The Housing subcommittee suggests a comprehensive on-going campaign from the student’s point of decision to attend Penn State through the entirety of one’s on-campus residency. The campaign would help to indoctrinate the resident into the culture of the University’s solid waste management, in part by partnering with Residence Life, Admissions, and other groups to build pre-arrival awareness. Once the student arrives on campus, the EcoReps — a peer-to-peer education group — could deliver programming.

The specific focus areas of the subcommittee included educating those in all of the on-campus residences about the solid waste reduction plan and building a culture around the new collection system; reducing the volume/tonnage of solid waste during move-in and move-out periods; and developing and installing a comprehensive composting system in all on-campus residences (assuming comprehensive composting will be an integral part of the new collection system). These areas were identified due to the less than ideal collection/diversion numbers for recycling and composting in the residence halls, even after significant efforts to educate first-year students once they have arrived on campus.

Recommended goals and principles to impact Penn State’s waste stream:

Short term

  • Revised procurement standard operating procedure, which reduces onboarding of waste
  • Immediate adoption of the University’s redesign and roll-out of collection/separation areas
  • Develop a timeline/tactical plan for implementation of support activities
    • Change signage to equal the overall redesign product.
    • Add color coding and lids to existing collection areas.
    • Upgrade certain collection areas’ infrastructure.
    • Investigate the collection of “food waste” vs. “compost,” using language as an alternative strategy to reduce contamination.

Long term

  • Reduced contamination of collection streams
  • Increased landfill diversion rates
  • Increased adherence to desired culture surrounding waste management across the enterprise
  • Re-introduction of compost collection
  • Identify/implement additional avenues to reduce move-out waste (complimentary to Trash to Treasures)

Success for these goals will be measured by periodic collection/diversion measurements of recycling in the residence halls, as well as surveying residence hall students regarding knowledge and practice of sustainable behaviors.


Achieving these goals will require internal Penn State partners, including subject matter experts and educators; the Office of the President, with strong messaging development and support; the Sustainability Institute; and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. Groups to partner with externally include subject matter and industry consultants and educators; the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority; and appropriate outside vendors.

Resources needed for implementation include a comprehensive University-wide, perpetual marketing campaign; administrative support; and finances.

The subcommittee’s target date for expansion of current initiatives is August 2020.

Returns and Impacts

The initial cost to implement this campaign would include funding to replace/modify current collection sites as well as funding for print materials and signage design. To sustain this plan long-term will require $150,000 annually to fund the residence hall-wide EcoReps program. Financial benefits will include opportunities for energy reduction and behavior modification, as well as negligible return on investment for recycling, given the current global markets.

Other benefits to be expected include a highly conscientious student body/citizens caring for the environment as a lifestyle choice; student leadership development enhancing the Penn State brand; peer education in the residence halls and dining commons, student leadership development; synchronizing classroom education with living/learning experiences; and positively impacting communities external to the University. Also, the University will be able to avoid future liabilities for toxicity and end-of-life disposal.

Operationally there will be a positive impact on the morale of the Housing team, who care about doing the right thing for the environment; enhanced cleanliness in the residence halls physically surrounding the refuse/recycling centers; cost-saving opportunities in energy reduction; and a lower carbon footprint of daily operations.

Possible research opportunities include studying behaviors and behavior modification theories in the residence halls around the campaign.

These strategies should be reevaluated annually.

Benefits of the above expenditures are difficult to monetize. There will be a cost benefit for increased diversion vs. tipping fees. However, the costs are substantial and it is not anticipated that the program will be net-neutral. The real benefit will be to affirm the University’s commitment to recycling and waste reduction with each first-year class. Perpetual training/education will simultaneously be an ongoing benefit and a cost as indicated above.

The EcoRep group will also provide the opportunity to engage students in a sharable, research-oriented direction. The hands-on peer focused learning opportunities within the residence hall system are both vast and diverse.