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For many people the term “out of sight, out of mind” would be most appropriate for describing municipal solid waste management. The responsibility ends once the item is put in the trash. In these times of increasing regulatory oversight and societal pressures, this is the last sentiment that physical plant administrators can have about the waste generated at their institutions. Instead, we must be concerned with the eventual disposition of an item before it is even purchased.

This chapter will attempt to define solid waste and outline various approaches to solid waste disposal. Just as there is no one plan for solid waste disposal that all institutions can use, there is not just one strategy that will work within an institution. Instead, an integrated approach that relies on the hierarchy of reduction, reuse, recycling, and disposal is needed to effectively manage your institution’s municipal solid waste.

Solid waste management in colleges and universities is taking on increasing importance as most states move to regulate disposal practices and as the university community, especially students, demands greater environmental stewardship. The complexity of this task is challenging but not insurmountable. A systematic approach to disposal of institutional wastes can be undertaken to ensure compliance with all regulatory bodies and the demands of varied constituencies, and it starts with a better understanding of the entire disposal process.

Solid Waste Definition


Solid Waste

Infectious wastes are typically generated as a result of biological, medical, or pathological activities that take place on campus. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies wastes as hazardous for one of two reasons: (1) it is listed in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as hazardous because it can cause injury, death, or damage, or pollute air, land, or water; or (2) it is ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. Examples of such wastes include heavy metals, solvents, asbestos, fluorescent light bulbs, laboratory animal carcasses, and contaminated oils. Low-level radioactive wastes are typically generated through experiments and laboratory research. Waste requiring special handling includes coal ash, sewage, and sludges.1

Although the EPA classifies all wastes, many states reclassify wastes more stringently or differently. It is important for facilities managers to check with local or state authorities to determine how wastes are classified. The state, not the federal, classification will most likely be what managers will have to know to determine proper disposal methods for any waste generated on campus.

Integrated Approach to Disposal


Different Solutions for Different Wastes

The current accepted philosophy in MSW management is to follow an integrated approach. That entails considering the type, location, and quantity of wastes generated and the available disposal options. At the core of integrated solid waste management is the notion that not all wastes are created, nor should they be disposed of, equally. Managers must consider factors such as collection, storage, logistics, and disposal costs to determine the best alternative for a particular category of waste.

This integrated approach gained increasing favor in the early 1990s, when the “recycle at any cost” philosophy was found to be economically unsustainable. Although managers might recognize the moral imperative to recycle, the cost or ability to do so may force a different decision to put waste in a landfill or incinerate. The hierarchy of steps for integrated MSW management is first to reduce or reuse to the greatest extent possible. The second step is to recycle what cannot be reused. The third option is incineration, preferably with energy recovery. Finally, landfilling is the least preferred alternative.2

This strategy can be implemented as a true hierarchy, or as a menu approach where managers pick and choose what works best for their situation. Many would argue that it should be implemented as a hierarchy, but that may not be a realistic proposition given the amount and type of resources devoted to MSW management at the institution. For example, incineration may not be a viable alternative because of the substantial capital investment required. Most incinerators require several hundred tons of waste per day to offset the cost of construction and operation. This need to “feed the incinerator” may run counter to reduction and recycling goals and contributes to the greenhouse gas effect and carbon footprint. For those reasons and more, incineration might not be a viable option for many.

Source reduction, also referred to as waste reduction, can be the most effective way to handle solid waste. The idea of not having to handle the waste in the first place has merit in terms of cost and operational considerations. Until recently, the waste reduction mind-set was limited, while recycling has made great strides as the primary strategy in waste disposal on college campuses. That can be attributed to the difficulty of instituting waste reduction practices. In Making Less Garbage: A Planning Guide for Communities, Bette K. Fishbein and Caroline Geld state, “Local solid waste planners, engineers, and managers know the steps involved in designing and operating landfills, incinerators, and collection systems. They know that recycling involves collection, separation, and marketing of materials. However, while acknowledging source reduction as the most important priority, most have only a vague idea of how to get businesses and citizens to produce less waste.”3

This sums up why recycling programs, and not source reduction, have taken the strongest foothold on campus. However, source reduction is receiving greater emphasis, and later in this chapter there is more in-depth coverage on source reduction. Because recycling receives more attention from administrators and students, establishing and conducting a recycling program will be the focus of this chapter.

Municipal Solid Waste Disposal


Refuse Disposal and Collection

It is impossible to talk about recycling without discussing refuse disposal. Because recycling will change the way the institution disposes of refuse, implementing a recycling program provides an opportunity to reevaluate the way that is done. Resources will have to be shifted from refuse disposal to recycling. Whether the institution proactively changes its refuse disposal system or does so as a result of the changes that recycling brings, the manager must consider how recycling will impact refuse disposal.

There are many choices available for refuse disposal. One choice everyone faces is contracting the service or providing it with in-house forces. The following discussion is based on providing the service in-house. If collection services are contracted, the vendor usually provides the storage devices and vehicles. However, it is still important for managers to carefully consider what type of system will best suit conditions on their campus. Later in this chapter, the contracting option will also be discussed.

Two of the most important aspects of handling refuse is that it be disposed of properly and in a timely and efficient manner. All states have strict regulations on how refuse can be collected and disposed of, and it is critical that the institution’s system complies with these requirements. Refuse will always be generated, and it will be generated on a regular basis, with some allowances for seasonal variations and special events that take place on campus. Custodial staffs are usually responsible for removing refuse from buildings and can often be valuable in efforts to assess the volume and type of trash generated in a building. The design and operation of refuse disposal systems must ensure that the storage capacity and collection frequency are adequate. The unsightly and unsanitary conditions that can result from inadequate storage capacity and collection frequency must be avoided.

