New students: Introducing the UCSustainability Office

img_0464aWelcome to UC! Did you know that UC has a Sustainability Office?

We are an on-campus hub for people interested in creating positive change. We promote sustainable practices (like sustainable transport, re-usable cups); inform (about recycling practices, social or environmental issues) and host events (Eco week, Tiny house tours, etc.).

We work on healthy waterways and bike stands; and currently, together with other parties at UC, we are also guiding UC towards becoming a Fair Trade University. We work closely with the UC Eco Clubs and do  innovative projects, like UC’s compositing coffee cups trial.

We also run the UC Community Gardens (join in with a working bee, Fridays 1-5 pm) and Dr Bike (yes, they will do your small bike repairs for free!).

Stay connected: follow us on Facebook or Instagram, or check out our website.




15,200 coffee cups turned into compost at UC!

Single use cups going into the HotRot facility

The Sustainability Office’s blue bin trial for coffee cup collection is going well. Between May and September, approximately 15,200 cups were diverted from landfill and turned into compost!! On the back of this, the numbers of blue bins through the campus will shortly be increased from the original four to nine.

As you may know, we are currently in Phase II of a campus wide coffee composting trial, to see if we can divert more waste from landfill by composting take-away coffee cups instead (take-away coffee cups can no longer be recycled L). All the cups collected in the blue waste bins are taken off-site for composting.

Some FAQs on the cup composting trial:

Please remember, the blue bins are for empty cups only (no lids!) and not for any other items!

If the cups are being composted, why can’t I put organic waste in the blue bins? At this stage in our trial, the contents of the blue bins are all being sorted by hand by a valiant student. This is so we can ensure quality control and provide accurate reporting. Sometimes the material sits around for a while before being handled, and it is not particularly pleasant to deal with rotting food. Only cups!

Can I put other compostable packaging materials in the blue bins? Again, we are in a trial phase with this project at the moment, and we are focussing on a specific problem we have with takeaway coffee cups: that they can no longer be recycled. We need to keep the trial manageable at this stage to ensure its success.

Why not just use the green bins? The material that goes into the green bins is taken to a different composting facility that cannot handle coffee cups. Our coffee cup waste goes to the Selwyn District Council’s HotRot facility by Rolleston where they are put through a mechanical composting system with other compostable waste products and turned into compost for your garden.

What are the future plans for this project? We have implemented this blue bin in order to create the possibility of treating more of our waste as an environmental resource rather than a contaminant. We want to phase out certain kinds of packaging from campus (like plastic plates, sushi containers, plastic cups etc), but first we need to make it possible for compostable options to actually be composted. In time, compostable plates, cutlery and other food containers will all be able to be composted using the blue bins.


More exciting composting news: 20151021_100408

The UCSA has their first ever batch of compost out of “Cloey”, their automated composting unit (see the pic, it is the white box :-)). This compost has been generated out of food waste from the UCSA production kitchens, and will be reurned to the soil via the UC community gardens, and used to grow more food for students! We are so excited. Well done, guys.

By Matt Morris – UC Sustainability Office

For more info on the composting trial, check out our earlier blogs about it: or


Blue Bins and Worm Farms

Look out for these posters, which are placed near blue bins around campus.
Look out for these posters, which are placed near blue bins around campus.

As Semester Two starts you’ll notice more Blue Bins for take-away cups around campus! These bins are part of our initiative to reduce waste going to landfill. All take-away cups collected in the Blue Bins are taken off-site for composting. This will be Phase II of a trial to test the system and this trial will end in December 2016.

It is extremely important that only cups are placed in these bins. No pie wrappers, or bottles or any other contaminant. While we do sort the cups before we send them away, we need that process to be very fast and efficient in order for our trial to receive funding. Please help us keep this project going by telling your mates about it and not to contaminate the bins!

What happens to the cups in the Blue Bins? These cups are sorted on site to make sure there is no contamination in them. So far contamination is minimal, which is great. Then they are taken out to the Selwyn District Council’s HotRot facility by Rolleston where they are put through a mechanical composting system with other compostable waste products and turned into compost for your garden.

