U-M expands composting effort; diverts 6,600 tons in 2017


The University of Michigan diverted more than 6,600 tons of campus waste from the landfill last year through new and existing composting, recycling and waste-management efforts, resulting in a 34 percent diversion rate.

The campuswide effort, led by the Office of Campus Sustainability and campus partners Student Life, Michigan Athletics and Michigan Medicine, includes several initiatives that support U-M’s goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 40 percent below 2006 waste levels.

From zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium to changes in infrastructure to make recycling and composting easier on campus, a number of new programs were launched in 2017 that focus on increasing composting on campus.

“Student Life has been instrumental by implementing composting in all of our residence halls, which has not only reduced waste but also emphasized the culture of sustainability with students,” says Andy Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability.

“We are now building off of Student Life’s efforts through our Zero Waste composting program and full-service composting in some of our buildings as strategies to work toward the institution’s waste reduction goal.”

Compostable waste represents approximately one-third of the university material sent to landfills, even in buildings without food service, according to campus building waste sorts conducted by OCS. It includes all food waste, napkins and paper towels, compostable serve ware and utensils, coffee grounds and filters, certified compostable packaging as well as green compost collection bags.

Weekly compost pickup is available in nearly 40 buildings on the Ann Arbor campus, including all University Unions and residence halls, with ongoing plans to expand to additional buildings each year.

U-M students cleaning up for fall at the Campus Farm put material in the Campus Farm compost pile. (Photo courtesy of Campus Farm)

Composting in Fleming

As part of the Zero Waste Program, a pilot kitchen composting program was implemented in the Fleming Administration Building in 2017.

“We identified buildings on campus that have had very high engagement levels and approached them with this opportunity as an additional way to hone in on their sustainable habits,” says Anya Dale, sustainability representative with the Office of Campus Sustainability.

The bins collect an average of 91 pounds of compost each week. The average diversion from this collection is roughly one-third of what was previously sent to the landfill, supporting the estimation made by campus building waste sorts.

Michigan Medicine recycling

Michigan Medicine is in the process of launching the Blue Wrap Recycling Program, a pilot program with a goal of reducing hospital landfill waste by recycling unique medical plastics. The program tentatively is set to launch this spring in the Children’s and Women’s Hospitals.

“We are excited about this pilot program, which will focus on the operating rooms. Success of this program will primarily be driven by our ability to eliminate contamination,” says Christopher Victory, senior mechanical engineer and sustainability coordinator at Michigan Medicine.

The long-term goal of the Blue Wrap Recycling Program is to expand to the University Hospital and to the Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Additionally, Michigan Medicine’s Patient Food and Nutrition Services began preconsumer composting within University Hospital, which has diverted an estimated 1,200 pounds per week from the landfill. The department has been composting in the C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital since early 2016.

The Office of Campus Sustainability also offers updates on other ongoing efforts across the campus. Many of these efforts, listed below, are the result of 2016 recommendations by committees of students, faculty and staff charged by President Mark Schlissel to identify ways to advance goal progress in the areas of waste reduction, greenhouse gas reduction and campus sustainability culture.

The new initiatives build on existing sustainability efforts, and support the university’s broader commitment to sustainability, known as Planet Blue.

Michigan Dining, Student Life

• Beginning in 2014 and continuing today, preconsumer composting occurs in each dining hall. The process takes the scraps accumulated before food is served, such as the skin of a potato, bones or non-edible parts of food.

• In 2017, 30 percent of waste was composted, compared with 9 percent in 2014. This was the result of performing preconsumer composting and the recently implemented post-consumer composting.

• Compost bins dedicated for post-consumer waste have been expanded to all residence dining units, in targeted residence calls and in retail areas that serve prepared foods, including markets and cafes.

• Michigan Dining also partners with the Food Recovery Network to donate uneaten, prepared foods to Food Gatherers, a local food bank that alleviates hunger in Washtenaw County. Since founding in 2012, 13 tons of food have been recovered, around 22,000 meals.

• In fiscal year 2017, efforts by Student Life diverted more than 500 tons of waste from the landfill by composting.

Zero Waste Program

• Offered by OCS, the Zero Waste Program aims to divert at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill through recycling and composting at campus events.

• In FY ’17 there were 341 zero-waste events that collected more than 100 tons of compost.

Consistent bins and signage

• Across campus, 2,700 updated composting and recycling bins have been strategically placed to divert waste from the landfill. These bins are in addition to landfill bins, and display consistent, informative signage to educate individuals on where to place appropriate materials with a goal to reduce contamination.

Zero Waste Michigan Stadium

• Michigan Athletics reached an 88.17 percent diversion rate in its first year striving for zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium by recycling and composting.

• After the first six home games, U-M sent a total of 28.53 tons of waste to be composted, more than 45 percent of the total waste created in the stadium. An additional 26.71 tons of waste was sent to be recycled, leaving 7.41 tons of waste sent to the landfill.


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