YESI hosts waste symposium for One Planet Week

News | Posted on Friday 23 February 2018

YESI joined forced with GreenSTEMS, industry giant Unilever and various researchers at York to raise awareness about the issue of waste to staff and students.

The University of York is a member of a growing network of organisations working to make York a more sustainable, resilient and collaborative ‘One Planet’ city. We typically consume the resources of three planets, but we only have one, so the ‘One Planet York’ network is encouraging more sustainable living. Through One Planet Week, the University encourages staff and students to re-assess their way of life.

During the symposium, YESI and GreenSTEMS were able to raise awareness of waste issues and demonstrate the breadth of innovative research at the University around this topic. The event began with a global perspective from Dr Richard Friend, Environment Department, exploring the ‘dirty and messy world of waste,’ focusing particularly on the issue in Asia and its impacts on society and the environment.

The event then moved on to explore potential solutions to the challenges of waste. Dr James Comerford, from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE), introduced a range of different biodegradable polyesters being created by GCCE from 100% bio-based platform molecules to help minimise plastic waste.

Jennifer Attard from GCCE and Dr Nicki Lisa Cole from SEI-York explored the importance of the circular economy in relation to electronic waste. With most of our technology relying on finite resources, the extraction of these elements is essential. Jennifer discussed her PhD project around extracting gold, silver and indium using bio-based materials called Starbons®, whilst Dr Cole introduced the Restart Project, a social enterprise that helps people learn to repair their electronics to extend their use. Professor Helen Petrie then explored how using mobile phone apps can help reduce waste. Through the WasteLess app households will be able to monitor their food waste and identify ways to alter their behaviour.

Dr James Chong described his own research, a collaboration with Yorkshire Water focussed on improved ways to deal with sewage sludge, before launching the YESI Waste Network, a cross departmental initiative he will lead to bring together experience and interests in waste research across the University of York.

The final talk was from Dr Henry King, Director of Sustainability Science and Technology for Unilever, a global company with a turnover of €52.7bn in 2016. Dr King explained Unilever’s vision is to grow the business whilst decoupling its environmental footprint from growth and increasing their positive social impact. He highlighted their key strategic aims which include:

-By 2020, halve the waste associated with the disposal of Unilever products

-By 2025, 25% of plastic packaging to be made from plastic recycled content

-By 2025, all plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable

He outlined the company’s progress towards these objectives and some of the remaining challenges.

The event ended with a lively panel debate, with the audience offering their own thoughts and perspectives on the challenge of waste and suggesting ways both Unilever and the University could make even more strides towards tackling the problem!

We had some great feedback from our attendees. Lisa-Marie Newman, Director of York Nurturing Community said that the day was packed with 'mind-blowing science and inspirational people fighting for the common good' whilst Giovanna Pesante, PhD student claims 'she enjoyed the event, particularly because there were different subjects discussed, which were all topical and presented by excellent speakers.'

If you would like more information on the event, or future YESI events please contact us at