How Sustainable Practices at Three U.S. Universities are Reducing Waste

How Sustainable Practices at Three U.S. Universities are Reducing Waste

Many U.S. colleges have pledged to work toward carbon neutral campuses and are making changes in how they build new buildings, where and how they generate power and what they are sending to landfills.

Take a look at what three universities are doing to reduce waste and build sustainable practices in and around campus.

At Arizona State University, in Tempe, Ariz., sustainability is nothing new. One program it’s been running with local charities, Ditch the Dumpster, has diverted approximately 942,100 pounds of waste from landfill since 2009.

Dealing with what’s left behind each time students leave campus for the summer, is a common issue among colleges. Everything from couches and chairs to clothing and electronics can find its way from dorm rooms to dumpsters and eventually to landfill. The waste generated on move-out days is what lead to the program that takes these unwanted items and redirects them to charitable organizations, like Goodwill of Central Arizona, that redistribute them to those in need.

Last year, ASU students collected more than 157,594 pounds of reusable or recyclable items, including 2,367 cleaning supplies, hygiene products and non-perishable food, 12,754 pounds of clothing sent to Big Brothers Big Sisters, and 33,445 pounds sent to Goodwill.  

Ditch the Dumpster shows ASU students that it doesn't take much to make a lasting impact on the community or the environment, said business sustainability freshman Kathryn Cuiffo.

The University of Virginia in Charlottseville, Va., has a new Sustainability Plan that includes specific long- and short-term goals to increase sustainability awareness on and off campus, stewardship and reducing the environmental impact of University operations.

“At U.Va., we want to create policies and practices that create positive change, both on Grounds and beyond,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a press release. “We can set goals to minimize our environmental impact and also to protect and preserve the environment through education and research initiatives. From the classroom to the laboratory, our students, faculty and staff are leading a dialogue about sustainability and developing solutions that will change the way we interact with the environment.

The five-year plan includes milestones such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 2009 levels by 2025; energy use in University buildings by 20 percent below 2010 levels by 2020; reactive nitrogen losses to the environment 25 percent below 2010 levels by 2020; and the total tonnage of waste generated at UVA 50 percent below 2014 amounts by 2035.

The plan incorporates social, environmental and economic sustainability considerations into its strategic initiatives, calling for environmentally responsible purchasing practices, efficiently using buildings and lands to reduce the need for new construction, and expanding the number of sustainable buildings.

From sustainable sports to environmentally sensitive buildings, the University of Colorado Boulder also is working to reduce its footprint on campus.

CU-Boulder's Zero Waste Team is using creative solutions to decrease campus waste going to landfills, while increasing recycling and composting and reducing paper use. “It is easy to be passionate about the environment at CU and in Boulder,” said Curt Huetson, director of facilities planning, operations and project management for Housing & Dining Services. “But, most folks these days have a real sense that we can all do our part for a sustainable future.”

Huetson has been chairing the Zero Waste Team at CU-Boulder since 2008, almost a year after then-Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., signed the Greening of State Government Executive Order – an order calling for – among other directives - a 20 percent reduction in energy use and paper use.

In the last four years, campus has seen a 33 percent reduction in print and copy paper. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American generates four-and-a-half pounds of waste per day. CU-Boulder averages a little more than a half a pound per-day-per-person.

As a state organization, CU-Boulder created a sustainability management system to track and report its “greening” performance. The Zero Waste Team is one group creating measures to track campus sustainability efforts since 2008. Its goals include: Decreasing waste to the landfill, increasing waste diversion to recycling and composting and decreasing paper use for campus. 

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