Most Significant Recommendations

  • Hire a Waste Reduction and Recycling Programs Manager
    • We recommend a position be created and funded that will lead the effort to increase Penn State’s recycling rate. Penn State’s recycling rate has decreased in the past 3 years since this position was eliminated. This report contains recommendations that, if implemented, will require attention that is best achieved by hiring an individual to focus on these tasks. This position request is supported by the Spring 2019 survey results, which show a consistent request for more (and clearer, consistent) information and education on correct recycling (76% of 975 Penn State constituents responded ‘Yes’ when asked if they would like more information on the appropriate sorting of waste).
  • Hire a Sustainable Procurement Program Coordinator
    • Managing material at the front-end of the process as it enters the University system is the most effective way to reduce waste and increase diversion. Creating this position will advance this effort that currently is not an area of focus in our procurement and waste management practices.
  • Design and Implement a Reimagined Integrated Organics Recycling System
    • Organics are the largest component of current recycling but have high levels of contamination and remain the largest component of discards. This is our #1 opportunity.
  • Reemphasize Existing or Implement New Waste Reduction Strategies
  • Redesign and Launch a New Recycling Program Brand
    • The current Mobius brand is not consistently applied and is not strongly associated with recycling. Changes to the existing program provide a rebranding opportunity.
  • Leverage Materials Management as a Living Laboratory
    • Create opportunities for students and faculty to engage and advance the business as well as the science of waste management and recycling.
  • Empower a Network of Advocates Across the University
    • Include OPP’s facilities coordinators, unit sustainability leaders, and Green Teams to be responsible for recycling and waste reduction in their units.
    • Currently, the University relies on all students and employees to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle as part of how they live and work. The Task Force recommends that an individual or small group is tasked with assisting and promoting these efforts in each college and department.
  • Implement and Improve Educational and Awareness Programming
    • Continuous education is necessary for the transient population of the University and as program requirements change over time.
  • Biannually Review and Update Waste Stream Management Plan
    • Review practices biannually each March and October under the auspices of the Sustainable Operations Council so that changes can be considered and implemented before the start of the next fall semester.
  • Review and Revise University Policy AD34
    • The University Recycling Program policy should reflect those recommendations of the Waste Stream Task Force that are implemented.

These general recommendations were developed by the Waste Stream Task Force subcommittees and reviewed and recommended by the Task Force membership. The following sections summarize the specific findings, goals, and recommendations of each subcommittee.

As the university considers investment in the waste management system, the following items are priority opportunities for investment.

  • Procurement – Sustainable procurement is one of the most effective ways to reduce waste and increase recycling.
  • Organic Material Capture – Reusing or recycling organics represents the single greatest opportunity for increased diversion from the landfill.
  • Traditional Recycling – Though we are close to maximizing potential in capture of traditional recyclables, it is the face of recycling at Penn State and as such it demands investment.
  • Education and Awareness – Ongoing education of an ever-changing campus population is necessary for the investments made in any other aspects of the waste management system to succeed.
  • Innovation and Improvement – Material and waste management systems are not static. Continuous study, innovation is necessary. Funding research opportunities will facilitate future improvements and ensure the viability and relevance of our practices.

Additionally, several of the recommendations are interdependent. Pursuit of one recommendation affects, or even may eliminate, pursuit of another. First, developing an on-campus Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) as recommended below will negate the benefits of collecting recyclables from offices. Only one of these options should be pursued. Also, constructing a MRF or enhancing our relationship with the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority (CCRRA) are interdependent and affect the redesign of the recycling collection infrastructure and how recyclables will need to be sorted. Short-term changes to collection processes are needed and we recommend those be implemented because constructing a MRF or enhancing our relationship with CCRRA are long-term projects that will take years to study, construct, or implement. However, deciding to construct a MRF in the future will require additional changes to our collection process and educational programming.

Organics recycling is another area of interdependence. While Penn State has been a leader in pre-consumer food waste composting for decades, recent expansion to post-consumer collection led to problems with contamination. While retrenchment is an option, expansion offers the potential to increase overall solid waste recovery by more than 10%. An integrated system would require innovation in procurement and contracting, so that all food service items are either fully biodegradable or obviously not and continue with thorough simplified sorting and more robust processing, which could include energy recovery through anaerobic digestion. This would require partnerships with Dining, Athletics, Housing, Physical Plant, and all food vendors that operate on campus, and would likely require significant facilities investments. Designing and implementing such a system is an immediate opportunity for Living Laboratory research and education. Success would return us to national leadership and would set a model for future innovation in procurement as well as materials recovery.