’s been great being able to work from both campus and home as it ensures I can have more relaxed days when I need it. It’s lovely not having to rush to go to work in the morning and know you can get your work done from the comfort of you own home (with an ice coffee in hand!). The team’s ability to work flexible hours has also been a big help. It means that if I want to finish a bit early one day and go out and enjoy the rare sunshine I can and make up the hours another day. It also means I can take a longer lunch if I want to and get a delicious Poke bowl or Shijo! 

What advice would you give to someone applying for or starting a placement with the Sustainability Team? 

100% go for it! I can’t thank the team enough for all they have taught me and the support they have given. Embrace every opportunity you can, and you will learn so much about both the University and the sustainability industry as a whole. 

Environment Awards 2023

On the 29th of June the Sustainability Team joined staff, students and members from Newcastle University’s Executive Board in King’s Hall to celebrate achievements and displays of sustainable excellence. 

Recipients of the award were from various departments across the university, including teaching, research and Estates and Facilities. We hope this demonstrates how sustainable changes and innovation can be made across any department and be recognised. 


  • LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) members 

LEAF lab groups who have achieved a Gold, Silver, or Bronze award at the University this academic year were all acknowledged for their achievements in increasing the sustainability of their labs. 

LEAF is a framework that helps to guide lab users through different actions that they can take to make their labs more sustainable across areas like waste, water, travel and energy. 

This year, 4 labs at Newcastle University achieved Gold efficiency, 2 labs achieved Silver, and 7 labs started their journey with LEAF and achieved Bronze. 

Running on Bronze accreditation and efficiency, a lab can save 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, compared to not completing and running on Bronze criteria.  

If you would like to learn more about LEAF at Newcastle University, please take a look at our LEAF information on the Sustainable Campus website

  • The Grounds Team for their work on enhancing biodiversity 

The 29-person Grounds Team were recognised for the work they do to enhance and protect biodiversity on our city-centre campus. They plant a wonderful array of flowers, trees and bushes to benefit insects, and keep our campus litter-free, which keeps hazards out of the way of any animals that pass through. 

The Grounds Team prepped/planted more than 1200 m2 of wildflower beds last year, and they’ve added another 500 m2 this year. 

Wildflower planting has many benefits which include: 

  • Boosting biodiversity as it attracts pollinators such as: bees, birds and butterflies. 
  • Wildflower areas on campus bring flowers into the everyday which can encourage people to get outdoors, enjoy walks, take photos and observe wildlife. 
  • Wildflower areas also help us with our aim to be more sustainable, as wildflower areas instead of lawns means that we reduce our cutting frequency, which prevents wear on machines, and reduces fuel use and emissions. This also saves money in the Grounds Team’s budget and frees up time for the team to focus on the detail of their ground’s maintenance tasks and other types of planting. 

The wildflowers have been in bloom all month across campus and receive non-stop compliments on social media. 

Please let us know what you think of wildflower areas on campus in the comments.  

What are environmental and energy management systems?

An Environmental Management System (EMS) assists businesses and organisations in improving their environmental performance and their operations that have an environmental impact.

It is worth noting that an EMS can be implemented within any business or organisation, it is not dependant on the size or activity of the organisation/ business.

An implemented EMS would be applicable to a wide variety of areas within an organisation such as a university or hospital, this is due to the extensive range of daily activities that are conducted at these institutions, most of which are likely to have an environmental impact in one way or another.

An example of some prominent areas that are assessed through an EMS include:

  • Carbon usage
  • Water usage
  • Biodiversity gains and loses
  • Waste generation and disposal.

Once an EMS has been successfully implemented within an organisation, that organisation can become certified. Newcastle University’s EMS is certified to ISO 14001.

We have recently had an external audit on our environmental and energy management systems in June 2023 and we are pleased to say that we have been recommended to be re-certified for both our systems.

How is the environmental management system different to the energy management system?

An Energy Management System (EnMS) is similar in nature to an Environmental Management System however, it has a primary focus on helping the organisation improve energy performance and identify energy inefficiencies.

