Macalester students running a local produce pop-up, “MacShare”
Last year, when we released our first annual Top 10 list, we shared some critical self-reflection on the pros and cons of releasing a list like this.
We are hesitant to play into the trope of campus competitions and we have been openly critical of these in the past. For example, this Instagram post covers our complicated feelings about recycling competitions. We are aware that competitions often don’t incentivize the types of system change we need to turn the tide on the ever-growing production of single-use disposable plastics and the demands that the latest IPCC report places on all of us to build systems that effectively reduce consumption at the systemic level. Campuses often use competition platforms that don’t call for systemic changes as a method of greenwashing their overall sustainability efforts by highlighting an objectively small accomplishment in the grand scheme of their overall sustainability efforts. However, We believe that PLAN’s new assessment framework focuses on systemic impacts.
For more information on how this assessment is structured, please see last year’s Top 10 Announcement and the full text of our critical self-reflection on this topic. If you would like to explore the Atlas Zero Waste Certification® for your campus, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping those reflections in mind, we’re excited to share the profiles of the Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses (as assessed by Atlas).
Left: Students at a campus climate rally
Right: Students gathered around a solar finder for solar energy research
- Scope 1: 62.4% – BRONZE
- Scope 2: 83.0% – GOLD
College of the Atlantic
- College of the Atlantic is the highest ranking campus assessed by the Atlas Zero Waste™ project so far! They are the only campus to reach Silver-level Certification, and the only campus to have their Scope 2 system qualify for a Gold-level badge!
- COA redefines the traditional campus approach to waste management as “Discarded Resources” management, allowing them to see all materials on campus as resources that require effective management strategies to mitigate disposal. The Discarded Resources department incorporates significant student leadership roles to manage surplus property systems, plastic reduction strategies, compost collection and management, and much more! In addition to many well-established “Discarded Resources” strategies and initiatives, COA has a number of unique projects that make them stand out, including composting toilets inside residence halls, and vending machines that contain re-packaged leftovers from meals in the dining halls for students to access sustainable midnight snacks. In November, 2019 COA became the first college in the country to sign the Campus Pledge to Break Free From Plastics, committing to the elimination of all single-use disposable plastics by 2025!
Left: Students conducting a Waste Audit in August 2018
Right: Chou Hall Zero Waste Initiative tabling
- Scope 1: 65.6% – BRONZE
- Scope 2: 69.4% – BRONZE
- The Cal Zero Waste Department, a part of Facilities, has multiple staff and student employees that manage zero waste programs and services on campus, including recycling and composting and the expansion of standardized bins and signage to all buildings on campus. They also perform a number of education and outreach efforts, and help coordinate material reuse efforts.
- The student Zero Waste Lab and Zero Waste Research Center at UC Berkeley research and implement upstream strategies for reducing campus waste, with a focus on purchasing, redesigning products, creating behavior change incentives, and instituting closed-loop “circular economy” waste systems.
- In April, 2020, the University of California system pledged to eliminate all non-essential single-use plastic with viable alternatives by 2030.
Left: Signs from the No Impact Challenge, where students carried around their waste for a week!
Right: Student with a Green2Go reusable container in the dining hall
Carleton College doesn’t have a scorecard because their assessment was performed as part of Atlas Zero Waste’s pilot program, prior to the development of the scorecard. Scope 1 & 2 were not assessed during the early pilot phase of Atlas.
- Carleton College has a number of successful waste reduction initiatives: a campus-wide reusable to-go container program (Green2Go), standardized waste reduction bins and signage, an annual collection of reusable items during move out and a “Lighten Up Garage Sale” during move-in weekend, a “Free and For Sale Frenzy” pop-up consignment shop, and a campus surplus property program. Carleton also has some very unique strategies for waste reduction, including an annual pop-up repair fair, compost collection bins in bathrooms for items like paper towels, a “trash talking” program that provides funding to student organizations in exchange for their time volunteering at athletics and other large events on campus to help attendees sort trash properly, and a “Custodial Waste Busters” committee that provides the opportunity for custodial workers to meet about and work on solutions for waste reduction strategies.
Left: HaverFarm stand on campus; Right: Haverford’s (Re)use store
- Scope 1: 63.8% – BRONZE
- Scope 2: 59.4%
- Haverford College has a number of sustainable campus operations, including a comprehensive Sustainable Purchasing Policy that places great emphasis on reducing consumption through responsible purchasing and eliminating unnecessary purchases altogether. The campus makes a number of reuse, repair, and recycling options available to its students, such as a (Re)use store, reusable to-go ware program, Makerspace, and battery and hard-to-recycle material collection bins. Dining Services disposes of all pre- and post-consumer food waste in an aerobic digester, affectionately named “Munchy Crunchy, Grinds Up Your Lunchy”. Two campus groups, (The Council on Sustainability and Social Responsibility, and the student-run Committee for Environmental Responsibility), collaborate on environmental initiatives such as zero waste and community education.
Left: Campus Clean Up Day 2021
Right: Green Game Day 2021
- Scope 1: 62.7% – BRONZE
- Scope 2: 58.1%
University of Connecticut
- The University of Connecticut has several established zero waste programs managed by the Office of Sustainability and its undergraduate intern team. Each semester, the Office dedicates interns to focus solely on waste reduction projects, like the annual EcoMadness and RecycleTHON competitions in residence halls. Other programs managed by the Office include electronic waste collection locations, the Green Piece reusable to-go ware program, and Green Game Days where patrons are guided by “trash talkers” to sort their waste into the correct waste stream. The University’s Dining Services is committed to reducing food waste through initiatives such as food recovery and trayless dining. In addition, the campus manages many of its Scope 1 items through a strong surplus property system.
