2023 Campus Race to Zero Waste Winners: Diverting Waste from Landfills

Participants in the 2023 Campus Race to Zero Waste divert more than 29.4 million pounds of waste from the landfill through donation, composting, and recycling efforts. 3.4 million college students, faculty and staff across 200 college campuses kept more than 205 million single-use plastic containers out of the landfill.

The National Wildlife Federation and RecycleMania Inc. are excited to announce 16 colleges and universities as winners for this year’s Campus Race to Zero Waste Competition. Three winners were selected in each major category, representing small, medium and large campus sizes, with individual winners announced for special categories. This year’s competition was sponsored by Rubicon, the leading digital marketplace for waste and recycling and a provider of innovative software-based solutions for businesses and governments worldwide.

More than 3.4 million college students and staff across 200 campuses competed to reduce their waste footprint through minimization efforts by donating, composting and recycling more than 29.4 million pounds of waste. As a result, they kept more than 205 million single-use plastic containers out of landfills and prevented the release of 29,108 metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equal to avoiding the annual emissions from 6,128 cars.

“The impact these colleges and universities have on reducing their waste footprint is tremendous and almost hard to comprehend. To prevent the release of more than 29,000 metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and more than 200 million single-use plastics out of landfills is staggering and truly something to be proud of,” said Kristy Jones, Director of Higher Education Programs at National Wildlife Federation. “The collective efforts to minimize waste and reduce stress on natural resources is inspiring and creating a better world for wildlife and the environment.”

“Congratulations to all participating campuses,” says Stacy Wheeler, president and co-founder of the competition. “Annually the Campus Race to Zero Waste competition provides key tools and opportunities that inspire, empower and mobilize colleges and universities to improve their efforts to benchmark and promote their zero waste practices.”

Winners from each category include:

Zero Waste Category:

  • Small campus – Macalester College, Minnesota
  • Medium: No campuses named in this category for the 2023 competition
  • Large campus – California State University Dominguez Hills, California
    • 2nd Place – Kent State University, Ohio

Food Organics Category:

  • Small campus – Macalester College, Minnesota
    • 2nd Place – Aquinas College, Michigan
  • Medium campus – Loyola Marymount University, California
    • 2nd Place – Bowling Green State University, Ohio
  • Large campus – Stanford University, California
    • 2nd Place – American University, District of Columbia

Diversion Category:

  • Small campus – Macalester College, Minnesota
    • 2nd Place – Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Wisconsin
  • Medium campus – Loyola Marymount University, California
    • 2nd Place – Youngstown State University, Ohio
  • Large campus – University of Ottawa, Canada
    • 2nd Place – University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Per Capita Recycling Category:

  • Small campus – Neumann College, Pennsylvania
    • 2nd Place – Coe College, Iowa
  • Medium campus – Loyola Marymount University, California
    • 2nd Place – Wilkes University, Pennsylvania
  • Large campus – Boston College, Massachusetts
    • 2nd Place – Stanford University, California

Race to Zero WasteOne Building Category:

  • Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania

Electronics Recycling Category:

  • Per Capita – Black Hills State University, South Dakota
  • Total Amount Recycled – Rutgers University, New Jersey

GameDay Basketball Category:

  • Diversion – The Ohio State University, Ohio
  • Per Capita – University of Southern California, California

Rebuilding Student Networks in 2023

For the 2023 competition, campuses were eager to relaunch and strengthen waste reduction efforts that were halted or put on hold due to the pandemic. Many schools focused their efforts on rebuilding their student volunteer networks, and food recovery and single-use plastics reduction programs continued to be a priority for many institutions.  

In 2020, the program (and competition) changed its name from RecycleMania to Campus Race to Zero Waste to better reflect the purpose of the program – to help colleges and universities work toward zero waste on campus. In the spirit of the program’s stronger focus on zero waste, starting in 2021, the Campus Race to Zero Waste transitioned from awarding the competition winners physical awards (typically made of recycled content materials) to awarding them electronic badges to more easily share with their campus communities by posting on websites, and featuring in email and social media.

In early 2022, the Campus Race to Zero Waste program launched its first certification opportunity for colleges and universities, called the Plastics Reduction Partner program. This new certification recognizes higher education institutions taking action to reduce the purchase and use of single-use plastics on campus; there are three levels of certification available – Bronze, Silver, and Green.

For more details about CR2ZW categories and winners, please visit the 2023 Scoreboard.

Opportunities to Participate in the Campus Race to Zero Waste

For colleges and universities ready to compete to reduce their waste footprint, registration for the 2024 competition opens in September 2023. Other opportunities to engage with the CR2ZW include:

  • Share a best practice case study of your waste reduction efforts on campus – zero waste, food waste reduction, education and awareness, and more! Winners are recognized and all case studies are featured online and shared via social media. Case studies are due June 21, 2023.
  • Become a Plastics Reduction Partner. This new certification program is for colleges and universities taking action to reduce their purchase and use of single-use plastics on campus. The Plastics Reduction Partner certification program features three levels of recognition – Bronze, Silver and Green, is eligible for AASHE STARS innovation credit, and is an action of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement.

Lowering the Waste Footprint

Why Are These Campus Actions So Important? Lowering the Waste Footprint Helps Campuses Tackle Two of the biggest Threats to the Environment – Pollution and a Warming Climate.

Management and disposal of solid waste material, especially plastics, has become one of the most challenging environmental problems of our time. The entire world has shifted, in the past 30 years, to single-use plastics as a way of eating, drinking, washing and packaging merchandise that goes straight into the waste stream, on to landfills and ultimately into the natural environment – with the accumulated waste lasting for decades and posing a hazard to living creatures including humans. It is clearly a problem for people and for nature and wildlife that is expanding globally including in the U.S. Plastics of different sizes are being ingested by billions of creatures – and are killing and/or harming endangered species at sea and on land; it is estimated that ingestion of plastic kills 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.

Additionally, through campus efforts to increase their recycling and reduce their food waste, colleges and universities are making a positive impact on the climate.

Campus efforts to reduce the purchase and use of new products results in less energy needed to extract, transport and process materials to manufacture these new products. The purchase of materials made of recycled materials is also key. One of the most popular categories of the competition each spring is the Food Organics category; more than 150 campuses compete each year in this category. The main goal of the Food Organics category is to recognize campuses that are successfully implement food waste minimization activities that address overage including portion control techniques and preparing food to order. The secondary focus for this category is how food waste recovered is managed, such as donation to people, used for biofuels, and composting.

According to Food Rescue, American food production has a tremendous energy resource cost – 10% of the nation’s total energy budget, 50% of its land, and 80% of all U.S. freshwater consumption is dedicated to the production and distribution of food.

Today over 1,100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have participated in the Campus Race to Zero Waste (formerly RecycleMania) program, diverting more than 1,129 million pounds of waste through waste minimization efforts, donation, reuse, composting, and recycling. Through these efforts, campuses have also prevented the release of nearly 1.70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is comparable to removing over 352,000 gas engine passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

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. Campus Race to Zero Waste has been helping campuses minimize waste and improve their recycling efforts, since its launch in 2001.

Questions? Contact CR2ZW@nwf.org

Follow Campus Race to Zero Waste on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Published: May 4, 2023