How College Campuses got Creative Reducing Waste in 2021

Colleges and universities across the country implement creative and strategic waste minimization practices during the COVID-19 global pandemic

Each year the Campus Race to Zero Waste (formerly RecycleMania) program calls for best practice case studies from campuses across the U.S. and Canada to showcase programs and strategies in waste minimization, food waste reduction, and education and awareness. The case study resource is a great opportunity to gain recognition for campus efforts to reduce waste and to share helpful information for campuses that are working on similar efforts.

Winners are recognized in four categories: waste minimization, food waste reduction, education and awareness, and a summary of waste minimization efforts over a year or more. Judging is based on criteria including creativity, transferability (how easily could the initiative be replicated), and measurable impact.

Despite the challenges campuses faced this year due to COVID-19 including increased safety policies and online learning schedules, students, faculty and staff continued their efforts to advance waste minimization and zero waste efforts on campus. Many campuses increased their social media presence, launched digital education and awareness campaigns, and also started to think ahead to ensure they could hit the ground running in the fall to refresh and restart sustainability efforts that had been put on hold due to the pandemic. Efforts to increase the use of reusable items such as beverage containers and reusable clamshells for food take-out, and encouraging reusable masks, are just a few examples.

Many campuses utilized social media to drive campus sustainability in this year’s competition.

We are excited to announce the winners for the 2021 Campus Race to Zero Waste Case Study Competition:

Waste Minimization Winner:

Food Waste Reduction:

  • Indiana University Purdue University – Launches Riverwalk Composting Pilot Program, a student‐led initiative focused on empowering residents at Riverwalk Apartments to compost their food waste.

Education and Awareness:

  • Dallas College (Texas) – Promotes zero waste with an online Zero Waste Education Hub, and modeled Zero Waste Practices in Arts, Construction and Public Health.
  • Towson University (Maryland) receives an Honorable Mention – Hosts social media education and awareness campaigns focused on waste reduction and avoidance best practices, with an emphasis on food waste and wasted food.

Summary of Waste Reduction Efforts:

Check out our top picks of how campuses overcame COVID-19 challenges:

  • Drexel University’s (Pennsylvania) dining services tackles the question – how can we support the need for student safety while minimizing the use of plastics?
  • Miami University (Ohio) raises awareness of zero waste, food waste, and recycling virtually on social media during the pandemic.
  • North Carolina State University hosts virtual focus groups during COVID, to gather information about the knowledge base on campus related to waste minimization and gain ideas on how to improve waste reduction and recycling efforts.
  • Xavier University in Louisiana launches a “Digital Recycling Awareness” campaign, due to COVID‐19 in‐person restrictions on campus, on the concept of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to influence on and off campus recycling.
Campuses got creative with how they marketed their sustainability initiatives on-campus.

Browse all 2021 Case Studies:

Waste Minimization

This sampling of graphics highlights different events campuses hosted.

Food Waste Reduction

Campuses taking creative approaches to waste minimization.

Education and Awareness

  • Austin Peay State University (Tennessee) partners with the local Green Certification Program to host an “Office Spring Cleaning” event with free secure document shredding, electronics recycling, and toner/ink recycling.
  • Central Michigan University measures the impact of educational, student‐made videos and student engagement content created during the Campus Race to Zero Waste competition.
  • Central New Mexico Community College launches online campaigns to educate and engage students, staff, and the wider community on waste reduction and recycling.
  • College of William and Mary (Virginia) develops signs, posters, and videos promoting individual behaviors that mitigate waste stream issues.
  • Dallas College (Texas) promotes zero waste with an online Zero Waste Education Hub, and modeled Zero Waste Practices in Arts, Construction and Public Health.
  • Drexel University’s (Pennsylvania) dining services tackles the question – how can we support the need for student safety while minimizing the use of plastics?
  • Edmonds College’s (Washington) hosts series promoting waste stream management education and provides resources regarding environmental justice and access to responsible waste management resources based on students’ needs.
  • Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis’s Riverwalk Composting Pilot Program is a student‐led initiative focused on empowering residents at Riverwalk Apartments to compost their food waste.
  • Macalester College (Minnesota) educates incoming first years on the environmental justice implications of waste, promote refusing waste to halt the cycle of production and consumption, and teach basic logistics of waste sorting on campus.
  • Miami University (Ohio) raises awareness of zero waste, food waste, and recycling virtually on social media during the pandemic.
  • North Carolina State University hosts virtual focus groups during COVID, to gather information about the knowledge base on campus related to waste minimization and gain ideas on how to improve waste reduction and recycling efforts.
  • The University of Texas at Dallas builds a coalition of students and sustainability‐oriented student organizations to promote waste minimization practices and increase recycling rates during the CR2ZW competition season and beyond.
  • Towson University’s (Maryland) social media education and awareness campaigns focused on waste reduction and avoidance best practices, with an emphasis on food waste and wasted food.
  • University at Albany (New York) focuses on waste reduction and access to clean water through incentivizing reusable water bottles with the Fill It Forward app while also giving back to the global community.
  • University of Michigan engages staff and students working and studying both on campus and remotely using weekly feedback, themes, challenges, and activities throughout the competition to encourage waste reducing behaviors.
  • University of North Texas students were given pouches of biodegradable confetti composed of dried flowers as a plastic‐free alternative to help prevent plastic confetti litter on campus from graduation photo shoots.
  • University of South Florida students create a social marketing campaign to increase awareness of recycling and food waste reduction on campus.
  • University of Southern Mississippi focuses on educational outreach by hosting events to help engage the campus community on sustainable practices and issues.
  • University of Washington hosts a Trash Art Contest for the campus community members to raise awareness about waste impacts on the environment.
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusestts) hosts an interactive seminar developed in collaboration with WPI’s Student Green Team to convey information and awareness on waste and recycling.
  • Xavier University in Louisiana launches a “Digital Recycling Awareness” campaign, due to COVID‐19 in‐person restrictions on campus, on the concept of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to influence on and off campus recycling.

Check out the final results of the 2021 Campus Race to Zero Waste competition

Check out all Campus Race to Zero Waste case studies

About Campus Race to Zero Waste

Campus Race to Zero Waste – formerly known as RecycleMania – is the nation’s premier waste reduction and recycling competition among colleges and universities, managed by National Wildlife Federation, and governed by RecycleMania, Inc.

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