07 January 2022

Across our campuses, the University of East London (UEL) community is doing its part to create a greener environment and a brighter future.

This month we chatted with Mollie Miller, Senior Facilities Manager in our Estates and Facilities Services team.

Our sustainability star of the month for January talks about some of the exciting new initiatives on campus, why she's passionate about sustainability and shares some advice that we should all follow to protect the future of our planet.

Tell us about your role at the UEL?

I have responsibility for all three of our sites - Docklands, Stratford, and USS. This includes overall responsibility for all the soft services within facilities such as receptions, switchboard, post room and porters, waste management, cleaners and everything in between.

Plus, where things don't seem to fit anywhere, they usually end up on my desk to sort out!

Including rubbish and recycling we hear. How does sustainability fit into your role on a day-to-day basis?

Day-to-day we get calls or emails to say, "Oh my bin hasn't been emptied" and that sort of thing, but we also get weird and wonderful stuff like, "How do I get rid of a dead cat carcass? Because I used it for an art project."

Or "I've just found some radioactive isotopes in the cupboard. Can I put that into the bin?" No, please don't. I kid you not!

When I get these calls, I liaise with our waste contractor to arrange a responsible and sustainable method of disposal for these items that are above and beyond the usual everyday campus waste. This ensures that UEL as an organisation is operating with diligence to get rid of things sustainably, responsibly, and legally as well.

Putting things like cat carcasses to one side. What is the most common mistake that you see people make on campus?

In terms of waste, the most common mistake is coffee cups. Everybody puts coffee cups into our mixed recycling. However, dry mixed recycling cannot take them due to the materials that the coffee cups are made from. That is our number one contaminate.

Number two would be banana skins or teabags. People always put them into the dry and mixed recycling, but neither of these items can go there. The key is in the name 'dry' mixed recycling. They must go in general waste or designated food recycling bins if they are available.

If we go further down the list, then half-eaten sandwiches in packaging is another repeat offender. People will just throw the whole sandwich pack and sandwich into the recycling instead of taking 10 seconds to put the contents into the correct bin.

What are we doing to combat this? Have you got any kind of initiatives you're running to raise awareness about some of these issues?

We've done engagement student activities at Welcome Week, where we meet the students who are coming in and living on campus for the first time. They are keen as this is their first experience away from home, so it's really good to get in early and meet them on the ground. We introduced ourselves to them when they come in. We run some games. We offer some prizes, vouchers and then we just go through a range of items that they can and cannot recycle whilst on campus.

We also make them off aware of our orange bag policy, so anywhere you see an orange bag on campus, it means it's a recycling bag.

The biggest initiative that I'm working on currently is renewing all the bins within student halls. We are looking at about 250 kitchens worth of bins, so we're doing it as a phased rollout. We are updating all the bins for better bins that make it easier to recycle with clear labelling.

When will this project be completed?

We've already done Clare House and Felix House. The aim is to have all the bins changed by the end of February.

I'm sure when you were younger you didn't aim to work with bins. However, you're clearly passionate about sustainability. Where does that passion come from?

I really just want to look after the planet that we live on to create a better future for the people who come after us.

You watch documentaries on TV by people like David Attenborough, where you see sea turtles with a plastic straw stuck in them, and it is emotional. Seeing the damage that humans are doing to the natural environment is really upsetting, and you feel guilty almost that we’re hurting innocent animals through no fault of their own.

And it’s all because somebody carelessly discarded rubbish into the sea and it's eventually worked its way out to the poor animals.

For new students joining us in January, what advice would you give to someone who's looking to engage with us and help us in our sustainability mission?

New students get a handbook and in that student handbook, there's a page on sustainability, waste and cleaning at the University, including links to key resources. We've also got all the information that they would need on our intranet pages.

If you were to give someone one piece of advice for a positive environmental change they can make today, what would it be and why?

Be aware of the waste hierarchy. Everybody automatically jumps to recycle. That's the buzzword. But the first part of that hierarchy is a question for yourself.

Do you really need it? Do you need another pair of shoes? Do you need another pair of jeans? Or do you just get it because you want it?

Then the second bit would be can we reuse something before we throw it away. Many websites do upcycling, so it's easier to do now than ever before.

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