University expands campuswide composting efforts; diverts 6,600 tons in 2017

Elisse Rodriguez
Release Date: 

University expands campuswide composting efforts; diverts 6,600 tons in 2017

The University of Michigan diverted more than 6,600 tons of campus waste from the landfill last year through new and existing composting, recycling and waste management efforts, resulting in a 34 percent diversion rate.

The campuswide effort, led by the Office of Campus Sustainability and campus partners Student Life, Michigan Athletics and Michigan Medicine, includes several initiatives that support U-M’s goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 40 percent below 2006 waste levels.

From zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium to changes in infrastructure to make recycling and composting easier on campus, a number of new programs were launched in 2017 that focus on increasing composting on campus.

"Student Life has been instrumental by implementing composting in all of our residence halls, which has not only reduced waste but also emphasized the culture of sustainability with students,” says Andy Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability. “We are now building off of Student Life's efforts through our Zero Waste composting program and full-service composting in some of our buildings as strategies to work toward the institution’s waste reduction goal.”

Compostable waste represents approximately one third of the material sent to the landfill at the university, even in buildings without food service, according to campus building waste sorts conducted by OCS. It includes all food waste, napkins and paper towels, compostable serve ware and utensils, coffee grounds and filters, certified compostable packaging as well as green compost collection bags.

Consistent bins & signage

Across campus, 2,700 updated composting and recycling bins have been strategically placed to divert waste from the landfill. These bins are in addition to landfill bins, and display consistent, informative signage to educate individuals on where to place appropriate materials.

“We’re optimistic that the new bins will make it easier for people to place their items in the correct bins and to reduce, and hopefully avoid, contamination,” says Tracy Artley, program manager in the Waste Reduction & Recycling Office in OCS.

Only recycling with less than nine percent contamination is accepted by the university’s recycling program. That number is even smaller for compost.

“We’re striving to reduce contamination to zero,” Artley says.

Locations with compost bins include areas with food service, those that sell items with compostable packaging or where food is consumed and those involved in a pilot program.

Zero waste program

The Zero Waste Program aims to divert at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill through recycling and composting. Offered by the Office of Campus Sustainability, the program focuses on eliminating the generation of waste at campus events.

The program provides services ranging from support for one-time events to help establishing permanent composting collection service in buildings with food service or that frequently host events. OCS staff also educates the campus community on waste reduction best practices.

Most zero-waste events across campus are supported and implemented by Michigan Catering.

In FY2017 there were 341 zero-waste events that collected more than 100 tons of compost.

Composting in Fleming

Weekly compost pickup is available in nearly 40 buildings on campus, including all University Unions and residence halls, with ongoing plans to expand to additional buildings each year.

As part of the Zero Waste Program, a pilot for a kitchen composting program was implemented in the Fleming Administration Building in 2017.

“We identified buildings on campus that have had very high engagement levels and approached them with this opportunity as an additional way to hone in on their sustainable habits,” says Anya Dale, sustainability representative with the Office of Campus Sustainability.

The risk for contamination is the largest factor that is taken into consideration when determining what buildings and programs are selected for expanded composting services, Dale adds.

Compost bins were added in each floor’s kitchen area and collect an average of 91 pounds of compost each week. The average diversion from this collection is roughly one third of what was previously sent to the landfill, supporting the estimation made by campus building waste sorts.

Michigan Dining, Student Life

Student Life has a long history of implementing waste reduction efforts, especially in Michigan Dining facilities, dating back to 1997.

Beginning in 2014 and continued today, preconsumer composting occurs in each dining hall.  The process takes the scraps accumulated before food is served, such as the skin of a potato, bones or the non-edible parts of food.

In 2017, 30 percent of waste was composted, compared to 9 percent in 2014. This was the result of performing preconsumer composting and the recently implemented post-consumer composting.

“We are continuously trying to identify opportunities to reduce waste in a variety of ways,” says Keith Soster, director of Student Engagement in Michigan Dining. “We look at each process through the flow of food, the materials we use and in residential, catering and retail spaces.”

Post-consumer composting programs were introduced in the Bursley Residence Hall in 2016, the Munger Graduate Residences in 2017 and the Sustainable Living Experience in the Oxford Residence Halls in 2017. Compost bins have been expanded to all residence dining units and in retail areas that serve prepared foods, including markets and cafes.

Michigan Dining also partners with the Food Recovery Network to donate uneaten, prepared foods to Food Gatherers, a local food bank that alleviates hunger in Washtenaw County. Since founding in 2012, 13 tons of food have been recovered, around 22,000 meals.

In FY2017, efforts by Student Life diverted more than 500 tons of waste from the landfill by composting.

Additional efforts in Michigan Dining that focus on waste reduction include smaller portions and plates, food recovery, trayless dining and zero waste in catering.

Zero Waste Michigan Stadium

Michigan Athletics reached an 88.17 percent diversion rate in its first year striving for zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium by recycling and composting.

“I am very pleased with the overall diversion rate in our first year,” says Paul Dunlop, senior facilities manager for Michigan Stadium. “I’m hopeful we can consistently reach the 90 percent diversion goal next year with further planning and a few tweaks to our operations.”

Michigan Athletics began a phased approach to zero waste during the 2016 season by sourcing and testing the durability of compostable products and packaging, and refining post-game cleanup operations to properly separate waste streams.

New bins with signage showing examples of compostable and recyclable products were added around the stadium. Fans were encouraged to place items in the correct bin to avoid contaminating the recycling and composting streams. Landfill bins are no longer available on the concourse but remain in the restrooms and back-of-house areas.

After the first six home games, U-M sent a total of 28.53 tons of waste to be composted, more than 45 percent of the total waste created in the stadium. An additional 26.71 tons of waste was sent to be recycled, leaving 7.41 tons of waste sent to the landfill.

Michigan Stadium has practiced recycling for more than 20 years and fans will continue to see Michigan Athletics’ commitment sustainability with the addition of compostable materials, Dunlop says.

Michigan Medicine recycling

Michigan Medicine is in the process of launching the Blue Wrap Recycling Program, a pilot program with a goal of reducing hospital landfill waste by recycling unique medical plastics. The program tentatively is set to launch Spring 2018 in the Children’s and Women’s Hospitals.

“We are excited about this pilot program which will focus on the operating rooms. Success of this program will primarily be driven by our ability to eliminate contamination,” says Christopher Victory, senior mechanical engineer & sustainability coordinator at Michigan Medicine.

The long-term goal of the Blue Wrap Recycling Program is to expand to the University Hospital and to the Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Additionally, Michigan Medicine’s Patient Food and Nutrition Services began preconsumer composting within University Hospital which has diverted an estimated 1,200 pounds per week from the landfill. The department has been composting in the C.S. Mott Children's and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital since early 2016.

The Office of Campus Sustainability also offers these updates on other ongoing efforts across the campus. Many of the new efforts are the result of 2016 recommendations by committees of students, faculty and staff charged by President Mark Schlissel to identify ways to advance goal progress in the areas of waste reduction, greenhouse gas reduction and campus sustainability culture.

Recommended efforts included expansion of the food waste composting program; creation of an investment fund to support renewable energy demonstration projects on campus; extending of the university's energy conservation program to include the U-M Health System, athletics and student housing facilities; and enhancing sustainability behavior change and engagement programs.

The new initiatives build on existing sustainability efforts, and support the university's broader commitment to sustainability, known as Planet Blue.



For more information:

Zero Waste Program for staff and faculty events.

Waste prevention at U-M.

Student Life Sustainability.

OCS offers resources for sustainable practices, including waste reduction and energy conservation. Request materials.

Zero Waste Michigan Stadium.