The three basic components of solid waste disposal are (1) removing the refuse from the building, (2) storing it outside of the building, and (3) collecting and transporting it from these storage locations to its disposal destination. The choices for each of the steps in the refuse disposal process are similar to those for the recycling process, so much of what is covered here will apply to recycling as well.

Waste Removal

Removal from the building can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some buildings can be equipped with trash chutes and a trash room. Usually, these chutes empty into large containers or wheeled carts. Trash chutes can be a tremendous time savings for your custodians, but they are becoming rare because of maintenance concerns and space constraints. Trash chutes can be effectively incorporated into a recycling program by modifying the chute system or alternating collection days for refuse and recyclables.

Removing waste from individual offices, food service areas, rest rooms, and common areas using trash carts is a more common practice. Waste is collected from the source, transferred to a larger barrel or cart, and then moved to another storage device for pickup.

Waste Storage

Storage devices can be carts, Dumpsters, or roll-offs. Using plastic liners or bags can help improve sanitation and keep litter from blowing or tipping when the waste is transferred to an outside storage device.


Carts range in size from 55 gallons to 120 gallons and above. Popular sizes are 60 and 90 gallons. Prices also vary according to size and model, but managers should expect to pay between $120 for smaller carts to $550 for larger carts. Carts are suitable for areas where space is not available for a larger storage device or where vehicular access is restricted.

Carts can be manually emptied or automatically dumped into the refuse collection truck. Most carts have wheels and can be moved to a location that is easily accessible by the collection vehicle. They are much less expensive than Dumpsters or roll-offs. The disadvantages of carts are (1) they are subject to theft because of ease of mobility, (2) they are less durable than other collection devices, and (3) they have a smaller capacity than a Dumpster. Theft of carts can be overcome by chaining and locking the carts. Drivers of the collection vehicle or custodial employees will then need to unchain the carts before they can be dumped. These carts will also need to be cleaned thoroughly and frequently if they are placed indoors, which adds significant labor and cleaning costs.

Carts can be used with rear- or side-loading trucks. If the carts are manually emptied, no modifications need to be made to the collection vehicle. Both side- and rear-loading trucks that automatically tip carts can be purchased. These trucks are a significant capital investment well over $100,000 if purchased new. The increased capital investment can be justified by reducing the labor needed to transfer the waste from the cart to the truck.


Dumpsters range in size from 2 yards to 12 cubic yards. Most Dumpsters are steel and have lids. Stationary compacting Dumpsters can be used in areas where there is a high volume of refuse. These compacting Dumpsters operate much the same as compacting roll-offs, which are discussed in detail later, except they are serviced by front-loading vehicles. Compacting Dumpsters can increase storage capacity two or three times. They require an electrical power supply and are more costly to purchase, operate, and maintain than non-compacting units. Compactors reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the number of pulls in the haul cycle.

Usually, Dumpsters are placed outside of loading docks or receiving areas. Often, they must be placed away from buildings so that collection vehicles can reach them. Lids are important for aesthetics, sanitation, and to contain costs. Haulers prefer that Dumpsters have lids to keep the refuse protected from precipitation. Haulers are customarily charged based on weight, and wet refuse weighs more and costs more to dispose. Dumpsters are even available with locking lids, which can be used if illegal dumping is a problem, although any lid can make it more difficult to transfer waste into the Dumpster. A lid can be a maintenance problem, but it is not only a good idea to use lids—it is required in some areas. Plastic lids have become the industry standard, and these lids are easier to use than their heavy steel predecessors.

Dumpsters range in price from $450 to $900. They must be well painted because they are highly likely to rust. Maintenance, however, is minimal. A Dumpster will need to be repainted about every 2 to 6 years depending on the type of Dumpster and the local weather conditions. Every 10 to 15 years the floors in the Dumpster will have to be repaired if repair is preferred to buying new Dumpsters. Lids and hinges will also need to be replaced as they become damaged or worn. Some Dumpsters come with wheels, which will also be a regular maintenance concern.

Dumpster collection trucks can be rear- or front-loading. Both versions operate much the same, but Dumpsters and collection vehicles must be correctly matched. Front-loading Dumpsters are easier to service because the driver has an unobstructed view to align the truck and Dumpster. However, there is a greater risk to tree limbs and building overhangs when tipping a front-loading Dumpster, because front-loading Dumpsters must be lifted above the truck.

Rear-loading Dumpsters are more difficult to align since the truck must back-up. This needs to be considered for efficiency and safety. Backing up great distances to approach a rear-loading Dumpster can be time-consuming and dangerous given the high volume of pedestrian traffic on campus. Cameras can be mounted at the rear of the vehicle, with monitors in the cab, to improve driver visibility and safety. Driver training and safety must be primary concerns when operating any in-house collection vehicle. All drivers must have a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) to operate these vehicles. All activities related to refuse collection must comply with applicable regulations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) requirements regarding blood-borne pathogens.

Front-loading trucks likely will cost over $150,000. Rear-loading trucks cost 30 to 50 percent less. Front-loading trucks also have 10 to 20 percent greater capacity, ranging from 10 to 13 tons or 35 cubic yards. This can be very important when the disposal point is a great distance from campus. Another advantage to front-loading trucks is that the driver rarely needs to leave the cab, resulting in greater efficiency and less potential for on-the-job injury from getting in and out of the truck, as is often the case with rear-loading vehicles.

