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PSU waste sort reveals opportunities
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: June 10, 2013



This spring, Portland State University staff sorted through 690 pounds of campus garbage to find out what portion of materials could have been diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting, or avoided altogether by using durable goods. 

Of the sample that was sorted, 35 percent could have been composted, and 13 percent could have been recycled in the standard metal, paper and glass recycling bins on campus. To-go cups and containers made up another 10 percent of the waste, which could have been avoided all together through the use of durable mugs and to-go containers. Only 26 percent of the waste was actual waste that has no other place to go than the landfill. 

Many other items in PSU’s waste stream could also be avoided though procedural changes. For example, restroom waste, largely made up of paper towels, is not accepted in Portland recycling or compost systems, and switching to hand driers in restrooms could greatly reduce the amount of restroom waste produced. 

The sorted landfill-bound waste was collected from a variety of campus buildings that included administrative offices, classrooms, food-service operations, and lab spaces. The project team used information from PSU’s Space Analyst to identify a sample that would represent the broader PSU campus. 

The sort team was made up of employees from Community Environmental Services (CES), the Campus Sustainability Office, and Facilities and Property Management. The event was also featured in Sustainable Business Oregon.

CES produced a final report with several recommendations for PSU to improve waste diversion and reduction efforts. Recommendations included the following (see report for full list): 

  • Increase compost collection and education in departments, retail vendors on campus, and at catered events.
  • Include compost collection in custodial and food service contracts.
  • Enhance recycling infrastructure across campus, including signs and standardized bins.
  • Provide recycling education to campus community through orientations and staff trainings.
  • Target plastic film, rigid plastics, e-waste, batteries, and toner cartridges for increased recovery.
  • Raise awareness of PSU's ReUse Room
  • Encourage vendors and departments to use durable and reusable rather than disposable containers.
  • Explore options for replacing restroom paper towels with efficient air hand driers.
  • Institutionalize and provide incentives for campus-wide adoption of reusable mugs and bottles in place of disposable cups.  
  • Enhance promotion of water bottle refill stations.

“This project greatly improved our understanding of institutional behaviors around materials management,” said Jenny McNamara, PSU’s sustainability manager. “Moving forward, it helps us prioritize waste minimization efforts by illuminating the opportunities for targeted education and programmatic improvements.” 

CES is a research and service unit within the Center for Urban Studies at Portland State University. The unit employs 15-20 students annually and partners with organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to provide high quality research, technical assistance, data collection and educational outreach services in the areas of solid waste minimization, recycling and program evaluation. 

Read the full report here (PDF).