Waste Module Content

U-M procures over two billion dollars worth of goods and services and sends almost 13,000 tons of waste to the landfill annually. As a community and as individuals we have the great opportunity to greatly reduce our consumption and waste stream with green purchasing practices, re-use opportunities, proper recycling and composting, and simply consuming less stuff. If each of us "reduces, reuses, recycles" we will be able to reach our goal to decrease waste sent to landfills by 40%. 

"An average American weighing 180 pounds generates their own weight in MSW (municipal solid waste) every 41 days." - Center for Sustainable Systems. U-M has a history of being a leader in recycling. We will need our community to commit to not only recycling but reducing, reusing, looking at new systems such as composting to reach our waste reduction goal.

Our Progress

Our Guiding Principle: We will pursue purchasing, reuse, recycling, and composting strategies toward long-term waste eradication.

Our Goal: Reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill by 40% by 2025.


Our Progress: The University is reducing tonnages sent to the landfill in innovative ways such as a food waste composting pilot, student move-in and move-out programs, zero waste events, pre-consumer food waste composting, and expansion of recycling.

Despite these efforts, our waste diversion rates have remained flat. In FY2017, approximately 12,780 tons were sent to the landfill, significantly higher than our 7,900-ton goal. Since 2006, our building area has increased nearly 28.6% and the campus population has increased nearly 17%. Expanding participation in recycling, combined with reductions in consumption and increases in composting will be needed to reach our goal and offset our growing campus. 

Reducing & Reusing

Students_Move_Out_InitiativeThe best way to reduce waste sent to the landfill is to not generate the waste at all. We can do that by reusing materials and rethinking about our purchases with the waste stream in mind. For example, over 65% of students and over 80% of faculty/staff regularly use a reusable water bottle or coffee mug. Institutionally, are now providing attractive water bottle refill stations in many buildings and providing all first-year students with a reusable "Planet Blue" water bottle. Here are some more opportunities to reduce and reuse:

  • The Property Disposition Office collects University-purchased equipment for re-use. In FY2013 they resold $2.4 million worth of used equipment--and that is with more than half of all students and a third of staff-faculty reporting never using the service. Check it out for your next equipment need.
  • Move-Out Program - During spring move-out there are designated areas for students to donate excess items such as clothing, shoes, packaged food, household items, and more. Last year the program collected almost 12 tons of items for reuse.
  • Green Purchasing - The University of Michigan Procurement Services promotes the acquisition of recycled content, environmentally-friendly, or bio-based products.  A comprehensive list of “green suppliers” and tips can be found on their website.
  • Planet Blue water bottles - All first-year undergraduates receive a reusable water bottle when they arrive on campus. After one year on campus, double the number of students reported using a reusable water bottle every day.
  • Student Groups such as A2 Share and ECO (Environmental Crafts Organization) promote opportunities to reduce our consumption through emerging "sharing economies" and creative re-use of "trash" respectively. Students from the Food Recovery Network (FRN) collect unused food from our residential dining halls to donate to area food banks - recovering over 6,000 pounds last year.

Recycling & Composting

At least 15% of what is currently being thrown away at U-M could actually be recycled in our bins and additional items, such as electronics, can be recycled through special programs on and off campus. In 2017, 34% of waste was diverted from landfills, including 1,400 tons of compost. 

  • Recycling Bins are located all over campus. Paper, plastic containers, metal, and glass bottles or jars can all be recycled in the same bins. Currently, 70% of students and 90% of faculty/staff report regularly recycling these items. Follow these simple steps when setting up your recycling area to make it easy and convenient to recycle:
    1. Place a recycling bin next to EVERY trash can.
    2. Use picture-based clear signage (see www.recycle.umich.edu to see options and request copies).
    3. In public areas, use blueliners in recycling bins to clearly differentiate from the trash.
  • Recycling - Just what is recyclable? All non-soiled paper (including cardboard), aluminum, metal, glass bottles and jars, aseptic containers (such as juice boxes), and plastic containers (must have and hold a shape and be larger than a lid or cap) #1,2, 4-7.
  • Composting - Composting is the management of the decomposition and reuse of organic matter. Michigan Dining composts pre-consumer food waste (“prep waste”). U-M Grounds also composts the yard waste from campus. Additional composting efforts occur throughout the University for "post-consumer" food waste (plate-waste) at locations such as Ross School of Business and the Law School. Event composting is supported by the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office and the Student Sustainability Initiative.
  • RecycleMania is an annual competition among colleges and universities nationwide during winter term to be the best recycler as well as an intra-campus "Battle of the Buildings" competition. Sign your building up to participate in January!
  • Health System - In certain areas of the UM Health System, the standard recycling program may differ (such as patient areas or outlying clinics). Please look at signs for instructions and contact the Environmental Stewards with questions. UMHS also has several unique additional recycling programs, such as recycling unsoiled clinical blue-wraps through special bins outside of operating rooms.
  • Questions? - If you have questions of how to dispose of anything on campus from old CDs, to batteries, to office furniture, just check out www.reycle.umich.edu or email recycle@umich.edu.