Utrecht University wants to move to 0 kg residual waste* by 2030. This has been laid down in the Strategic Sustainability Plan of Real Estate & Campus and the Facility Service Centre (FSC). Over the next ten years, the university will work to reduce and improve the separation of waste in order to operate waste  free  by  2030.  The  university  is  also  encouraging  suppliers  to  design  circular products and packaging**.

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The university wants to keep all waste from UU operations (industrial waste) to  a  minimum.  In  this  way,  the  university  can  contribute  to  a  healthy  and  safe  environment  and  the  organisation  makes  less  use  of  scarce  (natural)  resources. In addition, the processing and incineration of waste leads to more CO2 emissions.

This is why the university is committed to a transition from a linear waste chain  to  a  circular  one.  In  UU  business  practice,  the  following  preferential  principle is used for waste:

Prevention -> Re-use -> recycling -> incineration & landfill

Circularity in construction and demolition projects and catering is an important part of the university's 'zero waste' objective. See chapters 6. future-proof buildings and 9. Catering.


Reducing residual waste contributes to the reduction of the university’s CO2footprint. Better separation means less residual waste. In 2015, the university started collecting plastic waste. In 2020, this waste separation stream will be extended to plastic, metal and beverage packaging waste. This stream is an indicator for sustainable waste management.

KPIs for measuring sustainable waste management

5.1 Residual waste

The university's business operations show a declining trend in the volume of residual waste between 2014-2019 (see table 4). In 2019, the university produced 12% less residual waste than in base year 2014. The peak in 2018 is due to the university partly emptying a large building for renovation.

The total amount of residual waste in kg per full-time employee (FTE) and student shows an even sharper decline as the number of students and employees has increased. In 2019, this component of residual waste was 19% less than in base year 2014.

Until 2019, there was no structural approach to reduce residual waste. With the start of the Zero Waste Project (see Activities and Outlook), the university is aiming for 375,000 kg of residual waste in 2025 and 0 kg in 2030.

5.2 Plastic becomes plastic, metal and beverage packaging

Starting in 2015, the university has installed waste bins in buildings to separate waste at the source. This led to an increase in the amount of plastic collected in the period 2012 - 2015. After that, the figures show a decrease. The cause of this is unclear. It may have to do with stricter requirements for separated plastic, which meant that some plastic had to be disposed of as residual waste. It still makes sense to keep materials such as plastic and metals out of the residual waste stream. From 2020 plastic will be disposed of together with metal and beverage packaging, so together they will be the new indicator in the next annual report.

Activities 2019

From mid-2019, the university has a contract with Renewi for almost all waste materials. The contract includes sustainability requirements to give more direction to waste management:

  • Waste figures are reviewed every six months and discussed with Renewi.
  • Renewi offers on-the-job coaching for a correct, separate collection and implementation of the Zero Waste project. In this project, Renewi encourages university suppliers to develop initiatives that contribute to circular business operations and the reduction of residual waste (see also Outlook 2020).

Outlook 2020

  • In 2020, the university will complete the Zero Waste project together with suppliers. See the interview with Marije Elschot (in Dutch) for more information.
  • In 2020, the university will switch to recycled printing paper. Every year, students and staff produce around 30 million prints.
  • From 2020, metal and beverage packaging waste will be collected separately.

*Rest waste is waste that is incinerated or landfilled.

**In a linear chain, raw materials are processed into a product that becomes waste after use. In a circular lifecycle, waste no longer exists; everything is reused or can be returned to nature.