Emory community makes progress on 'zero landfill waste' goal

By Kristen Kaufman, OSI Zero-Landfill Waste Intern | Emory Report | April 16, 2019

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Zero waste ambassadors pose at the recent Taste of Emory event, where they helped attendees learn how to properly sort their waste.

A year after its launch, Emory’s 2018 Waste Management Policy has already led to a measurable increase in the amount of campus waste that is diverted from area landfills. Emory seeks to divert 95 percent of campus waste from municipal landfills by 2025 through standardization of all indoor and outdoor waste bins, removal of desk-side waste service, and expansion of community education and engagement. 

From January 2018 through December 2018, Emory’s campus diverted 70 percent of its waste from landfills, an increase from 59 percent diverted during fiscal year 2017, before implementation of the policy.

This 2018 percentage includes landfill diversion from all buildings on Emory University’s campus that were subject to the waste policy. The landfill diversion rate conservatively accounts for contamination that was not recyclable. In 2018, a total of 6,699 tons of waste were generated and 4,669 tons were successfully diverted from landfills.

The rollout of the policy has been supported with a series of more than 130 presentations, tabling events, trainings, and meetings across campus since July 2017, as well as the development of a peer-to-peer outreach group called the zero waste ambassadors. The growing group of over 120 students, faculty and staff ambassadors has been trained on the policy to help attendees at campus events properly sort waste and to educate peers in their networks about waste diversion and reduction.

“The participation of the entire Emory community in recycling and composting, along with eagerness to learn about zero landfill waste across all dimensions of the university, is vital to making these landfill diversion numbers a reality,” says Veronica Nitkin, an Emory senior who co-manages the ambassador program as an intern in the Office of Sustainability Initiatives.

Programs highlight landfill diversion

Existing programs also incentivize increased landfill diversion. Each November at Emory is marked by a fun competition encouraging recycling efforts around campus. Hosted by Emory Recycles and Emory’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives, the Building Recycling Competition works to unite the actions of faculty, students and staff in order to inspire more recycling and composting across campus and to reward the building that has shown the most improvement between years. 

The 2018 winner for total recycled and composted material was Evans and Few Halls with 14,487 pounds of diverted material collected from the building, an increase from only 4,520 pounds of material in November 2017. Residents of the building were awarded $3,000 and used the award to purchase pizza box collection bins to pilot in both buildings, as pizza boxes are large and often fill up current bins in residence halls, causing overflow.

Another community program is Emory Point Recycles Day. At the beginning of April 2019 – Earth Month at Emory – OSI and Emory Recycles partnered with Emory Point and area waste vendors for the community recycling day, which collected 762 cans of latex paint, 275 lightbulbs, over 7,200 pounds of personal documents for shredding, 9,742 pounds of electronics, and 1,630 pounds of miscellaneous household items, clothing, and shoes. Emory partners with this group two times a year to help campus and community members divert their hard-to-recycle materials from landfills. 

Donate, recycle during student ‘Move Out’

With the end of the school year comes another major effort to divert waste from landfills. Emory’s annual student Move Out begins on April 29 for all residence halls on the Druid Hills and Clairmont campuses. Donation trucks and bins, recycle bins, compost bins and landfill dumpsters will be placed around campus to make it convenient for students to move out smoothly and easily place items in the correct containers to be recycled and/or composted rather than landfilled.

Student residents will also be able to donate their clothes, school supplies, toiletries, non-perishable food and furniture. The donations from this program will benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“I make it a challenge to use up all my food by the end of the semester,” Nitkin says, reflecting on her yearly routine for moving out for summer. “Wilted salad greens are great for omelets and soup, and I always seem to have extra lentils and ketchup that I use to make a lentil ‘meat’ loaf! Cleaning out my fridge is a great study break and it saves me from having to do it all at in the last couple of days when I want to be eating out with my friends to say good-bye,” says Nitkin. 

Sentiments such as Nitkin’s are emblematic of what has helped to make Emory’s Waste Policy a success so far. Participation from everyone in the Emory community is key to reaching Emory’s 2025 vision goal of 95 percent landfill diversion.

 “So often, when people are trying to take positive actions, it’s hard to see the impact,” says Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives. “I hope the whole Emory community recognizes how every one of us who is sorting and reducing waste is making a huge difference.” 

To get more involved, learn more about the Emory’s Zero Landfill Waste initiatives, sign-up to become a Zero Waste Ambassador, and volunteer at upcoming zero-landfill waste events.