Closing the Loop on Waste at Penn State
Solid waste isn't a stream that starts in one place and ends in another. It's a loop of valuable resources.
Penn State is committed to "closing the loop" on its solid waste through a program we call möbius.
It's waste management—with a twist.
Penn State diverts 65% of its solid waste from landfill. With campus-wide composting, we'll reach 75%.
What's a möbius?
In 1858, German mathematician August Möbius gave a strip of paper a half twist and joined the ends to create an elegant loop—a mysterious, continuous surface with only one face. The Möbius loop, like Penn State's waste system, has no beginning and no end.
Is this what people call "zero waste"?
That's a term that means different things to different people. Sometimes it means using a lot and throwing away a lot, but finding novel ways to dispose of waste. At Penn State, we certainly want people to recycle (and compost!)—but as a last resort. More importantly, we want people to reduce and reuse.
What are the most important things I can do?
First, help make the loop as small as possible. Reduce what you use, and reuse what's left. (This is really hard, for all of us.)
Second, think before you throw something away. There really is no "away"—that's just another word for landfill—so we keep making it easier and easier to recycle and compost. In 2013, Penn State is adding organic waste collection to ALL of its recycling stations at University Park—everywhere you see a möbius.
The BIG Numbers
Through reduction, reuse, and recycling, we're closing the loop on waste at Penn State. That's möbius.
Take a closer look at statistics on reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Reducing what and how much we consume is the most difficult part of waste management. But it's the most important. Penn State takes pride in the programs and efforts taking place to reduce waste at the University, but we know we've only just begun.
Penn State Food Services has not only reduced the size of the plates used in the dining halls; they support local vendor purchasing, donate leftover foods to Meals on Wheels, and train students and staff on sustainable practices. Read more about the efforts the dining halls are cooking up.
Penn State Purchasing handles the procurement of everything from furniture to lab equipment on PSU campuses. Purchasing Services continually seeks opportunities to maximize purchasing value by making wise choices that benefit both the University and the environment. Read more about "green" purchasing at Penn State.
In 2010, Penn State Office of Physical Plant, Procurement Services, and the Smeal College of Business launched an ambitious collaborative effort: to develop a new standard for carpet purchasing, installation and removal that would reduce the first cost by 3-5% and the total cost of ownership by an estimated 20% and ensure 100% of Penn State carpet never sees a landfill.
The case study for the Smarter Carpet Initiative provides more information.
Annually, Penn Staters recycle over 200 tons of plastic bottles (approximately 7.6 million water bottles). In the United States, only about 24 percent of disposable plastic bottles are recycled. At that rate, approximately 600 tons of bottles are sent to the landfill - sitting there for hundreds of years.
Learn more about hydration stations and where the nearest one is to you on campus.
Paper Cut: 33% of American waste is paper. To reduce the amount of paper you use, just follow these two easy steps. First, choose double-sided printing for multiple pages. Second, change your default margin settings from 1.25" to 0.75" to save 5% more paper (according to the Mueller study and the Penn State Green Destiny Council). If you are flooded by catalogs, stop the overflow by contacting www.catalogchoice.org
After reduction, reuse is the second most important element of waste management. It is critical at the personal and institutional level.
Trash to Treasure
Each year, Penn State averages 190 tons in move-out waste—the largest two-day waste stream produced at Penn State's University Park campus. Trash to Treasure recycles 42 percent of that move-out waste annually.
How it works:
Unwanted items are collected from residential students in April and sold to benefit the local United Way. Collection barrels for donations are placed in residence halls during the last week of spring semester. Specific areas in the dorms are designated for rugs and furniture.
The Trash to Treasure sale is held each May at Beaver Stadium. Penn State and United Way volunteers sort the goods and man the sale.
Making it count
The 2008 sale generated about $50,000 for the local United Way agencies. Almost 75 tons are diverted from our landfill annually. Over 4 tons of food were donated to local emergency food programs. For more information, visit the Trash to Treasure site.
Furniture Re-use Program
The Furniture Re-use Program, headed by the Office of Physical Plant, began in 2008 when Beam Hall was renovated. An office can get rid of their furniture by contacting Jim Brown and a pick-up time will be organized. Units interesting in finding materials can also contact them to visit the 12,000 warehouse, located on East College Avenue by the Nittany Mall, and choose the furniture they would like. The program is environmentally and financially beneficial. The furniture gets a second life and is saved from landfills.