Banner reading "Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses in 2023, As assessed by Atlas Zero Waste Certification." A person riding a compost bike at Cal Poly Humboldt is shown.

We are excited to release the third annual list of Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses in the United States (as assessed by PLAN’s Atlas Zero Waste Certification® Program)!

As always, when releasing a Top 10 list, we want to focus on the pros and cons of campus 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 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 assessment framework focuses on systemic impacts. Without further ado, read on for profiles of this year's Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses!

Note: If you are interested in Atlas Zero Waste Certification but find the cost to be a prohibitive factor, we want to hear from you! Please submit a request to our Movement Building Fund, also linked in the Certification Application Form.

Left: Students at a campus climate rally; Right: Students gathered around a solar finder for solar energy research

Bar Harbor, ME I 350 students I Private | COA’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • 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

Berkeley, CA I 41,900 students I Public | UC Berkeley’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 65.6% – BRONZE
  • Scope 2: 69.4% – BRONZE

UC Berkeley

  • 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: Students staff bins at events to help attendees reduce waste
Right: Residents get help keeping donatable goods, compost and recycling out of the landfill during move-out

Arcata, CA I 5,336 students I Public | Cal Poly's full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 63.5% – BRONZE
  • Scope 2: 71.4% – SILVER

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt

  • Cal Poly Humboldt seeks to build a culture of zero waste while integrating waste minimization into its policies, operations and sustainability programs. It was the first public university in California to phase out the sales of plastic water bottles. The Reusable Office Supply Exchange (ROSE) is a student-run source for free, lightly used classroom and office supplies donated by the campus and broader community. New students can find lightly used clothing and household items at the campus pop-up thrift shop, donated by last year’s students when they moved out of the residence halls during the annual Donation Dash. Leftover food from the campus dining hall is recovered and re-distributed through the campus food pantry. Humboldt also composts pre-and post-consumer food waste as well as paper towels from its restrooms.

Left: A student showing off the new Generation Conscious refillable laundry detergent dispenser.
Right: A group of Compost Friends – students who educate their peers around composting.

Williamstown, MA I 2,152 students I Private | William's full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 58.7%
  • Scope 2: 67.3% – BRONZE

Williams College

  • Following the completion of its first Atlas assessment in 2020, Williams College conducted zero waste visioning sessions with stakeholders from across campus, created a Zero Waste Action Planning Group and wrote the college’s first Zero Waste Action Plan, which was informed by its Atlas assessment and grounded in high level goals outlined in the college's strategic plan.Its zero waste programs include strong e-waste collection and disposal efforts, zero waste written into its updated sustainable building policy, a robust move-out program at the end of the academic year led by the Center in Learning in Action in partnership with two local community organizations, a compostable to-go program, improved waste bin infrastructure, and a new Zero Waste Events Guide. Zero waste programs with deep student engagement include Compost Friends (peer-to-peer compost education in dining halls during First Days), an online module for incoming First Years focusing on sustainability and highlighting zero waste, and strong zero waste efforts integrated into the student run Goodrich Coffee Bar.

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

Northfield, MN I 2,000 students I Private
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

  • 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

Haverford, PA I 1,300 students I Private | Haverford’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 63.8% – BRONZE
  • Scope 2: 59.4%

Haverford College

  • 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: Students tabling at a SewWhat event; Right: Waste Not community tag sale using supplies from move out

Middletown, CT I 3,069 students I Private | Wesleyan's full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 64.5% – BRONZE
  • Scope 2: 57.8%

Wesleyan University

  • Wesleyan University has several established waste-reduction initiatives. The Sustainability Office pioneered WesThrift, a student-run free thrift store and rental project, and SewWhat, the campus’s free tailoring program. In addition, the University has made strides to reduce waste including a removal of paper towels in dorms, a campus-wide reusable to-go container service, and Waste Not, a student-run collection of essential supplies during move-out and a fall community tag sale.

Left: Campus Clean Up Day 2021; Right: Green Game Day 2021

Storrs, CT I 32,100 students I Public | UConn’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • 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 MacShare, ran by students

St. Paul, MN I 2,146 students I Private | Macalester’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 53.2%
  • Scope 2: 65.4% – BRONZE

Macalester College

  • 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 collection

Lowell, MA I 17,800 students I Public

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.

Other Atlas News and Updates