University waste-reduction competition runs February-March


Campus Race to Zero Waste returns this year to challenge the University of Michigan community to reduce waste through conscious consumption, recycling and composting.


The eight-week competition runs Jan. 30 through March 26 for participating facilities on campus and as a national competition with hundreds of other colleges and universities.

In the 2021 nationwide competition, U-M finished with a 40.5 percent diversion rate, placing second in the Big Ten.

Formerly called RecycleMania, the national competition was updated to reflect the growing emphasis on “zero waste” at many institutions, including U-M. Zero waste represents a comprehensive approach to diverting at least 90 percent of waste from landfills, encompassing recycling, composting and other strategies. 

On U-M’s Ann Arbor campus, a big shift toward zero waste has come in the form of composting, which has the potential to reduce waste by approximately one-third. Compost infrastructure has expanded significantly over the past few years, reaching 150 buildings, 650 staff kitchens, all commercial kitchens, and dining halls, cafes and most residence halls.

“Campus Race to Zero Waste gives the U-M community the opportunity to engage in a friendly competition to reduce our waste campuswide,” said Alison Richardson, program manager with the Office of Campus Sustainability. “While the competition is only eight weeks, we’ve worked to provide the resources for the campus community to reduce waste all year.”

This year, U-M will compete against other colleges and university across four categories:

  • Diversion — measuring the percentage of recyclables and food organics diverted from landfills.
  • Zero waste — tracking multiple campus buildings that are diverse in their use, and taking steps to minimize building waste.
  • Per capita — measuring the total weight of recyclables divided by the campus population.
  • Food organics — tracking how schools reduce food waste through minimization activities, donation and biofuels.

In the U-M competition, each participating facility will compete against its fall 2021 composting and recycling performance across three categories: greatest waste reduction rate, greatest waste diversion from landfills through recycling and composting, and most improved diversion rate.

Last year’s winners included:

  • 202 South Thayer Building, with a diversion rate of 78 percent.
  • Alice Lloyd Hall, which boasted a 146 percent improvement over its prior diversion rate.

The Office of Campus Sustainability provides participants a weekly email with resources, tips and rankings. The competition is open to all faculty, staff and students, including those working or studying remotely.

Facilities interested in participating in the competition among U-M buildings can sign up through Feb. 4.

This competition is one of many efforts contributing toward U-M’s goal to reduce campus waste by 40 percent by 2025.

Earlier this month, U-M reported in an annual goals update that it reduced Ann Arbor campus waste levels by 32 percent during fiscal year 2020-21, relative to a FY ’06 baseline. Waste reduction efforts also complement U-M’s climate action efforts, including its pursuit of carbon neutrality and endeavor to build a culture of sustainability universitywide.


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