Why can’t we just put them in the green bins? Coffee cups must not go in the green organics bins. The contents of green bins go to a composting plant that cannot process takeaway cups (even if they say they are ‘compostable’). Coffee cups in the blue hooded bins are sent to a different composting facility that is able to compost them.

So why don’t we send all our organics waste to the composter that can do it all? Because of our contractual arrangements with our waste services provider, it is not economically efficient to do this. We are working together to find a solution that will work for everyone.

What about composting them on-site? We have been exploring options to do this for a number of years. We are currently looking into large scale worm composting. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to use the compost in the community gardens, for example? Or use it to grow salad greens and herbs to make student lunches? We think so too. But we need to get a back end system in place first that works (hence our trial), we need more physical space than is currently available (due to remediation works) and we may require some capital (which will not be available for a couple of years).

What difference does it make? We estimate that the UC community produces more than five tonnes of waste from coffee cups alone every year. So in the first instance, that’s five tonnes we can keep out of Kate Valley Landfill. However, the beauty of this initiative is that it means we may be able to shift from using plastic plates, sushi containers, trays, burger clams etc, etc, etc to compostable alternatives, that could then all be put into the Blue Bins. We are setting up a system to help us deal with a much bigger waste issue than many people realise.

So, thank you again for helping us to make this work. It’s a step towards closing our waste loop and leaving the world better than how we found it.

By Matt Morris – UC Sustainability Office

Join the UC Green Team! – April 2015

This year we are introducing a new initiative called the UC Green Team!  The UC green tJoin Green Team Image 2015eam is the Sustainability Office volunteer pool for when we need some extra hands for campus-based sustainability events and activities.

Our next major UC based event will be Fair Trade Fortnight (May 8-22). As part of FTF, we will host tasting sessions of Fair Trade products for staff (available through the Office Max catalogue) and students. We’re keen to find out what tickles people’s taste buds so we can promote these products with enough confidence to give a certain brand of coffee a jolly good run for its money. Among other things, we need assistance with trialling a tasting session (whoop, you get to be a tasting panel), and hosting both the staff and student tasting events. Here’s a hilarious You Tube clip on how to taste coffee (don’t you just love that shirt?) – we need to adapt this for instant coffee in particular, and we would welcome your ideas on how to make it both fun and feasible.

Another project we need assistance with every month is sorting single use-coffee cups, so they can be sent to a composting plant. Whilst this may not sound particularly glamorous, this important work is part of an exciting trial which explores the potential to prevent compostable or biodegradable packaging going to landfill. We need to make sure that the coffee cups collected through this trial are free of non-biodegradable items so they can go straight into a ‘Hot Rot’ composting system.

You will get a FREE re-usable coffee cup when you give us a hand through the Green Team!

To volunteer for either of these events, please contact or call 364 2025. To subscribe to our Green Team list go to , and select UC Green Team. We will contact you about other volunteering opportunities.

To find out more about Fair Trade, check it out here

Composting Cups and Recycling at UC – April 2015

Welcome to the first UC “waste” update of the year in which we give you an update on the Compostable Coffee Cup trial we started last year and look at UC’s waste streams.

As you may remember, last year we trialled a ‘blue bin’ on campus to collect used single-use coffee cups, which we then took to Selwyn District Council to be put through their composting unit. The trial was successful and we have decided to expand it!

Look out for these posters, which are placed near blue bins around campus.
Look out for these posters, which are placed near blue bins around campus.

So, if you get single use takeaway coffee, put your cup in one of the blue bins that you will start to see more of around campus. And please please please, tell your mates NOT TO CONTAMINATE these bins! For the system to work, there must be no plastic or any material other than coffee cups. So no lids either.

The exciting thing is that this also means that we can now introduce ‘compostable’ cups to UC. Previously, these have not been acceptable because our green bins are sent to a compost plant that cannot deal with them, and they needed to go to landfill instead.

