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Plastic Free UFSC: small changes to habits, big impacts to the environment

Check out the internationally awarded project that is changing the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and that originated from the desire of students for a better world.

By Lisiane de Liz

English edit by Carla Elliff

Logotype of the “UFSC Sem Plástico” (Plastic Free UFSC) project (provided by the project under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license)

Every year, tons of waste produced on land, from domestic and industrial origin, reach the ocean. Once this material is in the marine environment, depending on their type and density, they will accumulate on beaches, along the water column or on the seafloor. Thus, the biota of these compartments may be affected by the presence of this waste. This includes examples of suffocation or a false sense of fullness caused by ingesting litter, such as plastics. Moreover, solid waste like fishing nets may be responsible for imprisoning species, making it difficult for them to move and/or capture their prey.

Most of the litter found in marine environments is composed of plastics, which may represent more than 90% of the materials that have been inadequately disposed of and have reached the ocean. A lack of knowledge about the damages caused by plastics, combined to the absence of responsibility for the amount of plastics that we consume (especially disposable plastic), and poor waste management are the main culprits for the excessive input of plastics in beaches and in the ocean.

It was these concerns with the environmental problems caused by the irresponsible use of plastics that motivated the creation of the university outreach project “UFSC sem Plástico” (or Plastic Free UFSC). The project comprises a multidisciplinary group of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Architecture and Urbanism, Economy, Environmental and Sanitary Engineering, Nutrition, and Oceanography courses of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). It also has the support of Prof. Dr. Juliana Leonel, who is responsible for the project, and of the Environmental Management Coordination of UFSC.

The project questions the consumption and waste disposal habits that are imposed to our society, and within the University. The campus located in the municipality of Florianópolis converges nearly 70 thousand people and has 15 cafeterias that generate an excessive daily amount of plastic waste. Moreover, the cost of disposable materials and directing waste to landfills is high for UFSC; and these expenses could be directed to other activities, such as stipends and financial aid for students.

With this scenario in mind, the Plastic Free UFSC project has the objective of contributing with a reduction in the consumption of plastics and disposable materials within the University and, thus, decrease our environmental impact. We hope to erradicate straws and replace plastic items for reusable items by increasing the awareness of people through the project’s social networks and partnerships with cafeterias that support the initiative and stimulate their clients to bring their own cups.

All material produced in the project is under a Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International) license, which means that it can be used by other people and/or institutions as long as it is not for commercial uses. So feel free to use our materials as long as you cite your sources. At the end of 2018, Plastic Free UFSC participated in the Students for a Zero Waste Conference in the USA, where we received the “The Innovation Award for a Promising New Initiative”.

Project participants (provided by the project under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license)

What has the project achieved?

1. During the second semester of 2018, we carried out campaigns at the Organic Produce Fair, which happens every wednesday in the central square of UFSC, with the objective of raising awareness among people to bring a reusable cup/mug for their beverages. During the period of the fair, students that participated in the project talked with the salespeople and their clients about the need to reduce our consumption of disposable plastics. Moreover, reusable cups were lent for people to drink sugarcane juice. The activity in the fair was accompanied by posts on social media to stimulate people to adopt a reusable cup/mug.

2. We carried out an awareness campaign in one of the University Restaurants (known as RUs) at UFSC, which still supplied disposable cups to their consumers. This action resulted in the elimination of the disposable cups (it is important to note that, in UFSC, every student/employee receives a reusable plastic mug when they register for their identification card).

3. The project implemented a “cup bank” at one of the cafeterias in UFSC, where people could use these cups to drink coffee, tea, juices etc. on the days they forget to bring their own.

4. We created the Aware Cafeteria Seal, which is divided into three levels. To gain the seals, the cafeterias should take on sustainable commitments, such as hide (or eliminate) disposable straws, offer reusable plates/cutlery/cups/mugs, and stimulate that clients bring their own cups to consume beverages. At the moment, two cafeterias are adapting to receive the first level of the seal.

Seals for the cafeterias. From left to right: Level 1 (Seed); Level 2 (Bud); Level 3 (Tree) (provided by the project under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license)

5. “Plastic Free UFSC Guide”: in this publication we describe how we created the project to stimulate the creation of similar ones in other universities. If you’d like to receive a copy of the guide, all you need to do is write to us at

6. “Aware Student Council Manual”: this material produced by the project lists the partnerships established with the student councils, helping them to become vehicles for environmental awareness. This action has the objective of increasing awareness and generating gradual transformation within the student councils and among the undergraduates, making them responsible for their consumption and actions within the university, awakening an environmental consciousness. The student councils that participate have agreed to reduce (or eliminate) the use of disposable materials in their events, to keep a “cup bank” in their spaces, and to share the objectives of Plastic Free UFSC. If you’d like to receive a copy of the manual, all you need to do is write to us at

If you’d like to know more about Plastic Free UFSC, follow us on Instagram and Facebook!


About Lisiane de Liz

Motivated by my curiosity about the ocean, its influence in maintaining Earth’s systems and all its complexity, I chose to study Oceanography at UFSC. Though I did not live in a coastal city nor did I spend every summer in contact with the sea, when these moments happened I would always observe and listen to the sound of the oceano, trying to understand it and thinking of ways to help in its conservation. My end of term paper, as well as my Master’s degree dissertation, are in the field of Organic Geochemistry. My concerns about marine pollution due to our habits and inadequate disposal of products, mainly disposable materials, triggered my interest in increasing the awareness of people around me about the need for change. During the first year of my Master’s studies, I found people like me who were also bothered by this problem, affecting both the environment and our own university. That was when we created the Plastic Free UFSC project.

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