The circular economy at UWE Bristol

Our initiatives to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Our approach

The circular economy

The circular economy is a key principle of our approach. It is based on three principles, driven by design:

  • eliminate waste and pollution
  • circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  • regenerate nature.

Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials, the circular economy is a resilient system that is good for business, people, and the environment and it is the key principle to our approach.

In line with these principles, our Circular Economy Plan 2020–2024 aims to:

  • promote sustainable and circular consumption
  • reduce carbon emissions
  • promote joint working across communities of interest (i.e. local authorities, third sector and other higher education institutions)
  • exert control/influence over our supply chain.

Our Circular Economy Plan 2020–2024 aims to aligns with 2030 strategy targets to be carbon neutral as an organisation, with net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030 – this includes ‘Scope 3’ emissions, which covers all waste generated by our operations on and off campus.

 2030 strategy targets

  • As signatories to the UK Plastic Pact, we pledge to eliminate all but essential single-use plastic, and to meet the 2025 targets for recycling and reuse.
  • Tackling annual total waste – we are aiming for an annual 3% reduction in relative against our 2018/19 base (not including construction waste).
  • Our recycling rate target: 70% by mass of all waste to be recycled by 2023.
  • Our reuse rate target: 10% by mass of all waste to be reused by 2023.

"The circular economy tackles climate change and other global challenges like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources."

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Recycling and reuse

Our figures for 2021/22 are:

  • Total waste (including construction): 2,361.92 tonnes
  • Total waste (excluding construction): 1,584.16 tonnes
  • Recycling rate (including construction): 69.6%
  • Recycling rate (excluding construction): 3.3%
  • Reuse rate (excluding construction waste): 2.1%

The circular economy in practice

The following initiatives represent adoption of circular economy principles in management of the University's material resources.

Sustainability Hub on Frenchay Campus

Our new swap shop is open three days a week, Tuesday to Thursday 12:00–15;00. In the first couple of months of operation from 6 February to 24 April 2023:

  • 1,554 people visited
  • 1,191 items swapped
  • £221.50 in donations
  • 618 kilos of items saved from landfill.

From September 2023 the Hub is located in an area of high footfall in room 1D015.

Returnable coffee cup pilot with City to Sea

UWE Bristol are taking part in the pilot Refill Bristol scheme, run in partnership with City to Sea. The innovative new project will enable people to borrow a reusable, takeaway cup from a café and return it to another participating outlet so it can be used again and again, reducing waste and tackling pollution and littering across the city. 

Annual Big Give campaign

During this annual campaign, held from April until June at the end of the academic year, unwanted items and food are collected from students in halls and private accommodation across the city. In 2022, 1,783 bags of donated items were collected from UWE Bristol's donation banks. This equates to £24,962.00 in income from the sale of items collected by the British Heart Foundation.

What you can do

  • Bring your own coffee cup and you won’t have to pay the 20p charge for a single use cup in UWE Bristol cafés.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill it up at our refill stations located around campus.
  • Cut packaging – carry your own bag and buy loose fruit and veg from the stall at Frenchay Campus. Check out the Zero Waste section of The Students' Union shop on Frenchay Campus and other zero waste shops in the city.
  • Turn the tide on plastic pollution – visit City to Sea for all you need to know about living with less plastic and check out the Students’ Union’s tips for having a sustainable period.
  • Cut food waste. For hints, tips and recipes visit Love Food Hate Waste.
  • Swap unwanted items at the UWE Bristol Sustainability hub and donate to the big red British Heart Foundation banks located across campus.
  • For more ideas on how to reuse and recycle visit Hubbub - tips for change.

Student support and study projects

We can support you by providing advice on developing project ideas, data, and waste and resource management industry contacts.

Here are examples of study projects which have helped us to improve the sustainability of UWE Bristol:

  • Capturing student views and feedback on Returnable Coffee Cup Scheme in partnership with City to Sea.
  • Analysis of recycling volumes and student behaviours in campus accommodation.
  • Development of a communication campaign aimed at reducing single-use plastic.

There are also opportunities for volunteering, student placements and internships. Contact us at for more information.

Volunteering at the Sustainability Hub

The Sustainability Hub provides students and staff with an easy way to swap and pass on reusable items. Students can volunteer here – a fun and flexible way to gain practical experience of reuse as well as meeting like-minded people and gaining a reference. Sign up on Infohub (login required).

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