Maintenance for a refuse collection vehicle will be expensive, but proper maintenance is essential to ensure limited downtime. A good preventative maintenance program will reduce the need for unplanned maintenance, resulting in less downtime and better service. Tires are probably the single greatest maintenance expense incurred, and choosing tires wisely can save thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle. Retreaded tires can be an economically and environmentally beneficial choice.


Roll-offs are another method to store and transport refuse. A roll-off is nothing more than an oversized Dumpster that, rather than being emptied into a truck, is rolled on and off the truck. Roll-offs range in size from 15 to 30 cubic yards. These storage devices are good in areas where a large volume of trash is generated on a daily basis, but they require a large, easily accessible area for placement. Roll-off containers cost several thousand dollars, depending on their size. They require maintenance similar to a Dumpster.

Roll-offs are serviced by a lift-hook truck. The truck has a hoist and a rail chassis. Prices for lift-hook trucks begin at $75,000. A lift-hook truck backs up to the roll-off container and pulls it on or off the chassis of the truck. The problem encountered with a rear-loading Dumpster—backing up to the Dumpster—also applies to a roll-off. Another problem with roll-offs is the loss of storage that results when the truck has taken the container to the disposal site. This can be overcome by bringing an empty container when picking up the full one. However, this necessitates even more space because of the maneuvering required to exchange the empty container for the full one.

Roll-offs also come in a compacting version. This requires an electrical hookup, and installation is usually integrated with the building itself. Compacting roll-offs extend the time needed between pick-ups, but capital and maintenance costs for compacting roll-offs are much greater than no-compacting roll-offs. The same lift-hook truck can service both types of roll-off containers. As transportation costs and environmental concerns grow, compacting roll-offs become a more attractive alternative.

Disposal Destinations

There are three primary disposal destinations for waste transported from campus. None of these should affect how waste is collected, but it is important to know what options are available. Most will be regulated by the local municipality or other local authority. The three facilities for disposal are a transfer station, a landfill, or an incinerator. Each type of facility may have regulations concerning what can and cannot be taken there. Incinerators especially may ban highly combustible substances. In suburban or rural areas, institutions may not have a choice where waste is taken, but larger cities may provide several options for disposal. Operationally, any of these collection and disposal systems can work. It is up to the manager responsible for solid waste to determine what system or combination of systems is best suited for his or her campus environment.

Emerging Trends

Another consideration that is becoming more of a concern on college campuses is the aesthetics of your refuse collection program.  We all know how important campus appearance has become.  As a result, activities such as refuse collection are expected to be “invisible” to the campus community and visitors.  This can be a real challenge that requires creative thinking to resolve.  The typical response to this challenge is trying to hide the Dumpsters with screening or plantings.  However, a newer approach is to reduce the need for Dumpster by how the collection program is designed.  That could entail centralized collection yards or creating a Just in Time collection process that could eliminate the need for Dumpsters.  This type of collection program requires significant cooperation between the custodial staff removing the material from te building and the crew picking up the refuse or recycling from outside of the building.

Establishing a Recycling Program


Local or State Requirements

The first step in developing a recycling program is to determine the requirements of state and local authorities. Most states, counties, or local municipalities will have some laws or regulations concerning recycling. Often, states pass legislation that establishes broad guidelines for types of material to be collected and communities to be served, based on population. Also, goals for waste reduction and recycling and time frames to accomplish those goals are set at the state level. Many of the details of how to do these things are delegated to counties or local municipalities.

Although some areas may have restrictions on where refuse may be taken, recyclables are often not similarly restricted. Managers should be free to decide where to take recyclable material based on convenience, economic return, or services offered. Since the late 1980s when recycling became popular again, many municipalities, cities, and counties have hired recycling coordinators to manage recycling efforts of local government. These coordinators are the first people to contact for information about what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. The EPA and the environmental compliance department in many states have hotlines that provide information about recycling. The EPA hotline number is 800-424-9346.

Since the flurry of recycling legislation in the 1990s, the preeminent driver for recycling programs is either the desire of the school to meet sustainability goals or the demands of the student-body to address societal concerns for sustainability. These days, almost every University has some form of recycling program already in place.  For those schools that do not, the challenge is to start one.  For those that do, your efforts should be focused on expanding and improving the recycling program that you have in place.

Administrative Support

Administrative support is vital to the successful implementation and operation of a recycling program. Lack of support results in an ineffectual program. A recycling program does not need to be mandatory to be successful, but it is much easier to implement if it is mandatory and the president or chancellor goes on record supporting it. Because recycling activities cross all lines within a university, support is needed from both the business and academic areas. Support from the chief business officer, but not from the provost, is a recipe for a failed program. Faculty must understand that their leadership supports the recycling effort; otherwise their participation will not be sufficient.

Recycling programs will likely require additional funding beyond what is already budgeted for solid waste disposal, if not for the long term, then certainly in the short term as the program is begun. Upper administrative support in the form of funding to develop and operate the program is essential. The recycling ethic seems to always be to do as much as possible with as little funding as necessary. This attitude, although admirable, is very limiting. Adequate funding can go a long way in designing an effective program that will have maximum impact on the environment. Budgetary support from upper administration can make or break a recycling program and is often the difference between an average program and a diverse and dynamic recycling program.

Policy Statement

One measure of administrative support is the willingness of institutional leaders to adopt a recycling policy. This policy is needed not so much to force people to recycle but as an affirmation of support. The policy statement should cover goals of the program and why recycling is important to the institution. It should also cover waste reduction and buying recycled products, both of which will be discussed later. In many institutions today, stand-alone recycling policy statements are a thing of the past and have been incorporated into more holistic sustainability policies as discussed below.

