University wins zero-waste award in national competition

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The University of Michigan was a top-ranked university in the 2022 Campus Race to Zero Waste competition.

U-M placed first in the large-campus division for zero waste, which is for campuses with advanced waste-reduction programs, zero-waste plans and policies in place, and the ability to weigh sources of waste and materials collected for reuse.

The university tracked all sources of waste generated in three campus buildings during an eight-week period, aiming for the highest diversion rate by recycling, composting and reusing items to reduce the amount sent to the landfill.

The U-M buildings competing in the zero-waste category were:

  • Art and Architecture Building — Staff and students are involved in a variety of sustainability efforts, including composting and sustainable office certification. Facilities staff also engaged students weekly throughout the competition.
  • Biomedical Science Research Building — Building staff and the custodial team are actively engaged in efforts to reduce the building’s waste, including participating in recycling pilots and a waste sort during winter semester.
  • Bursley Hall — This building has a consistently high diversion rate among residence halls. Students and staff participate in composting and waste-reduction efforts, including a compost education campaign run by Planet Blue Student Leaders and a waste sort during winter semester.

“Staff and students in these three buildings are actively engaged in waste-reduction and zero-waste efforts throughout the year and are great sustainability partners,” said Alison Richardson, program manager at the Office of Campus Sustainability. “Everyone’s efforts were key in U-M winning this award.”

A September 2021 “lab swap” event at the Chemistry Building found new homes for approximately $20,000 worth of lab supplies and prevented 2,250 pounds of landfill waste. It is one of many creative efforts underway around the Ann Arbor campus to reduce waste year-round. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Campus Sustainability)
A September 2021 “lab swap” event at the Chemistry Building found new homes for approximately $20,000 worth of lab supplies and prevented 2,250 pounds of landfill waste. It is one of many creative efforts underway around the Ann Arbor campus to reduce waste year-round. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Campus Sustainability)

Across the Ann Arbor campus, U-M collected more than 748,400 pounds of recyclables and 349,600 pounds of compost during the eight weeks of competition in February and March. Diverting this waste from the landfill avoided 1,225 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to taking 260 cars off the road for one year.

Alongside the national Campus Race to Zero Waste competition, OCS runs a challenge among participating facilities on U-M’s campus.

In the U-M edition, each facility competed against its 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.

Photo of composting and recycling bins
High levels of engagement in programs like composting fueled U-M’s success in the Campus Race to Zero Waste. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Campus Sustainability)

This year’s winners were:

  • Greatest waste reduction — Mosher-Jordan Hall (30.5% reduction).
  • Highest diversion rate — Golf Course Clubhouse (90.7% diverted from landfill).
  • Most improved diversion rate — Madison Buildings (50% improvement).

More than 200 U.S. and Canadian campuses participated in the Campus Race to Zero Waste. They recycled, composted and donated 9 million pounds of waste.

U-M has built a strong foundation for zero-waste success with initiatives including:

  • Compost bins in more than 150 campus buildings, including residence halls.
  • Where to Throw tool and training help campus users learn how to dispose of items properly.
  • Sustainable purchasing resources and guidelines.
  • Reuse programs including student move-out, office supply donation and lab swaps.
  • Engagement programs that empower students, faculty and staff to reduce waste.

As waste-reduction efforts continue to scale, U-M is progressing toward its universitywide carbon neutrality commitments.

Recently unveiled action steps include expanded plans for geothermal heating and cooling systems, $10 million in funding for additional LED lighting in approximately 100 buildings across all three campuses, and $300 million in “green bonds” for projects that align with U-M carbon neutrality goals.

The Campus Race to Zero Waste and related efforts support an Ann Arbor campus goal to reduce the total amount of waste sent to landfills by 40%. The objective is part of U-M’s 2025 Ann Arbor campus sustainability goals, established in 2011.

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Comments

  1. Amy Chang
    on May 11, 2022 at 6:55 am

    We can do even better by recycling plastic bags on campus. In labs, we receive incredible numbers of plastic bags that come with our lab supplies. But the recycling bins do not take plastic bags. I’ve contacted Sustainability on campus and they acknowledge that is a shortcoming.

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