“I want to make a tree out of 163,000 paper cups somewhere on campus.” Yes, you heard right. Front of house manager for Zest, an outfit of UEA Catering that you are all probably familiar with, Matt Emery has some big ideas indeed.

And why not, when perhaps the biggest of all, the introduction of the keep cup to UEA, has been a runaway success. Since the shelves of Zest, Blend and Cafe Direct began stocking these brightly coloured alternatives to traditional throwaway paper cups, 3,500 have been sold. As Emery points out, to make a single paper cup, it takes up 0.09 square metres of forestation. As for 163,000? A mere matter of 14,000 square metres had to be felled in 2010 for this. Somehow, it doesn’t seem worth it.

What UEA Catering has achieved in a year is remarkable. Besides the ever-entertaining Twitter feed (@UEAcatering), notorious for such wonderful hashtags as #heybigblenders and, the now-infamous Concrete suggestion, #simplythezest, the reduction in waste going to landfill is staggering. 62% of the waste from the outlets mentioned above has been halved to 31%. This has been achieved by halving the use of disposable cups, from 52,000 to 26,000, and making all cups, takeaway boxes and napkins fully compostible as food waste.

There has also been a change in the way food is procured by the University, as these are UEA-owned institutions after all. In the words of Emery himself: “Why have a million different suppliers when you don’t have to? More can be done in-house. For instance, we’ve changed the water at hospitality and function events to purified, UEA branded bottles. This alone saves the University £22,000 per year.”

Even the slogans are getting better. Not one to avoid a pun, Emery is looking to continue his prolific humour next year as well. Keep an eye out for “don’t be a mug, reuse one” and “keep up, not keep cup” coming your way very soon. On a more basic level, however, changes that seem very minor have been instituted and really reflect the great work UEA Catering has done this year. They are all simple ones: using as much local food as possible (65% this year), selling free range eggs and Red Tractor assured meat, bread made in Norwich and making sandwiches in the morning to be sold that same day.

However, the bigger changes are never easy. Emery believes his business is rather like peeling an onion: “There are so many layers.” Asked where he would like to see UEA Catering this time next year, Emery said: “I want us to be the best in class in university catering. We need to continue reducing the amount we send to landfill, and find some way to slash the amount of packaging there is on our products.

“We also need to get more people involved in disposing cups properly. The little things are going to make the biggest difference. If we all take a bit more responsibility, we can make a big difference. A lot of people here are already doing this really well, but we need everyone to be doing it.”

For further information on UEA Catering, visit the University’swebsite.