Program Placement

Sustainability and environmental stewardship are the hot topics on college campuses across the nation today, just as recycling was 20 years ago. Sustainability and environmental stewardship are much broader programs than recycling. They often revolve around energy conservation efforts, or alternative energy purchase and use, and purchasing policies with a focus on the carbon footprint of the campus and its greenhouse gas emissions. However, elements that are traditionally thought of as part of the recycling program, such as recycling, reuse, waste reduction, and promotion of the use of recycled content materials, are also incorporated into these efforts. Recycling programs often now report to a sustainability manager or coordinator and are considered a part of the larger overall environmental stewardship effort, since sustainability and environmental stewardship have a broader mission than recycling.

Recycling Coordinator

Ideally, a recycling coordinator should be appointed to oversee the recycling program. This position should be dedicated to that task, if possible. This is especially important in the start-up phases of any new recycling program.

The responsibilities of the recycling coordinator should include primary development of the program, supervision of any employees dedicated to the recycling efforts, training and education, equipment specification and selection, market development, quality control, governmental relations, and liaison with students and administration. Currently, interest in recycling remains high among students, so it is important for the recycling coordinator to have a good rapport with students and include students when possible in program development.

There is sound economic logic to establishing the recycling coordinator’s office in the area of the department responsible for custodial and refuse services. These areas of facilities operations will be most involved in performing the recycling activities. By establishing the office nearby, communication with these areas is enhanced, increasing the involvement and cooperation of the employees who will be most affected. This organizational closeness to the workers doing the recycling is helpful to the coordinator in determining what is or is not working.

As recycling becomes more commonplace and established throughout North America, the value of having a recycling coordinator will become more apparent. Hiring a full-time recycling coordinator position demonstrates a strong commitment and allows the program to mature as the recycling infrastructure develops and changes in the industry take place. Just as an engineer would be hired for a designing position, appointment of a professional to fill the recycling coordinator position should be considered as the industry develops and regulations become more complex.

Recycling Committee

The recycling program on campus has the potential to be highly visible. Students especially may show a great interest in being involved in the formulation of recycling policy and strategy. As mentioned earlier, recycling crosses all areas of the university. For these reasons, it is helpful if a committee is formed to involve the interested parties. Representatives should be recruited from the general student population, student government, campus environmental coalitions, facilities management, housing and food services, residence halls, and faculty, to name a few.

A committee structure can provide feedback on the mood of the campus. The recycling coordinator can gain valuable information on whether it is realistic to ask the university community to perform certain functions in an effort to implement recycling. For example, suppose the design of a program calls for faculty to separate recyclables in their offices and take them to a centrally located collection point in the hallway; a committee may provide feedback as to whether faculty members will accept or reject this added responsibility.

The recycling committee can be a standing body that continues to meet once the recycling program is implemented, or an ad-hoc task force that disbands once the program is established. The university community is transient, so a standing committee can assist with the constant reeducation that is necessary with an ever-changing student body. However, committee continuity will suffer because of the transience, and the committee process can be made even more frustrating by the continual loss of momentum when committee members leave and are replaced.

The Waste Stream and Disposal Process

A key ingredient to successful handling of municipal solid waste is conducting a waste stream analysis, also called a waste stream characterization or assessment. This process involves getting to know how much is being disposed, what is being disposed, what percentage of the waste stream different types of waste represent, and how this whole process occurs. The waste stream analysis is the cornerstone of all decisions you make regarding disposal options.

Waste Stream Analysis

The waste stream analysis is a systematic study of the disposal process. It looks at the life cycle of waste from when it comes onto campus until its eventual disposition. “Assessment of the campus waste stream and of individual buildings is important for properly implementing recycling.”4 It is important to know what types of wastes are in the waste stream, where they are generated, and how much there is; this will enable the manager to design a recycling program that targets materials that are most prevalent. It also indicates where the department needs to concentrate its efforts and how it should go about collection. Ultimately, it will also provide the basis for the manager’s economic cost-benefit analysis. This will be discussed in detail later in the chapter.

The starting point for the waste stream analysis is a survey of campus buildings. Buildings should be classified so that managers can use the data to tailor their collection efforts. Common classifications are office/administrative buildings, classroom buildings, laboratory/research buildings, residence halls, dining halls, special-use buildings, and other buildings. Special-use buildings could be gymnasiums, union buildings, or auditoriums, and the other category can be used for mixed-use buildings. Buildings can be categorized in any way that suits the institution’s particular situation. The classification allows managers to make specific decisions based on trends that become apparent within building classes.

For example, the manager may choose not to collect a certain material, such as plastic, in laboratory buildings because the results of the waste stream analysis show the amount of plastic disposed of in those buildings does not justify the effort. Alternately, the manager may find a considerable quantity of plastics are being disposed of in the waste of the dining halls, and therefore, plastics recycling might be instituted in those buildings.

Once buildings are classified, the manager can then examine several buildings within each class to gain insight into how and what waste is generated and disposed of in the building. He or she can make preliminary assumptions on whether the classifications are valid based on the findings. University and College Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling,4 a manual produced by the University of Illinois Center for Solid Waste Management and Research, offers a methodology for what the manual refers to as waste stream assessments and also waste compositions for campus settings.

