Campuses Divert 105 Million Single-Use Plastics

2.7 million college students, faculty, and staff across more than 150 college campuses kept more than 105 million single-use plastic containers out of landfills

Thirty colleges and universities have been recognized as winners for this year’s Campus Race to Zero Waste Competition, a program of the National Wildlife Federation and RecycleMania Inc. Three winners are selected in each major category, representing small, medium, and large campus sizes, with individual winners announced for special categories.

A person holds a white bucket with a handmade sign on it that details how to properly compost.
Bard College.

More than 2.7 million college students and staff across more than 150 campuses competed to reduce their waste footprint through minimization efforts by donating, composting, and recycling more than 30.7 million pounds of waste. As a result, they kept more than 105 million single-use plastic containers out of landfills and prevented the release of 23,174 metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equal to avoiding the annual emissions from 5,515 cars.

“Each year college and university competition participants benchmark their waste collection on campus through the Campus Race to Zero Waste and identify opportunities to improve efforts to reduce food waste and the use of single-use plastics, and to increase diversion from the landfill,” said Kristy Jones, director of higher education programs at National Wildlife Federation. “These collective actions to reduce the campus’s waste footprint are inspiring, and are making a tangible positive impact on the environment.”

“Our 2024 winners show why colleges continue to be among our nation’s leaders on sustainability,” says Stacy Wheeler, president and co-founder of the competition. “These schools run the gamut — urban and rural, public and private, large and small. Their success shows that waste reduction in any type of community is possible, and is a testament to every student, faculty and staff member who made these accomplishments happen.”

Winners from each category include:

Zero Waste Category

  • Large campus: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (no small or medium campuses named in this category for the 2024 competition.)

Food Organics Category

  • Small campus: Aquinas College, Michigan; 2nd place: Bard College, New York
  • Medium campus: Loyola Marymount University, California; 2nd place: Endicott College, Massachusetts
  • Large campus: Kent State University, Ohio; 2nd place: Stanford University, California

Diversion Category

  • Small campus: Macalester College, Minnesota; 2nd place: Kendall College of Art and Design, Michigan
  • Medium campus: Seattle University, Washington; 2nd place: Loyola Marymount University, California
  • Large campus: University of Louisville, Kentucky; 2nd place: University of Maryland College Park

Per Capita Category

  • Small campus: Neumann University, Pennsylvania; 2nd place: Coe College, Iowa
  • Medium campus:  Loyola Marymount University, California; 2nd place: SUNY Purchase College, New York ; Honorable Mention: United States Military Academy West Point, New York
  • Large campus: Boston College, Massachusetts; 2nd place: Stanford University, California

GameDay Basketball Category

  • Diversion category: University of Richmond, Virginia
  • Per Capita Recycling category: University of the Incarnate Word, Texas

Race to Zero Waste – One Building Challenge Category

  • Pennsylvania State University

Clean-Up Category

  • Drexel University, Pennsylvania

Electronics Recycling Category

  • Per Capita Recycling category: Northwest Missouri State University
  • Total Pounds Recycled category: Rutgers University, New Jersey

Green Events

A flyer promoting a Campus Race to Zero Waste event.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • Agnes Scott College, Georgia and University of Massachusetts Amherst (under 50 attendees)
  • University of Michigan Dearborn and Villanova University, Pennsylvania (under 100 attendees)
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of South Carolina Upstate (under 500 attendees)
  • Iowa State University (under 1,000 attendees)
  • Coastal Carolina University, South Carolina and University of California, Irvine (more than 1,000 attendees)

Campus Race to Zero Waste Program Developments

The “Green Events” category was a new addition for the 2024 Campus Race to Zero Waste competition, giving campus participants the opportunity to track waste at campus events and be recognized for their efforts to minimize food waste, use less single-use plastic, and divert waste from the landfill.

A table features a basket of bagels and signage about food waste.
University of South Carolina Upstate.

Additionally, during the 2024 competition, many campuses utilized the Campus Race to Zero Waste February to March competition timeframe to showcase waste minimization activities and opportunities on campus and focus on awareness and engagement. The real-time ranking feature of competition’s main categories gives campus partners an opportunity to share progress with their community to help keep up momentum and engagement.

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 our categories and winners, please visit the 2024 Scoreboard.

A group of people wearing reflective vests and hard hats pose for a photo at a waste management facility.
Macalester College.

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.

Visit the National Wildlife Federation Media Center at

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.