- Following completion of its Atlas Stage 1 assessment, UCONN formed an EPAC Work Group to analyze the results of its Atlas report and create goals for the campus moving forward.
Left: Dining Hall compost collection
Right: Local produce stand, ran by students
- Scope 1: 53.2%
- Scope 2: 65.4% – BRONZE
- Macalester College has achieved some impressive feats with their zero waste initiatives. Most notably, they have thoroughly standardized their scope 2 bins, earning them the number one position across all other Scope 2 scores. Across campus, their standardized collection bins are able to prevent nearly every assessed hazardous and universal waste material from going to landfill. They also have a student organization that provides local produce and dry bulk goods at weekly pop-up sales on campus. Macalester also has an impressive student-run Free Swap – a space that is open daily for everyone on campus and in the surrounding community to share and exchange used goods.Macalester holds the highest compost score of our assessed campuses so far! Standardized compost collection exists at all dining locations in both front and back-of-house capacities. This collection includes all of the disposable dining ware that the campus distributes. Much of their food waste is used as pig feed for the local pigs at Barthold Farms.
Left: UML’s mascot, Rowdy the River Hawk, next to bin signage
Right: Move out program
UMass Lowell doesn’t have a scorecard because their assessment was performed as part of Atlas Zero Waste’s pilot program, prior to the development of the scorecard.
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
- UML has a number of well-established waste reduction programs managed by the Office of Sustainability, including compost initiatives, surplus property, and an extensive system to collect hard-to-recycle materials like electronics, batteries, lightbulbs, etc. Most electronics destined for recycling are dismantled in-house through an on-campus electronic waste recycling program to retain the highest value for material recovered. UML encourages on-campus programs and departments to utilize their “Greener Giveaways Guide” to limit disposable swag in favor of sustainable and durable gifts and products.
Left: Campus Free Store
Right: Students with a full head of celery found in a dumpster
- Scope 1: 63.4% – BRONZE
- Scope 2: 53.9%
University of Louisville
- The University of Louisville has had a Zero Waste Committee in place since 2013 that has led the campus through a number of strategic initiatives. UofL has implemented a “mini-bin” trash collection system in offices, and increased recycling and pre and post-consumer compost collection across campus. They also have a reusable to-go container program in the dining hall, a Food Recovery initiative that collects food weekly from multiple locations, and multiple educational and awareness raising campaigns like “Weigh the Waste” to encourage food waste reduction. The Student Activity Center on campus has the Cardinal Cupboard campus food pantry, and a student-run Free Store!
- In the Spring of 2021 UofL became the second campus to complete Stage 2 of the Atlas Zero Waste project and publicly published a Strategic Vision for Zero Waste. The vision includes a series of proposals to hire additional staff to improve materials management infrastructure on campus, expand the campus surplus property program and reusable to-go ware availability on campus, and establish a number of other key initiatives.
Left: Students composting in the dining hall
Right: Sustainability office tabling
- Scope 1: 57.9%
- Scope 2: 57.8%
University of Vermont
- As UVM’s website says, they were recycling before it was cool. UVM has a Recycling and Zero Waste Office that manages or helps to coordinate a number of established programs like the campus recycling and compost collection system, the EcoWare reusable to-go container program, a barn full of university surplus property, multiple campus collection points for “Techno Trash” recycling for materials like batteries and lightbulbs, and supports a robust green building policy that requires the majority of building construction and demolition waste be reused or recycled.
- UVM was the first campus to explore the Atlas Fellowship program with PLAN in its pilot stage, helping to build the Fellowship program that guides the Atlas Assessment process today.
Left: UW’s 2019 Trash-In event
Right: Surplus storage unit
- Scope 1: 58.5%
- Scope 2: 55.5%
University of Washington
- The University of Washington has committed to three target actions under its Strategic Plan Goal IX: 10% Solid Waste by 2025 – divert compostable waste from recycling and landfill, implement low-waste campus kitchens, and reduce single-use disposable items. Currently, each of its approximately 40 dining facilities offers both front-of-house and back-of-house composting, and UW Recycling ensures consistency and standardization in color, style, signage, and placement of its 3-bin waste collection system campus-wide.
- Housing & Food Services Sustainable Dining initiatives include its robust food recovery program, partnering with the off-campus organization Food LifeLine and the on-site Food Pantry. All to-go ware is compostable, including dining ware distributed by national brands such as Starbucks. *With some exceptions due to supply chain issues*
- The campus also offers many options for reusing and repairing Scope 1 items. All campus departments are required to use UW Surplus, which makes items available to students as well as staff members. In addition, the UBike program rents out bicycles for an academic quarter to students at low cost, all campus members can access the library’s Computer Vet service for software troubleshooting, and multiple HRM collection locations are mapped out around campus.
Do you have case studies from schools or names of schools that have reduced or eliminated single use plastic bottles in dining facilities?
Yes! Last Spring, one of our Fellows at the University of Louisville was able to negotiate a switch to canned water in the dining halls. You can also refer to the Break Free From Plastic Pledge page to view a map of other campuses who have committed to eliminating single-use plastics.