plant sprouts growing in symmetry


Everything we throw away is something that we don’t need. That may seem self-evident, but combined with life-cycle thinking it means an opportunity to reduce manufacturing emissions, energy consumption, transportation, and even raw materials extraction associated with whatever object we didn’t need. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” remains a powerful hierarchy of solid waste management, but there are even more details of product and materials management, economics, and urban ecology that can receive both our research attention and our operational attention.

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Status updates

FY2023 progress

Target actions for 2023

  • Divert compostable waste from recycling and landfill
  • Reduce single-use disposable items
  • Evaluate University contracts and sponsorships as opportunities to reduce waste

Divert compostable waste from recycling and landfill

One of the main opportunities for improving waste stream sorting and reducing contamination is in the residence halls. The student population in the residence halls is largely new to campus and often has less experience with the waste infrastructure of Seattle or the UW. By educating students in the residence halls, they are also able to use that knowledge throughout their time at UW and also help encourage peers to properly dispose of items.

UW Recycling worked with Housing and Food Services to expand outreach in residence halls, including creating and distributing door hangers with waste sorting guidance to every residence hall room at the beginning of Fall quarter. Every apartment unit received a “Sorting Sustainability” brochure with similar information. UW Recycling also held eight outreach events in housing locations and on-campus dining areas, providing information on proper recycling and composting and promoting the OZZI program which offers reusable takeout containers.

UW Recycling continued to promote the “Intro to Recycling” course for all staff and faculty on the bridge learning platform, and also created an alternative training open to students using Google forms. 

Beyond residence halls, UW Recycling worked to expand the number of compost bins in buildings, including updating William Gates and Guthrie Halls to ensure adequate access to compost bins in common areas and kitchens, while also converted the building’s containers to single-stream recycling. Waste containers were also installed in two newly-constructed buildings, Health Sciences Education Building and Founders Hall.

In addition, over the past year Housing and Food Services has increased the use of compostable containers and products to reduce the amount of material in the recycling and landfill waste streams. 

Reduce single-use disposable items

UW Recycling continued conversations with UW Sustainability, HFS and Procurement about creating a Zero-Waste Task Force for the University. No specific resources to create and ensure the success of such a task force have yet been identified.

Evaluate University contracts and sponsorships as opportunities to reduce waste

Over the last year, UW initiated a competitive process for the University’s 10-year beverage contract. UW Sustainability was invited to participate in the selection process to help ensure sustainability was central to the process and subsequent contract, including opportunities to reduce plastics and single-use plastic packaging, providing energy efficient vending machines, and much more. UW Sustainability hopes to identify other large-scale contract opportunities and work with the UW’s procurement and marketing team to ensure sustainability is integral to the selection process and contracts.

FY 2022 progress

Target actions for 2022

  • Divert compostable waste from recycling and landfill
  • Implement low-waste campus kitchens
  • Reduce single-use disposable items

Divert compostable waste from recycling and landfill

To increase compost capacity on the Seattle campus, UW Recycling completed two building-wide waste infrastructure updates in FY22: Graves Hall and Graves Annex both adopted the MiniMax program in April 2022. Twelve compost bins were added to common areas and eating areas, and paper towel composting was added in 11 restrooms. UW Tower was updated to single-stream recycling in the summer of 2021 and public area bins were updated to include compost in each set which resulted in a net increase of 12 compost bins throughout the building. 

UW Recycling hosted or attended 25 outreach events which reached 2,343 people, and 715 staff, faculty or students took the “Intro to Recycling & Waste Diversion at UW Seattle” online training. They were able to participate in in-person outreach again including blue bag outreach in tailgating areas during football games, tabling several times in Local Point dining hall, and tabling for the Sustainability Fair and Earth Day. Customer-facing waste sorting signage was updated in Local Point and back-of-house waste sorting signage was created and is expected to be posted in Summer 2022. The HUB’s 3D waste sorting displays were updated in partnership with the EcoReps student group and translated signage was added.

Implement low-waste campus kitchens

HFS has implemented overproduction tracking in all kitchens, allowing Dining to refine their purchasing decisions and reduce waste from unused food. HFS also has a partnership with the UW Food Pantry, providing an opportunity to distribute food through the Pantry that would have otherwise been wasted.

Reduce single-use disposable items

UW Recycling collaborated with the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a zero waste consulting company, to create a Zero Waste Assessment Report covering all three campuses. The report was released in Fall 2021, and outlines potential long-term zero waste solutions for the university to improve sustainability performance.

The report was shared with all stakeholders and a blog post outlined key takeaways from the report. UW Recycling also presented the report to Facilities leadership in December 2021. Beyond a brief discussion on the report with the Sustainability office, UW Recycling did not have the bandwidth to meet with stakeholders to determine how to implement the changes outlined in the report.

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