ASU sees waste diversion programs hit by pandemic

Posted 11/17/21

Data Story

Arizona State University’s efforts to become a “zero waste” campus were greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that drove down waste produced across its …

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ASU sees waste diversion programs hit by pandemic


Data Story

Arizona State University’s efforts to become a “zero waste” campus were greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that drove down waste produced across its campuses.

But according to ASU’s Zero Waste Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2020, the university has a ways to go to meet its goals of having zero waste by 2025.

Those were among the reports highlights the lay out Zero Waste department’s goals, waste streams, year highlights and what the university can look forward to.

The report provides an overview of the solid waste program at ASU from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020. The sustainability reporting boundaries for the university include the four ASU Phoenix metro-based campuses: Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic, Tempe and West. The report also includes the College at Lake Havasu City.

ASU’s diversion rate for the year was 43.1%, which is an increase from the two years prior. The report defines diversion as purposefully opting to send post-consumer materials and goods outside the institution to be remanufactured or reused. Roughly 3,739 tons of waste were diverted and 4,946 tons were landfilled (56.9%).

“There have been dozens of efforts that have contributed to the rates over the years,” Program Manager of the Zero Waste department Kendon Jung said. “Training all staff handling waste, working with supply chains and local industry to develop new markets and developing policies to better sort the waste are some steps we have taken.”

The university had a 22% aversion rate on the year. Aversion is preventing waste from entering the institution and influencing practices affecting how waste is circulated within the school to reduce overall solid-waste output.

“During March 2020, ASU pivoted to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person events and activities were transitioned to a virtual environment, and on-campus populations were reduced dramatically. This included canceling sporting events, food service limitations — meal plans, catering, or otherwise — and physically distanced residential hall move-outs. In this transition, a significant amount of waste was reduced, impacting our per-person waste diversion, waste concentration, and the service frequency. For instance, in spring (fiscal year) 2020, commingled recycling dropped 24%, food waste dropped 21%, food donations jumped 282%, and non-dining donations dropped 98%, which is a total decrease of 677.12 tons and equal to a 7.7% reduction,” Jung said in a statement.

The review also outlined ASU’s circular resource goal. The commitments ASU made are to achieve 30% aversion and 90% diversion by fiscal year 2025, annually increase the value of diverted materials in the hierarchy of use, improve the aversion and recirculation characteristics of products and services purchased and finally reduce landfill destined single-use plastics.

“We are optimistic that ASU will achieve our zero waste goals by 2025. Much of the remaining opportunity lies in individual behavior changes,” said Kelsey Gaude, program manager of the university’s Zero Waste department. “This includes refusing unnecessary items, choosing to reuse, and as always, properly recycling or composting.”

Of the numerous fiscal year accomplishments listed in the review, the most impactful from a tonnage standpoint according to Jung was the Green Games accomplishment. ASU hosted four games among various campus sporting events. Five student organizations were assigned as Zero Waste Ambassadors, and together they assisted with the diversion of 19, 939 pounds of waste.

Jung’s favorite accomplishment from a culture standpoint was the Trading Post accomplishment, a promotion of clothing reuse and donating unwanted items. The department’s engagement team worked directly with eight different departments and organizations to engage their members with zero waste messages uniquely tailored to their respective missions.

Food waste made up 7.2% of all ASU waste streams during 2020. The department plans to reduce that number this year.

“Our analysis shows that food waste and compost is a strategic priority material. We are deploying collections in breakrooms and kitchenettes across all four ASU locations and expanding collection in residence halls. Once collection is deployed, behavior engagement will be critical to sustain service,” Materials Handler Reiven Krausse said.

West Campus had the most diverted waste of all the campuses. According to Jung the campus has the highest rate because of its large property and robust green-waste collection program.

Downtown Campus had the most landfilled trash. The campus design has a significantly smaller landscape, resulting in an almost no green-waste to be collected. As a result to almost no green-waste, the majority of waste coming out of the Downtown campus is mostly landfill and recycling.

In addition, the Downtown campus is highly accessible to the public, so much so that the boundaries between ASU and the city of Phoenix are blurred. This contributes to the contamination of the recycling stream as well as collects waste not necessarily generated by ASU.

The department now looks to the future, according to Gaude. Some new efforts we can expect to see this year are food waste and compost collection expansion in offices and new front of house food waste collection at the Memorial Union and Hassayampa dining halls.


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