An implemented EnMS will assess an organisation or businesses daily activity, of which areas that impact environmental performance will be identified and addressed within the system.   

In addition to an Environmental Management System, Newcastle University has also implemented an Energy Management System (certified to ISO 50001) and the two have become an integrated system.

Some questions answered by our EnMS manager, Luke Whittaker

Do you have a favourite procedure/ element of the EnMS?

“For a data nerd like me, the Energy review and baseline is my favourite element. It is where we consolidate the entire University’s energy consumption into a single document. This means that we can rank buildings based on their size and type. We can also compare usage year on year, which is really useful for identifying where energy saving projects have been effective (or where there is some abnormal high usage).”

What areas of the University do the EMS and EnMS apply to? 

“It would easier to say where it doesn’t apply! Officially it applies to “provision of education and research, and the management of buildings, laboratories and land at the University’s UK sites”, so essentially the EMS and EnMS covers the entirety of the University. This includes our functional farms, marine sites and sports ground. Everyone has a part to play in making sure our EMS and EnMS work as best as they can”.

What is my part to play with the management systems?

Staff and Students: Our Environmental and sustainability policy and Energy policy that are in place at the university apply to the whole university, this includes both staff and students.

Students: The Student Environment and Sustainability Committee (SESC) is a student-led and focused committee who look at areas relating to sustainability at the University. For more information, please look at the student action part of our Sustainable Campus website.

Staff who work in laboratories: Labs are areas where there is a higher environmental impact, LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) aims to improve the sustainability of labs. The online platform has actions for lab users to complete that relate to areas such as waste, travel, energy and water. If you work in a lab at the university and would like to join LEAF, please register.

If you have any questions about the environmental and energy management systems in place at the University, please send us an email at:

World Environment Day 2023

World Environment Day is an annual event that takes place on the 5th of June, this day was implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to raise awareness of global environmental problems.

Each year a different theme is selected, and this year’s theme is #BeatPlasticPollution

Plastic pollution is a global crisis that stems from the overuse and over production of plastic.

 “Of the seven billion tonnes of plastic generated globally so far, less than 10% has been recycled”.


Plastic has many uses, unfortunately many of the common products made from plastic over the years are made for single use only. Some examples of common single use items made from plastic include:

  • Shampoo/ body wash bottles
  • Plastic cutlery, plates, and straws
  • Plastic drink bottles
  • Laundry detergent bottles or containers
  • Plastic bags
  • Food packaging

It is with the rise of these single use items that plastic has become a material commonly found in our environment in areas such as rivers, the sea, and forests in addition to the everyday environment.

Problems with plastic pollution

Causing harm to marine life

The various impacts of plastic and microplastics on marine life has been outlined by the UNEP “impacts to marine life range from physical or chemical harm to individual animals, to wider effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning”.

Many marine animals have been trapped in plastic, they have digested plastic and marine animals that have digested plastic that has contained toxins are based down through food chains extending toxicity to multiple animals.

Marine ecosystems as a whole are also being damaged by plastic as the material sinks to the bottom of seabeds and smothers coral reefs which prevents them from thriving due to a change in conditions.

Causing harm to humans

New studies are being conducted that research the impact of plastic and microplastic on humans. Some studies suggest that microplastics are making their way into humans through a plethora of ways, such as inhaling or digesting. Research is being conducted to understand the physical implications of this on the human body. This research is the first step in developing an understanding of how microplastics will affect humans, however it does indicate that a precautionary approach should be implemented before extensive harmful effects occur.

The harm of plastic pollution on humans is also visible through the social, economic, and political effects. Developing countries and governments unfortunately do not have the monetary means for highly efficient waste disposal methods. They also do not produce as much plastic waste as developed countries, but often other countries waste ends up in other regions. Developing countries often rely on the marine environment for water and food, therefore if the marine life is infiltrated by plastic pollution this then filters through to the community relying on it.

Causing harm to the climate

Plastic is produced from a fossil fuel (oil) which is a resource that needs to be used less worldwide if we are to prevent further climate change. The UNEP highlights that “plastic products create greenhouse gas emissions across their entire lifecycle” outlining the need to reduce plastic production to reduce climate change.