The main portion of the waste stream analysis is collecting refuse from a number of buildings from each class. The collected waste will be sorted, separated further into categories, and weighed. The categories of waste can again be devised to best suit the institution’s needs. Figure 1 below shows an example of the results of a waste categorization.

This process of categorization will tell the manager how much of each type of waste is generated on campus and where it is coming from. As described in the example of plastics above, it will guide decisions on what materials to collect and where the materials will be found. It will also indicate what will be needed to collect these materials.

Waste should be collected over a period of time to accurately reflect the disposal cycle and should be collected from each building class on different days of the week. For example, waste generated from residence halls over the weekend is likely to be quite different from waste generated during a weekday. There will likely be a greater concentration of glass and cans in the weekend waste stream than in waste collected during the week.

Once the manager knows what types of materials are in the waste stream and where they are generated, he or she can use this information to decide how to recycle. Preliminary assumptions can be made regarding the amount of labor that will be involved in the collection process; the types, numbers, and placement of collection receptacles inside of buildings; and storage and collection equipment that might be used outside the buildings. Ultimately, these decisions will be determined by the arrangements made with the haulers, recyclers, and processors who will take the recyclable goods; however, the waste stream analysis is the starting point for all the decisions.

Obviously, conducting a waste stream analysis and having a report specific to your institution and its buildings would be best, but if that’s not possible, you can find general waste stream characterization reports from the EPA in a report entitled Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.   The most recent version is for calendar year 2013.  Care must be exercised using generalized statistics as you may find they may not accurately characterize the waste stream on your campus.

Program Implementation


Implementing a campus-wide recycling program is a major undertaking because of the amount of communication that needs to take place. Strategies for implementation can vary depending on the scope of the program and the size of the institution. The start-up of recycling can coincide with the beginning of the school year or semester. The start of the school year is an especially advantageous time to start a program, because many people on campus are starting a new year and it is a good time to teach them new habits.

For large campuses, it may be necessary to phase in a recycling program. This can be done according to geographic regions of campus, by college or department, by custodial districts, or by other means that suit the particular situation. Managers may also want to phase in the recyclables that are collected, starting with a few and building as the program grows. Phasing a program makes the task more manageable. It allows for greater attention to detail and for making adjustments as feedback is received on how the program is working. A disadvantage to phasing in a program is the need to sustain momentum and excitement over an extended period of time. For a smaller institution, phasing a program implementation may not be necessary.

A large-scale educational effort is necessary for a successful implementation. The variety of audiences that must be addressed dictates a diversified approach. Strategies for educating the university community in general will be discussed in the text that follows. An important group that must be educated is the custodial staff. Obviously, the custodians must know how to handle the recyclables and how their jobs will be affected. Second, and maybe even more important, the custodians will promote the recycling program to the university community in general.

Getting custodians to buy into the program and accept ownership should be a primary goal of the training effort. Because the custodians are in daily contact with the university community, they are in an excellent position to educate the community. If the custodians are energized about their role in the recycling program, then they are likely to convey that enthusiasm to the people with whom they come in contact.

Measuring the Program’s Success


It is important for managers to know how the program is doing so that they can fine-tune the program and provide feedback to the university community. There are various ways to measure success. The most common is to measure the quantity of waste recycled as a percentage of total waste. This is commonly referred to as diversion. Another measure is to survey buildings (e.g., offices, laboratories, and residence hall rooms) to determine the percentage of people who are participating. Managers may also want to conduct a waste stream analysis to determine how much and what type of potentially recyclable material is not being recycled. Many recycling processors charge customers for excess contamination, so managers will want to measure this aspect of the program so that corrections can be made if necessary.

Educating the University Community


The importance of education cannot be overstated, especially at the start of a new recycling program. A recycling program that is perfectly designed will not be successful if the university community is not educated to participate in it. A massive educational effort must be conducted at the outset, and because of the transient nature of the college campus it must be continually undertaken. There are many ways to communicate the message of recycling to the varied constituents at the institution. It would be impossible to discuss here all the possible methods for educating the community, but the following suggestions are offered to provoke thought about how educational efforts can be structured.

Managers should try to institutionalize the recycling educational efforts. The more education happens automatically each year, as part of the normal operations of the institution, the better educated people will become. Examples of institutionalizing educational efforts are (1) having an article appear in a magazine that is distributed to residence hall students at the beginning of each academic year, (2) putting posters on buses, (3) setting up table tents in the dining commons, (4) issuing reusable mugs to new students and employees, and (5) promoting recycling at welcome activities and special events and in housing information packets. Recycling information can also be included in orientation sessions held for all new employees.

Managers should use the various campus media. Student newspapers are typically eager to run stories about recycling and to provide a forum to educate people about recycling. Use the editorial sections of newspapers to focus on aspects of the recycling program. Stage a letter-writing campaign to focus attention on different recycling issues.

Most departments have their own newsletters and websites. Managers can work with the people responsible for publishing these and gain some publicity by contributing stories and information to them. Managers may also consider advertising in the newspaper or prominent websites if the budget will allow it. If the institution has a faculty/staff newspaper or news wire, these can be used as well. All these publications reach a select market segment and can be effective in reaching important audiences. Managers should give as many interviews as they can tolerate. Radio can be used to continually remind people about recycling, and managers should try to get the campus and local radio stations to provide public service announcements promoting the institution’s recycling efforts.

Many facilities offices already have established contact networks, which can be a valuable communication pipeline. Not only does the network already exist, but in many cases formal methods of communications, such as public bulletins or regularly scheduled meetings, are already in place. Managers should use this contact network whenever they need to convey changes or new initiatives in their program. If there is no established network, managers can develop one by identifying people who are interested in recycling by requesting volunteers through the various means mentioned earlier.

