Supporting a sustainable future for our University and community

Catering services play a key role in life at the University of Leeds, eating with each other provides the opportunity to bring us closer together and to consume responsibly. We recognise our potential to drive change and influence our customers and it is our ambition to become industry leaders in the higher education sector for sustainability, reaching ambitious goals such as removing single-use plastics by 2023.

Our mission is to reduce our impact on key issues such as climate change, soil degradation and habitat loss. To support the health of our community and commit to continual improvement in the nutritional content of our meals that provide a diverse offer to meet current health guidance.

We also believe in being a positive partner in society, sharing our skills and knowledge, supporting local and global initiatives, and building the capacity of existing and future staff to deliver sustainable catering. In 2019 we embarked on the University’s Blueprint programme, which is a framework to support Schools and Services to work out what their sustainability impacts are and what they can influence or change to support the University’s sustainability goals. Catering services identified the following key strategic areas to develop over the next 5 years:

  • Reducing the use of single-use packaging, with an aim of using no single-use plastics by 2023.
  • Collaborating with Food Science and Nutrition to increase the availability of healthier food and improve nutritional content.
  • Reducing the overall meat content across meals and increase the amount of meat-free/vegan meals available.
  • Increasing the amount of locally and seasonally produced food
  • Decreasing the amount of food waste on campus
  • Reducing the impact of food on the environment
  • Sustainability of fish sold
  • Supporting animal welfare and the welfare of farmers
  • Working with procurement to reduce carbon emissions and ensure the integrity of the supply chain

Our journey so far

The team have been busy working on each of these areas of development and are ensuring that these are inextricably linked in our everyday working life and the decisions we make.

In 2019, GFaL (Great Food at Leeds) marked the 1-year anniversary of the #2023plasticfree pledge by significantly contributing to the University removing 1 million pieces of single-use plastic from its operations.

In 2020 GFaL continued to work hard behind the scenes aiming to achieve the interim target to ‘remove single-use plastic from catering and offices by 2020’. This included a new recyclable cardboard packaging solution that would remove 125,000 single-use plastic trays and lids from Deli(very) operations.

Despite the complex operational challenges created by the Coronavirus outbreak, including the postponement of the Deli(very) packaging initiative, GFaL has continued to work with the University Sustainability service and procurement team to ensure all catering operations are working towards being single-use plastic free.

Positive changes have included using paper wallets for reusable cutlery, instead of plastic pre-packs; and working with one of our suppliers, Planglow, to create a bio-wrap film for packaging of all in-house products. This is made using plant-based organic materials, to replace traditional oil derived plastic sheets, and was created custom-made for GFaL following supplier engagement.

GFaL also reintroduced a reusable cup scheme to all outlets and in September 2020 installed accessible and easy to use recycling bins for disposable hot drink cups.

Too Good to Go

In 2017 GFaL partnered with Too Good To Go, an innovative app and social enterprise that aims to put an end to food waste in the hospitality industry and support food security. The Too Good To Go app is available for The Refectory as well as many other GFaL cafes. It allows GFaL to help reduce food waste on campus, by providing a platform to show surplus food that is available to students, staff, and the wider community at a third of the usual cost rather than it going to waste.

In the last year, we have seen an increase of residents from the surrounding areas utilising the app and our aim for 2021 is to increase the options available to customers, as well as promoting the app more widely to help achieve our less than 5% food waste target.

Carbon Footprint Project

GFal is currently working alongside Student Sustainability Architect, Amelia Cookson, developing a project, that aims to calculate the carbon footprint of our menus.

This exciting but meticulous project uses a carbon footprint calculator developed by TUCO (The University Caterers Organisation) to give each food item a score. Amelia has been holding online focus groups with staff and students to understand the best way to communicate this information to our customers to encourage positive purchasing decisions and help support the University’s climate principles.



United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our work reducing single-use plastic is linked to the following SDGs:

  • Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.