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What is the U of M doing to curtail waste?

zero waste team

There are several campaigns and intiatives on the U of M campus that seek both to reduce the amount of waste we produce and to divert the waste we do create from landfills. 

Zero Waste is an initiative that seeks to decrease university waste generation and divert waste products from landfills. The ultimate goal of Zero Waste is just that - to eliminate all waste from landfills, redirecting to either recycling, compost, or reuse.

Our Recycling department’s job is to manage the waste that is produced on campus. This means providing sustainable options for waste collection. Currently, our university employs the quad system for waste collection: one bin for recyclable cans and bottles, one for newspaper, one for office paper, and one for trash. This system diverts a significant amount of waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. But our recycling system hopes to step up their game in the near future, and get on the organics collection train. This would update the quad system: there would now be a bin for all organics (including food and food-related items, such as serving dishes, silverware and napkins), a bin for all paper (newspaper and office paper), a bin for cans and bottles, and one trash that goes directly to the landfill. This system would divert up to 1500 tons of organic material from landfills, saving the university around $120,000 a year!

The UMN ReUse program is a campus initiative that collects gently-used, unwanted items from around campus and gives them new life. The program collects furniture, office supplies, clothes, lab equipment, instruments, school supplies, cleaning products, bicycles - pretty much anything you can think of - from university departments and residence halls, and stores it all in the ReUse warehouse. During the week, university departments can shop at the warehouse to find discounted prices on items they need for classrooms and labs. The warehouse is also open to the public on Thursdays. Finally, each year during Welcome Week the ReUse warehouse packs up its goods and trucks them over to TCF Bank Stadium, where it sets up a Free Store for UMN students. This store takes unwanted items collected from last year’s dorm residents, and lets new residents choose any items they want for free! The ReUse program diverts truckloads of perfectly usable items from landfills and trash heaps every year, and gives the items a new home.

What can I do to help?

Here are some ways you can contribute to the Zero Waste goal:

  • Be mindful of what you throw away! Take the extra second to put your waste in the correct collection bin, keeping in mind that anything in the trash bin goes directly to a landfill or incinerator.

  • Don’t hoard! ReUse director Todd Tanner says, “Don’t save things just because you think you might need it later.” These items, he explains, sit for months and years until they become outdated and unusable and have to be thrown away. If you rarely use an item, consider donating it so that it can reach its most efficient level of use.

  • Use reusable containers! M Dining provides reusable takeout containers for use in the dorms, which can be washed and reused instead of using a new one each time.

  • Think about serving sizes when taking or ordering food. Don’t take more than you can eat - you’ll just end up throwing it away.