PSU Logo

Recycling & Waste Management

Closing the Loop on Waste at Penn State

Mobi logo - "Close the Loop on Waste!"

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 56% of its solid waste from landfill. With campus-wide composting, we'll reach 75%. Miscellaneous plastics will get us to 85%.

What's a möbius?

German mathematician August 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. Penn State is adding organic waste collection to ALL of its recycling stations at University Park—everywhere you see a möbius.

Every building.

The BIG Numbers

PEOPLE we serve
45,783 students enrolled in 2013  —  13,000 on-campus resident students  —  12,166 faculty & staff 
SPACE we use
742 buildings (equivalent to 7 Empire State Buildings)  —  19,791,958 square feet 
WASTE we produce
14,163 tons of solid waste in 2014
WASTE we divert 
7,991 tons (1,516 elephants)  —  56% of our waste stream
100 different types of waste
WASTE diverted by adding campus-wide composting
4,315 tons of our organic waste   —  30% of our waste stream

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. Want to know more about the möbius stations in your building? Check out this handy guide on what goes where or visit the recycling page and download the composting and recycling poster.

mobius logo


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.

Mobi logo - "Reduce!"


Penn State Food Services worker chops vegetables in the kitchen.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.

Smarter Carpet Initiative

recycled carpet fibersIn 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.

Water Bottle Refilling Stations

Hydration Station sticker

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 water bottle refilling stations and where the nearest one is to you on campus.

Duplex Printing 

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


After reduction, reuse is the second most important element of waste management. It is critical at the personal and institutional level.

Mobi logo - "Reuse!"

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:

The Collection
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 Sale
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

A student works at a desk procured by the 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.


Office Composting

Along with the paper, plastic, and metal recycling stations already in your building, we're adding bins for organic waste.

Mobi logo - "Compost!"

"Is this happening everywhere?"

Waste management is a University priority, and office composting has rolled out in more than 200 buildings already. All residence halls will have composting starting in fall 2013, and it will be in every building at University Park in 2014You can check out the roll-out schedule here. You'll receive plenty of notice from your Facility Coordinator before your building starts the program. You can also post specific questions to the möbius Yammer group with your Penn State ID.

"So what about my trash can?"

It will now be a personal bin to help you carry ALL of your waste to the recycling/composting stations on your hall.

Custodial staff won't empty office cans anymore.
They'll be pulling extra bags of food waste and recyclables from the hall stations.
You can request a cardboard tray or small compostables bin with a lid for your office if you prefer that to your waste can.

"Got it. Why?"

Penn State has set an ambitious goal of sending zero waste to the landfill, and people have been requesting composting options for years now. We're well on our way.

Before 1990, the University recycled less than a ton of its waste.
Today, the University recycles more than 100 types of waste and diverts almost 10,000 tons from the landfill.

Organic materials are the only part of the waste stream that we couldn't use...until now.

Now office and residence hall food waste (and anything else that will decompose) will be collected and turned into a nutrient-rich compost.
The University now uses its waste to improve soil quality across its campus landscapes. 

So, what goes where in my möbius station?

Now that möbius has come to your building, how do you know what to put in each bin? Visit the möbius stations page to get familiar with the signage and learn a little about your waste along the way.

"I'm excited! What if I have more questions?"


How's It Work?

It’s simple. Just take compostable waste and other recyclables from your work area to the nearest recycling station and deposit in the appropriate container. It’s recommended that you take compostable waste to the station on a daily basis.

What type of waste is compostable?

Anything that is derived from a living organism (organic) will decompose. The most abundant form of organic waste is food. Soiled tissues, napkins, paper towels (all made from wood) can also be composted. Wondering what to do with that greasy pizza box from the office lunch? Compost it.

Why won’t my office trash can be emptied by the custodian any longer?

The goal of Mobius is to eliminate the only remaining component of desk side waste—organics. Along with the waste materials already being taken to the recycling station, it only makes sense to add this one small stream of waste to the process. There will be no need for desk side waste collection once the program is implemented.

What happens to the organic waste?

