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The Beginning: Trash-In and Paper Recycling

On February 26, 1970, what was billed as the World’s First Trash-In was held on the University of Washington campus. Students were invited to bring trash from home and the University campus to special bins in front of the HUB that day. The items were then separated into different categories (paper, plastic, glass, and metal) and returned to the original producers with the request that they be reprocessed. The trash-in emphasized the waste associated with American life—and it helped Seattle become a leader in recycling.

The UW has been recycling paper products since January 1973, when campus computer centers began recycling computer tab cards and printout paper. In January 1975 the recycling effort expanded to include ledger paper and newsprint. The expansion of the program came about because of an office paper recycling effort initiated by Physical Plant, which created a work study position to conduct outreach with office staff about recycling procedures and provide informational stickers for office recycling boxes.

The 1980s: ASUW Support for a Comprehensive Plan and The Waste Not Washington Act

Recycling efforts remained constant throughout the 1980s, with Disabled Persons Shuttle (Dial-a-Ride) drivers splitting their time between providing shuttle rides and picking up and sorting recyclables. But these efforts came under scrutiny in 1988 when the UW Institute for Environmental Studies, with the support of WashPIRG (Washington State Public Interest Research Group), produced a comprehensive plan for waste management that it proposed to the UW Administration. The Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) Student Assembly announced its support for the proposal and began placing recycling containers and encouraging the UW Administration to create a comprehensive recycling program. Students were also very active in promoting recycling during Earth Day demonstrations.

In August 1989, Washington State passed The Waste Not Washington Act, a comprehensive solid waste bill designed to bring about significant changes in the way Washington citizens handled their garbage. The bill called for waste reduction and source separation to become the fundamental strategies of solid waste management and established an aggressive state goal of achieving a fifty percent recycling rate by 1995.

The 1990s: Public Place Recycling, G.O.L.D. Plan, and Additional Recyclables Collected

The UW Solid Waste Management Office and ASUW began the Public Area Recycling Program in November 1990. The recyclable materials were collected on campus and transported to the Bryant Annex Shed, where minimal sorting took place. In 1992 the paper sorting operations were moved from the shed to a vacated Mailing Services building that was located on the site of the current West Campus Garage. Additional staff members were hired so that paper could be sorted by grade, thereby increasing its value in the marketplace. In April 1994 the UW Solid Waste Management Office opened its Recycle Center at Union Bay Place and moved all paper sorting operations there.

In January 1991, Washington State created the G.O.L.D.(Government Options to Landfill Disposal) Plan as a strategy for waste reduction and recycling at state government facilities. A fundamental premise of the plan was that state government had a primary role in helping Washington State reach its goals of achieving a fifty percent recycling rate and reducing the generation of hazardous wastes by fifty percent by 1995. The primary objective of the G.O.L.D. Plan was for state agencies to develop G.O.L.D. Programs that would ensure the wise use of resources at all state-owned facilities, coordinate the Buy Recycled Program at the agency level, provide the highest levels of collection possible for recyclable materials at the agency level, provide incentives and education needed to achieve maximum levels of waste reduction and recycling at state government facilities, and increase communication between state employees, Washington state citizens, the Legislature, and local jurisdictions regarding waste reduction, recycling, and procurement actions. In 1991, the University of Washington developed and submitted its Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan to the Department of Ecology as a first step in complying with the requirements of the G.O.L.D. Plan.

In the early 1990s, additional materials were collected for recycling: aluminum, plastic, glass, cardboard, phonebooks, landscape waste, wood pallets, metal, and batteries. In addition, a packing peanut reclamation and reuse program was started. The University received King County’s 1992 Recycle Week Outstanding Achievement Award in recognition of the campus’s recycling efforts. In 1995 the Department of Ecology honored the University for its outstanding achievements in developing and implementing its G.O.L.D. Program. In 1997 the University began recycling florescent tubes and diverting hazardous materials associated with florescent lighting, and then two years later, the University started its computer recycling program.

2000-2003: Husky Football Recycling and a Smarter Can for Campus

During the 2001 Husky Football season, UW Recycling and UW Solid Waste, in cooperation with Intercollegiate Athletics, conducted a pilot program for recycling in the parking lots during tailgating. The pilot was a success and each year since, the program has expanded and improved, with a current recycling rate of approximately 30 percent. The most recent changes include collection of food waste by all stadium vendors for composting and distribution of recycling bags for cans, bottles, and cardboard to tailgaters to promote recycling and increase the amount of material collected. The success of the program is a result of the cooperation and hard work of many University departments and the thousands of enthusiastic football fans who make recycling a part of their pre-game party.