Presentations are also helpful, especially at start-up. Again, this is a perfect opportunity to use the contact network. These presentations can be used to educate those who come and prepare them to educate others in their offices. Presentations should also be made to interested student groups. Managers can work with the institution’s residential life office to set up meetings with residence assistants or other persons responsible for student conduct in the dormitories. Again, those attending the meetings should be trained so that they spread the word to others. Student environmental groups should be encouraged to present when opportunities arise.

Recycling is a favorite topic for term papers and student projects. It is helpful to have an information packet prepared that can answer questions from students who are writing papers. Special materials can be prepared to distribute to building occupants. Recycling guidelines or information packets that help students live a “greener” life can be distributed on a regular basis.

Every recycling program should have an Internet presence. Managers can use electronic bulletin boards, electronic mailing lists, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, department websites, e-mail and voicemail to get the message across. These methods are both effective and environmentally friendly.

Managers may also want to initiate contests that reward students or offices for recycling. Labeling of receptacles was mentioned earlier in the discussion on contamination; it is an important part of your educational effort. Labels should be placed on everything, from a desk-side paper bin, to Dumpsters or roll-offs outside of buildings. Not only do labels reduce contamination, they are a constant reminder to recycle.

Managers should be creative in developing educational programs, looking for new ideas to get the message across and refusing to pass up an opportunity if at all possible. The more institutionalized the educational program becomes, the less taxing and time-consuming it will be to promote the program. Special event recycling programs that support town/gown efforts are good opportunities to partner with the private sector.

Contracted Services


The institution may not have the capability nor the desire to operate an in-house refuse and recycling collection service. If that is the case, there are numerous opportunities to contract this service. Many national and local companies provide a full complement of refuse and recycling services.

Request for Proposal

The starting point for contracting this service is putting together a request for proposal. The request for proposal can be written just as it would be to contract any other aspect of facilities management. Important areas to cover are the frequency of service, type of equipment to be used, redundancy in collection equipment, safety history of the company, bonding capacity, access to material recovery facilities and other disposal facilities, recyclable market contracts, and educational programming available. Value-added services offered, such as educational materials, can be a critical component of any contractual relationship and should be specified in the request for proposal.

Evaluation Process

The evaluation process should be several stages. The first step should be a review by purchasing officials or the department responsible for contracts. This step will eliminate those proposals that do not meet the technical and legal requirements of the specifications. Vendors that do not have the bonding capacity, insurance coverage levels, or a client list demonstrating a proven capability to provide a level of service similar to that required can be eliminated from further consideration.

The next step will be to conduct an analysis of the service proposed. An evaluation sheet should be developed to objectively score the various proposals. One way to do this is to rank different service aspects according to what is important to the manager and the institution. For example, if frequency of collection is more important than type of collection trucks used, this should be reflected in the number of points assigned to these service categories. The goal of the evaluation sheet is to provide an objective analysis by assigning a numerical ranking to each vendor. Once the list of vendors has been narrowed down to a select few, it may be helpful to have each vendor make a formal presentation. Although written proposals are essential, presentations can be helpful to discern the extra level of service provided that might set one vendor apart from the others. These presentations can also be helpful for clarifying parts of the proposal or for answering additional questions that come up in the course of evaluating the written proposals.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Cost of service is always going to be an important factor. However, the low bidder should not necessarily be accepted if the services proposed do not meet the stated criteria. Cost can be included as one of the criteria and assigned a point value like other criteria, and the vendor who scores the highest number of points can be chosen. Alternately, cost can be pulled out of the rankings and applied separately after all other criteria have been evaluated.

Vendor proposals will also have to be compared with known costs and services if these services are currently being provided in-house. If an in-house service is contracted out and abolished, this is a serious, long-term commitment, because it will be difficult and expensive to reestablish in-house capabilities.

Other Recycling Opportunities



Composting, the natural process of breaking down organic material, can be used to recycle organic material such as leaves, grass, brush, and tree trimmings; food waste from food service operations; and even low-grade papers such as paper plates, towels, and other non-recyclable papers. Composting does not need to be a highly technical operation. To determine what must be done, managers should check with the state in which the institution is located regarding composting regulations.

Composting requires a fairly level area with access to water. Material needs to be placed in windrows and turned on a regular basis to get oxygen to the microorganisms that cause decomposition; these need aerobic conditions to survive. This can be accomplished simply by using a loader, but specialized equipment known as windrow turners is available to do this job. Windrow turners can be stand-alone pieces or attachments to a loader. For composting of food waste or municipal solid waste that is not highly sorted, in-vessel composting systems may be necessary to ensure proper composting or to control odor.

Composting is becoming more popular as states pass regulations that ban yard waste from being put in landfills. Composting can significantly add to the amount of material that is recycled. The finished compost can be returned to campus as a soil amendment in planting beds, thus completing the loop.

Construction and Demolition Debris

Renovation of campus buildings will produce construction and demolition waste that can be recycled. Lumber, metal studs, roofing material, glass, furniture, scientific and computer equipment, ceiling tiles, suspended ceiling grids, fluorescent light diffusers and reflectors, piping, duct, and much more can be recycled. Markets for this material might be difficult to find but are available. Managers should make recycling of construction and demolition debris part of contract language if they can.