While plastic is harming marine life and marine ecosystems with its physical presence, plastic production is also harming the ocean through the warming and chemical change that is a result of being a large carbon sink. The world currently has a large amount of carbon within its atmosphere (a proportion of which is from plastic production) therefore the ocean is working overtime to absorb carbon from the atmosphere which is having a detrimental effect.

Resources for World Environment Day 2023

World Environment Day 2023 is about learning how to live in a society that relies on a resource that is causing extensive damage and cannot be ignored any longer. #BeatPlasticPollution will contain resources, guidance and information relating to the elimination of the plastic in today’s society.

The official campaign webpage for World Environment Day 2023 is: World Environment Day.

If you would like to learn how to reduce the use of plastic within your home, please read our previous posts about reduction of plastic in your kitchen and bathroom.

Event coming up:

Second hand market

Pop down and have a browse of the stalls selling items such as: books, clothes and other household items which will all sold by students. The sustainability team will also be at the event if you have any questions on how to best dispose of items that you no longer need.

  • Event date: Wednesday 7th June 2023Event time: 11am-3pm
  • Event time: 11am-3pm
  • Event location: Newcastle University Students Union, outside on the Luther’s Terrace

A Look Inside the SESC: How Newcastle University Students are Making a Difference

The Student Environment & Sustainability Committee (SESC) is a student-led group which looks to improve sustainability at the University. The group aims to gather feedback and understand student priorities regarding sustainability. The SESC is chaired by the Ethics and Environment Rep and is attended by Environment & Sustainability (E&S) Reps from many academic schools. Any student can sign up to be an E&S rep, just ask about the position at your school at the start of each academic year! 

The History 

The SESC was created in 2020 following student Emilie Coutin’s year as Ethics and Environment Officer. During her time in this role, Emilie set up numerous activities, including regular Ethics and Environment Discussion Groups and a Student-Staff Summit, where students were able to put their ideas to members of Executive Board. When Emilie left the post, she put plans in place to create a Student Environment and Sustainability Committee, to feed into the [Staff] Environment and Sustainability Committee. This became the SESC we have today. 

Watch our video to learn more about Student Action at Newcastle University!

Who is in the SESC? 

Attendance at SESC meetings is notexclusive to E&S reps; any interested students are welcome to attend and contribute. Just get in contact with your school’s E&S Rep, or NUSU’s Ethics and Environment Rep to ask to join a meeting.   Meeting outcomes  are  taken to the University’s Environment and Sustainability Committee (ESC). The [Staff] ESC   is mostly made up of colleagues but is also attended by one or more Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers, the Ethics and Environment Rep & a postgraduate officer. 

We have representatives on the SESC from schools across campus including: Architecture, GPS (Geography, Politics and Sociology), Psychology, Combined Honours, SNES (Natural and Environmental Sciences), Computing, English, Planning and Business. 

Read on to find out what being a SESC rep is like from the reps themselves. 

Why did you choose to become an Environment and Sustainability Rep? 

Being an Environmental and Sustainability Rep provides me with lots of opportunities to get involved in increasing climate issue awareness, campus development and other activities. I also get the great experience of working alongside the people who are striving for the better future and care about making our University environmentally friendly. – Vladislava 

While in year 11/6th form, I decided to become a member of the eco committee when I became more aware of our impact on the environment. After stage 1 at university, I wanted to become more involved in the university in some way, so I volunteered to be on the Student Staff Committee for my degree as a stage rep. There was an open position for the E&S rep, and I thought this would line up well with my role from the past. – Sham 

What does your role involve? 

A lot of teamwork and doing your own research. I usually go through some ‘hot topics’ related to the climate change, sustainability, local development etc. and try to brainstorm some ideas of how to apply it at our University. During the meeting we discuss all possible solutions to current issues and Reps can present their thoughts.  – Vladislava 

Away from the SESC meetings, I have worked with staff in my school towards reducing our impact on the environment as a degree specifically. This is ongoing and I can gather feedback from others on my degree/ in my school on things to bring up at SSC meetings, where I can either take it to SESC meetings to discuss or meet with staff to seek improvements. In the SESC meetings I provide feedback on any ongoing campaigns and play a role in helping organise any future events. I also gather information which is to be brought back to the SSC meetings to be distributed to students around the school/ degree. -Sham 

What would you say to somebody who is thinking about taking up this role next year? 

