Zeroing in on Waste Keeps College Clean

While welcoming students back to campus, Washington State University (WSU), Pullman, has taught its collegians how to eliminate waste.

Striving for zero waste at its annual back-to-school picnic, the university coordinated staff from campus dining services; residence life; the composter; the trash hauler; material resource service director; and WSU's new recycling education coordinator, Judi Dunn, to recycle and compost most of its waste.

Held on Aug. 23 on the soccer fields of WSU's campus, the event, which was attended by 4,796 students, faculty and staff members, accumulated only 34 pounds of waste — or diverted about 98 percent by recycling and composting nearly a quarter of a ton, Dunn says.

This was made possible because food was served on compostable plates atop Frisbees, which guests took as souvenirs. Potato chips and condiments were bought in bulk, napkins were made from recycled-content materials, and beverages and water were served in aluminum cans and plastic bottles, which were recycled. Plastic bottles also were separated into plastic bag-lined containers, and students and staff members placed their food waste in 15-gallon, 50-pound-capacity paper bags.

During the picnic, 34 volunteers who were “trained” to tell people there is no “garbage,” showed attendees that “there is a place for everything,” Dunn says. Volunteers also collected materials from 10 recycling stations and carried them to a waste staging area. A recycling route driver then collected the plastic bottles.

The only materials not recycled were plastic forks and knives, which were made from polypropylene and polystyrene and are not recyclable in Washington. They were placed in a used paper grocery bag for disposal.

Overall, Dunn says the event indicates it's not unreasonable to set such high waste reduction goals. Even if the event did not divert 100 percent of waste from the landfill, “we are striving for absolute zero waste next year,” she says.