Organic (compostable) waste is collected from recycling stations by custodial staff and transported by Office of the Physical Plant’s waste management team to the Penn State Organic Materials Processing and Education Center (OMPEC) located next to the Mt. Nittany Expressway near Fox Hollow Rd. Here, the material is ground, blended with fodder (dried hay or feed, for cattle and other livestock) and stockpiled while nature does the rest. After a few weeks and a few turns, what was once a half-eaten ham sandwich is now a nutrient-rich soil conditioner used by Penn State crews to enhance the quality of the campus landscape.

What happens to the other recyclable materials?

Glass, plastic, metal, and paper collected from the recycling stations is taken to University Park’s Recycling Center (affectionately known as the Barpit), where the materials are sorted and transferred to the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority (CCRRA) In Benner Township. CCRRA packages the various commodities and sells them to manufacturers that use the material. 

What do I do with waste materials like cardboard and foam packaging that don’t have a receptacle in the recycling station?

Thanks for asking. There are materials that can be recycled that don’t warrant a receptacle of their own. Dry corrugated cardboard boxes for example, should be broken down and placed next to the recycling station. A complete list of recyclable materials can be found here. If you have a large quantity to dispose of, contact to arrange for a special pick-up.

Where is the program going next?

The list of University buildings participating in the Office Composting program is growing monthly. The goal is to implement the program in all buildings at the University Park campus by the end of 2014.  Get to know your möbius station and learn some tips along the way.

What if my work space has special needs and requirements?

If your work space requires special accommodations for waste and recycling disposal, please notify your building leader and


Penn State Recycling Guidelines - Downloadable PDF

Getting to know the möbius station

In your office building, there is a station that contains bins for recycling, composting and trash. Get to know what goes where and learn a few interesting facts along the way.

Composting signage


What type of waste is compostable?

Anything that is derived from a living organism (organic) will decompose. The most abundant form of organic waste is food. Soiled tissues, napkins, paper towels (all made from wood) can also be composted. Wondering what to do with that greasy pizza box from the office lunch? Compost it.
FAQ: Is chewing gum compostable? Yes it is!


Trash signage


What do I do with my trash?

Custodial staff won't empty office cans anymore. They'll be pulling extra bags of food waste and recyclables from the hall stations. You can request a cardboard tray or small compostables bin with a lid for your office if you prefer that to your waste can.
Trivia: What percentage of Penn State's solid waste is diverted from landfills? Penn State diverts 60% of its solid waste from landfill. With campus-wide composting, we'll reach 75%. Miscellaneous plastics will get us to 85%.


Mixed paper and newspaper signage


These now go in the same bin?

These were separate bins before, but now they've been combined to make room for new ways to recycle at Penn State. You can put your newspaper, envelopes, file folders and copy paper all in the same place.
FAQ: With so many of us going online to find phone numbers, what can we do with our old phonebooks? Put them in the mixed paper and newspaper bin!

Metal signage


Is there anything I should know about the metal before I toss it in?

Make sure all metal cans are empty. Rinse those that held food but no need to remove the labels.
FAQ: What do I do with aerosol cans and paint cans that aren't  empty? Contact special pick-ups for those items.


Miscellaneous Plastic signage


Is this a new bin?

Yes, this is one of the new ones added to your möbi station. All of your yogurt containers, "styrofoam," plastic take-out containers and plastic flatware can be tossed here.
Hint: Containers with mouths wider than the base are miscellaneous plastic. It's a great way to remember what goes where.


Glass signage


Is there anything I need to know about the glass I want to recycle?

Food and beverage containers (clear, green and brown) can all go in this bin. Make sure they have been rinsed if they held any food.
FAQ: What should I do with my light bulbs and lab glass? Contact special pick-up for those items.


Plastic signage


How is this different from Miscellaneous Plastic?

Plastic bottles, empty food storage bags, plastic grocery bags and any stretchy plastic packaging can go here. Make sure they are empty of any food items.
Hint: What's an easy way to remember what goes here and not in miscellaneous? The neck is smaller than the base (think of a milk jug or water bottle).


Download the full poster of items that can be composted and recycled. 

Do you have more questions about reducing, reusing and recycling here at Penn State? Join in on the conversation in the möbius yammer group or email More information and statistics can be found here. Download a copy of the recycling and composting poster here.