As part of the University’s growing effort to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, all outdoor garbage cans were replaced with an environmentally friendly can in 2003. More than 400 combined litter/recycling receptacles, dubbed Smart Cans, were placed in high-traffic areas around campus. These 36-gallon stainless steel cans feature a lower portion for litter and an upper chamber for cans and bottles. This unique upper repository is labeled for recycling and has a spring-loaded trap door to allow for easy access and servicing. The Smart Cans are manufactured by using 87 percent recycled steel and the polyethylene liners are made of 70 percent recycled plastic.

2004-2005: Composting, Reuse Programs and the City of Seattle Paper Ban

UW Recycling started a compost program in 2004 with the collection of coffee grounds and pre-consumer vegetative food waste from the UW Club and three Housing and Food Services (HFS) kitchens. The program now includes almost all restaurants and coffee shops on campus. In 2006, staff members began participating in the voluntary, self-serve office/kitchen compost program. The following year HFS began offering biodegradable serviceware and collecting post-consumer food waste and packaging. The current focus is expanding the compost program at the University of Washington Medical Center’s food service facility.

The Scram: Student Moveout program started in 2004 as a partnership between UW Recycling, UW Solid Waste, and Housing and Food Services. The goal of this event is to divert reusable goods, such as food, clothing, and household goods, to partner charitable organizations and provide recycling options for other unwanted materials from the approximately 5,000 students who move out of the residence halls at the end of the academic year. Approximately two weeks before the end of spring quarter, Recycling & Solid Waste sets up eight Donation Stations at residence halls across campus. Most of the partner charitable organizations collect their donations regularly from each Donation Station throughout the event. Recycling & Solid Waste collects bulky items and the remaining donated items, monitors the locations on a daily basis, and breaks down the stations at the end of the event. During Scram 2008, almost 13 tons of material were diverted for reuse or recycling instead of going to the landfill.

In response to the City of Seattle’s ordinance banning paper from the waste stream beginning January 1, 2005, UW Recycling developed an outreach campaign designed to bring awareness to the campus community regarding paper recycling. The Stop-Think-Recycle campaign was created to educate the campus regarding the impact of the paper ban. In late 2005, UW Recycling continued to address the paper ban legislation and educate the campus community about the impact of the new law by visiting every workstation on the Seattle campus and providing staff with a Personal Recycle Bin (PRB), a self-service desk-side paper recycling collection box. The goals of the building-to-building distribution were to ensure that University staff and faculty were aware of the Paper Ban legislation and provide an easy way to recycle discarded paper. More than 8,000 PRBs were distributed.

UW Recycling partnered with Housing and Food Services (HFS) in early 2005 to launch single-stream recycling in the residence halls. On each floor there are recycling containers into which the residents put their paper, cans, bottles, cardboard and other recyclables. Custodians empty the containers into single-stream recycling compactors that are at each residence hall’s loading dock.

The Husky Neighborhood Cleanup program was established in 2005 by the University in cooperation with the City of Seattle to relieve the alleyways in the Greek housing area and surrounding neighborhoods of excess trash that accumulates at the end of the academic year. The following year, a cleanup was added at the start of the academic year. In 2007, UW Recycling and UW Solid Waste provided oversight of the operation and developed a plan, in partnership with the UW Public Relations office and Seattle Public Utilities, to provide four-day collection efforts that included a recycling/reuse alternative for certain materials. On each of the four collection days at the start of the academic year, a trash compactor truck and a UW Recycling truck are staged north of campus in the Greek housing area, with staff on hand to accept materials for disposal or recycling. On each of the four collection days at the end of the academic year, a trash compactor truck, a UW Recycling truck, and a charitable organization’s collection truck are staged, with staff are on hand to accept materials for disposal, recycling, or donation.

2006-2008: Classroom/Conference Room Recycling, E.Media and New Systems

To increase the amount of recyclables diverted from the waste stream, UW Recycling began placement of classroom and conference room recycling and waste bins in all campus buildings in 2006. These bins are labeled for cans/bottles, mixed paper, and waste and are available in two sizes, depending on the size and use of the room in which they are placed.