Garage Services

Garages generate numerous types of waste that can be recycled. Markets for most of these items are readily available. Tires, lead acid automotive batteries, glycol and antifreeze, auto body parts (ferrous and nonferrous), oil, and solvents and part-washing fluid can all be recycled. Because there are so many recyclables concentrated in this one area, it is important to work with the service garage facility to institute recycling programs in this operation.

Other Recyclables

Recycling programs on college campuses include many of the same materials. Traditional items that are collected include aluminum beverage cans; steel cans; clear, green, and brown glass bottles; HDPE and PETE plastic bottles; newspaper, computer printout, and ledger paper; and corrugated cardboard boxes. The acronyms listed are universally used in the recycling industry.

There are other nontraditional recyclables that are less commonly collected. They can include mixed office paper, magazines, catalogs, and books; aerosol spray cans; paint and other plastics such as polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene; furniture; carpet; white goods (i.e., appliances such as refrigerators or stoves); clothing; and fluorescent light bulbs and fluorescent light ballasts. These lesser known materials should be included in the program if possible. Some, such as magazines and office paper, are abundant; others are not found in great quantities. Managers can consider adding less common materials based on the incremental cost to collect them. If they can be commingled with other materials already being collected, the cost of adding them to the program will be less than if they need to be collected separately.

Special Events

Special events not only need to have recycling services provided, but they also offer a chance to promote recycling in a positive and creative way. Recycling should be considered at the beginning and end of the school year when students are moving and disposing of large volumes of waste. Clothing, furniture, boxes, carpeting, and books are items to target at this time. Reusing these items should also be considered. Athletic events, especially football games, are examples of events that should be targeted for recycling, as are concerts and festivals. Student should be involved at every opportunity. Special recycling events that support a local philanthropy gives attendees another reason to “pitch in.”

Buy Recycled Products

Recycling is more than collecting materials on campus and sending them off to be processed. For an item to truly be considered recycled, it must be returned to the consumer market as a usable product. This means the institution should complete the loop by buying products that are made with recycled materials. The need to purchase products made with recycled material can be included in the recycling policy statement.

Identification of Products

Many products are made with recycled content, and more products are being added to this list every day. Identifying recycled-content products that are equivalent in price and quality to virgin products is the first step in the process.

Managers should enlist the support of other units in the identification and evaluation of recycled-content products. It may help to form a committee for the purpose of selecting recycled products. Purchasing, publications, in-house print shops, copy centers, housing, food service, and the facilities organization all have potential to purchase recycled-content products and can help with the identification and evaluation of recycled products.

Manufacturers from which the institution currently buys often make equivalent products with recycled content. Managers should check with them to see which products come with recycled content. Some products the institution is using might already have recycled content. Next, the manager should look to other vendors who sell similar products. Recycling trade magazines and recycling organizations can also be consulted for information on recycled-content products. Many states have departments that actively promote businesses that manufacture and sell recycled products.

Evaluation of Products

Involving the end user is critical to the successful integration of recycled-content products into the mainstream. The end user must be comfortable with the product. If end users have not been involved, chances are greater that they will reject the product, perceiving it to be inferior or not meeting their requirements. Products must be evaluated for price and quality for a fair comparison with the virgin product.

Barriers to Buying Recycled Products

Some systemic barriers to purchasing recycled products may exist in the institution that will have to be overcome. Many institutions have decentralized purchasing. All purchasing paperwork may go through a central office for administrative approvals, but the decision making about what product to specify and buy is done in the various departments requesting the item. This makes it difficult to educate people on the need and ability to buy recycled-content products. Education is key to advancing the use of recycled-content products. Special listing sections in catalogs and competitive pricing are helpful elements for consumers.

Specifications can pose barriers to recycled-content products. Many of the products used on campus have been used for many years, and the specifications probably have not changed in that time. Intentionally or unintentionally, these specifications may prevent the use of recycled material in a product. In the early 1970s, many inferior products containing recycled material hit the market. This made a lasting impression on people, who still believe that such products are inferior. For that reason, specifications that do not allow recycled-content material may have to be changed before recycled-content products can be bought.

Price can also be a barrier. Some recycled products are more expensive than virgin products. Some reasons for that could be the need to recover the investment in expensive recycling technology, or higher unit costs owing to low demand. Price may be a real obstacle, especially in times of budgetary retrenching.

Price preferences are a tactic that some institutions have implemented to overcome the problem of higher priced recycled products. A price preference policy allows spending a certain percentage above the price of a non-recycled product to purchase a recycled product. Many governments have effectively used price preference policies to promote the purchase of recycled products. “Piggyback” purchasing programs are offered by state governments; these programs allow public schools to buy products on state contracts. This can be helpful in overcoming pricing because of the purchasing power of large government agencies.

Waste Reduction


Although it has not received nearly the attention that recycling has, waste reduction is a primary component of an integrated solid waste management plan. As mentioned earlier, reduction is the first level of the waste management hierarchy. Many institutions have not concentrated on reduction as a result of the rush to recycle created by the many recycling laws enacted by state governments. Also, as mentioned earlier, it is hard for administrators to get a handle on how to implement waste reduction strategies. Some ideas for waste reduction follow.

Purchasing Decisions

A good place to start is to change the products that are bought. Packaging has the important purpose of protecting the product. However, some packaging is excessive or not needed at all. Managers can seek to reduce waste by buying products that are packaged responsibly. Try not to purchase products that are packaged in a wasteful way or that are packaged in material that cannot be recycled. When able, include language about packaging preferences in your request for proposals.

An area of waste reduction that is gaining attention is the use of new products or equipment that result in use of less product. Concentrated janitorial products that are packaged in bulk are an example. New painting application equipment drastically reduces that amount of paint that is used and wasted. Products that are naturally based or less harmful to the environment can also be purchased.