In time, we may well be able to expand the blue bin service to take other compostable items, and we are working on this. Exciting times!

We are very grateful to all the people who are using this blue bin properly – contamination rates have been very low and we need to keep it that way.

The Sustainability Office is also looking hard at our waste streams and recycling again. As predicted a couple of years ago, we are now facing more pressure around which items can be recycled and which cannot. For example, we have recently been informed that takeaway coffee cups lids are no longer recyclable 😦 This is the tip of the waste iceberg, and we’re looking for options.

Also, a quick thanks to everyone for their efforts during the CRT Amnesty in August this year. As part of the CRT Amnesty, old CRT monitors were collected from around the UC  campus and recycled, rather than sent to landfill! Many CRTs came in at the last minute; in total, 37 CRTs and 4 televisions were recycled at a cost of $789-00. This means that approximately 44 kilograms of lead was diverted from the landfill. A great result! Whoop!

To check out what else we do to create a sustainable campus, check out our website

Composting Coffee Cups Trial: Chicken Carcasses and Coffee Cups

The Sustainability Office is always looking for new solutions to waste issues and has recently trialled Selwyn District Council’s “HotRot unit” to see if single-use coffee cups can be composted in this unit and it seems like they can!

How does the composting work? The cups are put into a pit and processed through a mechanical composting unit – The HotRot – which is an enclosed vessel with an auger. The cycle is 14 days and during this time the population of microbes escalates because they have so much food (not just the coffee cups but also chicken carcasses, YUM). All this activity raises the heat and accelerates the composting. At the other end brown composting material emerges, which can be used as garden compost!

Collecting the cups
Collecting the cups
Checking the contents
Checking the bin content

Further testing was needed however, which is now underway. From September until November we are trialling a separate single-use cup collection system in the Undercroft and Café 101, so we are now two-thirds of the way through.

So far the trial has been a success. We have been looking at these things:

  • What is the level of contamination in the blue hooded bins? In other words, is there anything else in there apart from single-use cups?
  • Are people using the bins?
  • How interested is the UC community in the bins?

We have found that there has been a low level of contamination, although in one area (the Undercroft), contamination is higher with some people not taking the lids off. Overall the bins are getting a good level of use, and we have already diverted over 2000 litres (by volume) of waste from landfill. This tells us that expanding the trial in 2015 would have a significant positive environmental impact!! We have also found that the UC community has been very enthusiastic about the blue bins and us taking positive action on coffee cups on campus, a bugbear for a number of years. Yay!

We will be doing a proper analysis in November when the trial ends. If all is good, we will be expanding the number of blue bins in 2015, and getting ready for a more significant change in how we do recycling in 2016.

Into the HotRot!
Into the HotRot!
Checking the resulting compost
Checking the resulting compost

The blue bins finally make it possible for us to switch our cafes over to biodegradable packaging, which we anticipate happening in 2015 – if all goes well with this trial and the contamination remains low!!

So please note: these collection points are for empty cups only!! No pie wrappers or lids! Look out for the blue hooded bins and help us make the trial a success.

coffee cup trial bin and poster undercroft

Composting Coffee Cups and Coffee Grounds

As a little heads up on what we are currently working on: We aren’t satisfied with the current situation of having to send our takeaway cups to landfill. So we have recently run a short trial with Selwyn District Council to see whether UCs coffee cups can be composted through the “HotRot unit” they already have. And wow, the trial was a success!! So we are shortly going to be running a couple of pilots around campus. Bins will be provided for empty single-use coffee cups and we will experiment with this to see how feasible it would be to roll this out more widely around campus. For this to work, it is essential that only empty coffee cups are placed in the bins, and definitely no pie wrappers are hidden inside!

Coffee Grounds

Did you know that the Sustainability Office also already works with a café on campus to take their used coffee grounds and compost them in Okeover Community Garden? We are now about to expand this as we work with the UCSA to collect their coffee grounds separately. Any coffee grounds that can’t be used in the community garden will go into the normal organics collection.

Hooray for progress (and less waste)!

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