The e.Media (electronic media) recycling program was launched on the Seattle campus in April 2007. Designated bins are staged in buildings across campus for collection of non-confidential electronic media, including CDs, DVDs, videotapes, audiotapes, personal cell phones and pagers, small electronics, inkjet and bubble jet printer cartridges, and batteries. The program is expanding, with bins being added to additional buildings.

In December 2007, UW Recycling and UW Solid Waste reorganized into Recycling & Solid Waste and closed the Recycle Center at Union Bay Place. Administrative and operational functions were consolidated at the Bryant Building and Bryant Annex Shed and the Recycle Center sorting staff were reassigned to the Magnuson Health Sciences Building as the Green Team. The Green Team is responsible for moving full mixed paper toters from each floor of the building to the loading docks for service and replacing the full toters with empties. They also service the Smart Cans located in the court areas exterior to the building and maintain cleanliness of the loading docks.

In 2007, the City of Seattle approved a resolution establishing the goal of recycling 60 percent of the waste produced within the city by 2012 and recycling 70 percent of the waste by 2025. The city’s goal has been adopted by the University, which had a 57 percent recycle rate in fiscal year 2010. In the upcoming years, Recycling & Solid Waste will work to meet or exceed the 70 percent recycle rate by continuing to expand our existing recycling programs and creating innovative new ones. Recycling & Solid Waste will also focus on promoting personal environmental responsibility and action, because participation in and commitment to responsible waste management by each person on campus is essential for the University to reach its recycling and sustainability goals.

In 2008, Recycling & Solid Waste transitioned to a new collection system for recyclable paper. Sorting of paper by grade (white, newspaper, and mixed) is no longer required on campus and all paper is collected as a mixed paper stream in green bagits. The bagits are emptied by Custodial staff into large mixed paper toters at each building’s loading dock. The toters are serviced with a compacting collection truck at the loading dock by Recycling & Solid Waste collection staff. The paper is consolidated into a compactor at the Bryant Annex Shed and then transported to a sorting facility in South Seattle.

UW Tower opened in 2008 and is the first Seattle campus building to receive new Self-Service Personal Recycle Bins and Mini Waste Bins. Recycling & Solid Waste provided a set of these bins to all UW Tower staff for their workstations. Staff are responsible for emptying their bins into centralized recycling and waste containers that are serviced by Custodial staff. These Self-Service Personal Recycle Bins are a durable alternative to the cardboard Personal Recycle Bins that were distributed as part of the Stop-Think-Recycle campaign in 2005. The Personal Mini Waste Bins reduce office clutter because they can be placed on a desk or hung on the side of the Personal Recycle Bins and they decrease waste because they do not require plastic liner bags.

2010-2015: MiniMax Program expansion, Outdoor Solar Kiosks and City of Seattle Ordinance

In 2010, The MiniMax Program started to include public area composting when updating building waste infrastructure.

In 2012, UW Recycling piloted high-tech waste collection Solar Kiosks in Red Square for composting, recycling and garbage. Due to the success of the program, it was expanded to HUB and 30 other locations.

In Spring 2013, Recycling & Solid Waste, in cooperation with Custodial Services, piloted a restroom paper towel composting program in Allen, Suzzallo, and Odegaard libraries. In just 11 weeks, nearly 8 tons of paper towels were diverted from the landfill. Because the pilot was so successful, restroom paper towel composting is now a standard element of the MiniMax program. This is another initiative that will help the UW reach the goal of 70% waste diversion by 2020.

Effective July 2014, the City of Seattle’s ban on recyclables in the garbage prohibited the disposal of recyclable plastic cups, glass and plastic bottles and jars, and aluminum and tin cans in the garbage. As of January 2015, the City of Seattle no longer allows food and compostable paper (including food-soiled pizza boxes, paper napkins and paper towels) in the garbage.

Looking Forward…

UW Recycling is committed to developing innovative and educational waste diversion programs. Our driving force? Achieving 70% waste diversion by the year 2020. It is our hope to continue to make strides towards diverting more and more materials from the landfill.

Some ways we are looking to do that include:

  • Educational Outreach – Expand campus awareness regarding waste reduction and recycling through robust building-to-building education, campus-wide campaigns, training programs and improved educational tools and resources.

  • MiniMax program – Minimize waste and maximize recycling by increasing campus participation in the use of self-service, deskside and plastic liner-free waste and recycling bins.

  • Building Assessments and Infrastructure – Identify needs for additional and/or improved recycling, composting and waste infrastructure throughout campus through the standardization of internal and external collection containers, signage and other educational tools and information.