Often chemicals are purchased in larger quantities because prices are lower when the chemical is purchased in bulk. Many times these chemicals are never completely used and must be disposed of. Disposal of excess chemicals is expensive, but the high cost of such disposal is rarely calculated in the cost of purchasing in bulk.

Computers and Computer Systems

The advent of computers in the workplace was heralded as the beginning of the paperless office. Those in the recycling business know that nothing could be further from the truth. Reducing the amount of paper generated by computers can have a dramatic effect on waste reduction efforts.

Printouts from computers create enormous amounts of paper on our campuses. Reducing people’s reliance on printouts is a difficult task, as people have developed the habit of printing everything. Changing this mind-set involves both using the computer technology more efficiently and educating people on ways to do this.

Computers can be programmed to reduce waste, but many reports are formatted in a wasteful way. Leader sheets and trailer sheets can often be eliminated or reduced. Formatting of reports can also be changed. Encourage users and programmers to put as much on a page as possible.

Computerized administrative systems can replace paper forms in almost every aspect of university life. Student academic transactions, personnel transactions, and departmental transfer of funds or services are examples of activities where electronic processing of transactions can eliminate the need for paperwork. These systems are usually university-wide systems, but the process can be applied across the local area. File servers and local area networks allow access to and sharing of data in ways that can eliminate the need for printed reports. New reproducing equipment can store electronic images, allowing users to request reproductions of all or parts of what they need and in any quantity.

Universities are putting operations that used to be paper-based on the Internet at a breakneck pace. Everything from e-procurement systems to enterprise-wide human resource systems now use the internet or university computing systems to process transactions that once relied on paper. Electronic bank deposits, followed by electronic pay stubs and benefits statements, are examples of the conversion of paper processes. The recycling program coordinator should be a champion for these efforts at source reduction. One very important thing to remember is to discourage people from printing out information from forms that are completed on Web sites. With the advent of free or inexpensive PDF writers, almost anything done on the Web or enterprise computer system can be saved to a PDF file for people’s personal records. If people are still printing out electronic transactions, much of the waste reduction benefit of these systems is lost.

Online, cloud-based collaboration systems also offer an opportunity to reduce waste.  Much like other digital efforts, the urge to print out items can reduce waste reduction effectiveness.  Recent emphasis on print management systems that track and allocate printing resources within departments and to students can dramatically reduce printing.  Some implementations of print management systems have reduced printing up to 30-40%.  Unique to facilities management, is the use of mobile devices in asset management or CMMS that eliminates the need to print out work orders or allows remote access to items such as operations manuals, cut sheets, and drawings that use to have to be printed out to be available to technicians on the job site.

Less high-tech waste reduction strategies are also available. Double-sided photocopying is the most well-known way to reduce paper use. Diligent updating of mailing lists, greater use of routing lists for reports, and read files that circulate information are just a few examples of actions that can be taken in the office to reduce waste. An alarming development in recent years is the proliferation of junk mail received in the office. People should be encouraged to have their names removed from mailing lists. Recycling coordinators can also take the lead in developing programs that reuse items that otherwise would be thrown away.



Solid waste management on campus is increasingly more complex and demanding. Environmental regulations require extensive expertise to ensure compliance and proper disposal of waste. Students, faculty, and staff demand progressive and responsible handling of solid waste. For these reasons, it is important to examine waste disposal practices and look for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.



1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. July 1992. Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1992 Update. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

2. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. September 1986. Understanding the Small Quantity Generator Hazardous Waste Rules: A Handbook for Small Business. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

3. Fishbein, Bette K., and Caroline Geld. 1992. Making Less Garbage: A Planning Guide for Communities. New York, NY: INFORM.

4. Hegberg, Bruce A., Gary R. Brenniman, and William H. Hallenbeck. June 1992. University and College Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Center for Solid Waste Management and Research.

Recycling Books

Bowden, Rob. 2001. Waste, Recycling, and Reuse: Our Impact on the Planet (21st Century Debates).

Greenstein, Rosalind and Yesim Sungu-Eryilmaz. 2004. Recycling The City: The Use And Reuse Of Urban Land.

Inskipp, Carol. 2005. Reducing and Recycling Waste (Improving Our Environment).

Lund, Herbert F. 2000. McGraw-Hill Recycling Handbook, 2nd Edition.

McCorquodale, Duncan, Cigalle Hanaor, and Lucy Siegle. 2006. Recycle, The Essential Guide.

McKenzie-Mohr, Doug and William Smith. 1999. Fostering Sustainable Behavior, An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing.

McKinney, R. 1995. Technology of Paper Recycling.

Porter, Richard C. 2002. The Economics of Waste.

Spilsbury, Louise.  2006. A Sustainable Future: Saving And Recycling Resources (Geography Focus).

Weinberg, Adam S., David N. Pellow, and Allan Schnaiberg. 2000. Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development.

Recycling Periodicals

Biocycle: Journal of Composting and Recycling

Recycler’s World (includes a full list of associations and publications)

Resource Recycling Magazine 503-233-1305

Waste Age

Industry Government, and Environmental Associations

The Aluminum Association

The American Cartridge Recycling Association

American Forest and Paper Association

American Plastics Council

Can Manufacturers Institute

Centre County Solid Waste Authority


The Container Recycling Institute

Environmental Defense

Environmental Protection Agency

Glass Packaging Institute

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries

Penn State University’s Recycling Program

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