Our future begins here and now, and you can change it! Be brave, curious and use your potential as much as you can!  – Vladislava 

There doesn’t have to be a lot of work involved to make a difference and if it is something that you are passionate about then it won’t be any work at all. It feels great to be able to make an instant difference to what is happening around you when making changes within your sphere or around the university/ planning events. – Sham 

Rubbish Revelations

Reduce, reuse, and recycle are three strategies that can help us protect the environment. The ‘Three R’s’ were first publicised in the 1970s around the same time the universal logo for recycling was created, but do you know what they really mean?

The ‘Three Rs’ are actually listed in order of importance.


Reduce is the most effective of the three because it involves decreasing the amount of waste we generate in the first place. By reducing our consumption of goods and resources, we can minimize the amount of waste that needs to be managed or disposed of, which avoids all the emissions and pollution that are produced form recycling or disposing of the waste. However, we also avoid producing the emissions and pollution associated with the manufacturing and production of the items in the first place.

If you would like to learn more about waste reduction you can read our post about International Day of Zero Waste.


Reuse is the next best option because it involves finding new ways to use items that would otherwise be thrown away.  Reusing or preparing items for reuse involves assessing the condition of items, and determining if they can be restored to a usable condition. This may include repairing damaged items, cleaning them, or upgrading them. Once the items have been restored, they can be sold or donated to others for use. At the University, we do this through our IT contractor and furniture reuse partners who take items for refurbishment or reuse. We also have a dedicated mailing list for furniture reuse available to all colleagues – it currently has over 600 members! Small amounts of furniture that need a new home can be listed for another member to claim to reduce the need for purchasing new furniture or equipment, and to prevent it going to waste.


Recycling is the last of the ‘Three Rs’ but it’s still incredibly important. Recycling helps conserve natural resources, reduce landfill waste, save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs and economic benefits.

Putting the correct things in the recycling bin can be complex, as each country, each council in the UK and even each organisation may have a different list of what you can put in a recycling bin. To make it EVEN MORE complicated, just because an item has the recyclable symbol on it, doesn’t really mean you can recycle it!

Our new recycling posters provide guidance on what can go in our recycling bins and if in doubt, scan the QR code on the poster to check our Waste A-Z. If you’re STILL in doubt, then pop your waste into the general waste bin as this is better than potentially contaminating the recycling bins.

It is very important that the recyclables placed within the bins are clean and are not contaminated by food or non-recyclables as this could result in all the waste being sent to an incinerator rather than being recycled.

Keep an eye out for our posters around campus.

Where does Newcastle University’s waste go?

Our non-recyclables (the black bins) are taken to Wallsend and then loaded onto a trailer to go to the Energy from Waste plant at Ferry Bridge in West Yorkshire.  The plant burns the waste at high temperatures in a controlled environment to generate energy. The heat produced by the combustion is used to generate steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. The electricity generated by the plant is then sent to the National Grid to be distributed to homes and businesses. The Plant has advanced pollution control measures in place to minimize emissions and meet strict environmental regulations.

Our recycling waste is taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). At the MRF the recycling materials that have been placed into the recycling bins are sorted and graded into different categories. They are then bailed and passed on to processing plants to be turned into new materials. For example, the PET (primarily plastic bottles) we produce is currently processed at the Biffa Polymers facility in Seaham, where it is turned from baled raw materials back into high-purity plastic pellets that is then sold to drinks makers and other manufacturers for a range of purposes, from food packaging to clothing. This is currently one of the most advanced PET recycling facilities in the world.

Our food waste is taken by a contractor to an anaerobic digestion facility. Here, billions of bacteria ‘feed’ on the food waste and produce a methane rich ‘biogas’ which is then used to generate electricity.