Single-use Plastics

Single-use Plastics


The University of Virginia’s 2030 Sustainability Plan includes a goal to reduce the total amount of waste to 70% below 2010 levels by 2030. To achieve this, the University must significantly reduce materials used, including single-use plastics.

As a state entity, the University began prohibiting certain single-use plastics in July 2021 under gubernatorial Executive Order 77. In April 2022, Executive Order 17 was issued, which rescinds the previous one.  UVA’s robust, continually expanding recycling and compost programs meet the new EO17 requirements. To align with the University’s Sustainability Plan, UVA will continue its commitment to reduce single-use plastic and will not purchase, distribute, or sell:

  • Single-use plastic and polystyrene food service containers (plates, cups, bowls, and hinged containers)
  • Single-use disposable plastic straws and cutlery (straws, forks, spoons, knives, and stirrers)
  • Single-use plastic water bottles up to and including 34 ounces
  • Disposable plastic shopping bags
  • UVA will continue to reduce and to the extent possible, eliminate, additional single-use plastics beyond those listed above by 2030. These requirements will be updated as UVA continues to develop strategies to meet its waste minimization goal.
compostable alternatives to plastics
Examples of reusable alternatives to single-use plastic items.

These requirements apply to: 1) purchases made with UVA funds; 2) all units, foundations, and/or affiliates operating or providing a service on Grounds or in UVA-owned buildings; and 3) all events and projects taking place on UVA Grounds. 

Caterers and local restaurants have until December 31, 2022 to fully comply, but are asked to work with UVA to proactively eliminate these materials from UVA orders as soon as possible. Event planners will likely increasingly request compostable materials when placing orders.

See UVA's timeline for eliminating certain plastics

Frequently Asked Questions

What changes can I expect on Grounds?

As of July 21, 2021, UVA entities are no longer purchasing single-use plastic bags, cutlery, food containers, and straws. Some existing inventory will continue to be used until depleted. The University will phase out plastic water bottles to the extent possible. As we phase out plastics, we will introduce alternate materials that are reusable, compostable or otherwise more sustainable. We will also increase publicly accessible compost bins across Grounds to divert as much waste as possible. 

Here are some examples of adjustments UVA made starting in July 2021, building upon years of waste reduction initiatives: 

  • Facilities and venues across Grounds added more visible zero-waste strategies such as stations to refill reusable water bottles, more compostable food and drink containers, and more composting and recycling bins. 
  • UVA Dine facilities provides utensils and food-service items made solely from compostable materials rather than plastic.
  • Stores and dining facilities on Grounds offer patrons the option of no bag (use your backpack or tote), a reusable bag or a paper bag. 
  • UVA’s centralized waste program for academic spaces, which co-locates recycling and landfill containers in central building locations, continues to expand.
Where can I learn more about UVA’s waste, composting and recycling systems?

At UVA we sort our waste into three separate streams: recycling, composting, and landfill. All items recycled on Grounds are hand-sorted by our UVA Recycling team at the Fontana Sort Facility (we do tours if you’re interested!). Our compostable items head across the mountain to Black Bear Composting in Crimora, Virginia. As a last resort, items that cannot be recycled, composted, or reused are sent to landfills within a 100-mile radius of UVA. 

See more specifics about waste minimization efforts on our Materials & Waste page or view the Where Does UVA's Waste Go Guide.

Does this apply to the UVA Health and/or research laboratories?

Plastic-reduction requirements do apply to UVA Health and research labs - for example, when purchasing for an event or stocking a kitchenette. However, certain plastics necessary for medical and/or research purposes are currently exempt.

What is required of UVA-affiliated units, foundations, contractors, satellite locations, etc.?

The requirements apply to: 1) any purchases made with UVA funds; 2) all units, foundations and/or affiliates operating or providing a service on Grounds or in UVA-owned buildings; and 3) all events and projects taking place on UVA’s Grounds.

Email the Office for Sustainability [[email protected]] if you’d like to ask specifically about expectations for your department or unit.

Are area caterers required to comply with UVA’s needs for plastic alternatives?

All official UVA vendors have been asked to comply with our waste minimization goals by December 2022. Some caterers have been using compostable wares for years, whereas others are still learning. However, almost all area businesses should be willing to work with you to meet your needs.

Are all items from Eco-Products, Inc. compostable?

Unfortunately not. Eco-Products also offers non-compostable product lines. Always check each product.

Is boxed water an acceptable alternative for single-use plastic water bottles?

At this time, boxed water is not an acceptable alternative at UVA, because these cartons contain certain non-paper materials and are not recyclable on Grounds.

What if alternative items cost more?

Reusable and compostable products often cost more than single-use plastics, so you may experience a budget adjustment period. If you feel you need more resources to do your job, talk to your supervisor.

Ideas to offset higher cost:

  • Encourage the use of reusable options when possible (utensils, water bottles).
  • Work with caterers who provide compostables at no additional cost.
  • Prioritize hand-held food so that utensils aren’t needed.
  • Encourage use of water refill stations instead of providing drinks.
  • Host meetings at non-meal hours to reduce overall annual catering expenditures.
What if someone asks me to order something I’m not allowed to order?

You can remind colleagues about these single-use plastic requirements by sending them a link to this webpage and offering to order alternative items.

If I have compostable wares at my event, how can I request compost bins?

To request compost, recycling, and/or landfill bins for your event, contact UVA Recycling at least five business days in advance at [email protected] or 434-982-5050.

How can I request UVA’s portable water refill station for my outdoor events?

The H2O 2 GO outdoor refill station can be requested at no cost by emailing [email protected] with your event name, date, start time, end time, location, contact name/phone/email, and estimated attendance.

What if my caterer brought me single-use plastic items?

There will be an adjustment period for many caterers, so go ahead and use plastic items if that’s what you were brought even after requesting compostable alternatives. If this happens, remove compost bins from the space to avoid contamination, and email [email protected] so we can follow up.

compostable alternatives to plastics
Examples of compostable alternatives to single-use plastics.

Single-Use Plastics Resources

University Stakeholders

Please review this slide deck for an overview of expectations and resources regarding single-use plastics. Contact the Office for Sustainability if you have questions ([email protected])


Eco-Products A sustainable food packaging products resource. Contact Alita Salley ([email protected]) with UVA Procurement. 

Event Planners

UVA's Zero Waste Events Guide (updated 2022)

Staff/Faculty: Contact Shannon Sahs with the Office for Sustainability ([email protected])

Students: Contact Katie Steele with the Office for Sustainability ([email protected])