Zero Waste Campus: How Schools Can Reduce Waste and Costs

The start (or end) of another academic year is the perfect time for schools, colleges and universities to think about setting up a Zero Waste campus.

According to Dump and Run, Inc., the average college student produces 640 pounds of solid waste each year, including 500 disposable cups and 320 pounds of paper. This is magnified when you include waste generated by staff, visitors, vendors and others across all school facilities.

With rising waste costs, more and more schools are moving their campuses towards Zero Waste. Implementing Zero Waste strategies will reduce waste, help keep operating costs down, and position the school as a sustainability leader. With climate change concerns at the top of mind now, more potential students and members of the public (in addition to staff and faculty) will begin demanding more action.

If you are a student, check this EPA page with tips for students, homes and communities. If you manage a college facility or are a school administrator, here is how you can jumpstart your move towards being a Zero Waste campus:

Conduct a Campus Waste Audit

A waste audit gives you a clear picture of what your school is throwing away, what you are diverting, and how effectively (or not) your waste and recycling programs are working. Without an audit, you are just guessing and not knowing. With waste costs increasing, knowing what is going into your trash (and what you are paying to remove) is key.

A new Great Forest study — the largest and most comprehensive waste characterization study to date focused on commercial buildings — has revealed that 62% of what is usually thrown out as trash is really NOT trash at all.

This means that most businesses and organizations are paying too much for waste removal. A waste audit will help your school understand what steps are needed to reduce waste and improve existing waste/recycling programs across all the different facilities on your campus, from cafeterias and sports arenas to dorms and offices.  Here’s everything you need to know about waste audits.

Reduce Waste on Campus: Take the Lead

With data from your waste audit, you will know what your school has to do to reduce waste. In addition, you can take the lead by addressing issues that resonate with your students and other members of the public before you are forced to comply with bans and regulations. This can include efforts related to single-use plastics and other wasteful materials use.

For example, it’s been reported that “At Penn State University, students can take advantage of more than 100 water refilling stations around campus, providing them easy access throughout the day without spending money on bottled water or creating more refuse. At Duke University, researchers found that by installing 50 water bottle refilling stations around campus, the school body could avoid using more than 400,000 plastic bottles.”

Many colleges and universities are also implementing organics programs to counter food waste. It’s been reported that some schools have removed “trays to encourage students to only get food that fits on their plates. Others provide reusable food containers so students can take leftovers back to their dorms and return the containers. Others have created composting programs that take leftovers and turn them into soil that can be used on campus or sold in the local community.”

By getting ahead of the issue, schools can show that they are innovative problem solvers, and lock in their reputations as leaders in sustainability.

Educate and Showcase

Make sure all stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff,  janitorial crews, and vendors, understand how your waste and recycling program works. The best program will fail if there is no awareness or education.

Stakeholders should know what can be recycled, where to place those materials, and how to avoid contamination, which can render recycling worthless. Education can take the form of instructional signs, events (such as Zero Waste Week,  Earth Day, America Recycles Day), webinars, lunch and learns, training sessions, and more.

In addition, remember to showcase your successes. Tell your campus population how much you have all achieved by working together to reduce waste. Share facts and figures, or make a big green statement. All this helps to activate cooperation between different stakeholders and departments across your campus, and ensure that your Zero Waste efforts receive support from the entire campus community.

Ready to Reduce Waste on Campus?  

Talk to your campus sustainability officer or reach out to a Great Forest representative. Have questions? we can help.

(Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash)


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