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Waste Reduction


Princeton is committed to reducing its total waste stream while increasing the percentage of recycling across all categories including "household" items, demolition and construction debris, and food waste.

Figure 7: Total Waste (Including Recycling) Generated per Capita

The pounds of waste per faculty, staff or student at Princeton has decreased from 891 in 2001 to 751 in 2009, a more than 15 percent reduction (140 pounds per person) in the amount of materials being sent to the landfill or recycling stations. The most precipitous drop (68 pounds) occurred since adoption of the Sustainability Plan in 2008.

Goals & Progress

  1. Goal: Reduce overall waste from campus.

    • From 2007 to 2009, overall campus landfill waste decreased by 11.5 percent (368 tons); in the first six months of 2010, landfill waste declined an additional 2.2 percent compared to the same period in 2009.
    • The University purchased 34 fewer tons of paper in 2010 than 2009, avoiding the use of 140 tons of wood products and the emission of 96 metric tons of CO2. If each saved sheet of paper was stacked, the pile would be more than 2,260 feet tall — equivalent in height to almost two Empire State Buildings. A total of 81 percent of the amount purchased was 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled chlorine-free paper, compared to 77 percent in 2009. Since 2008, the University has purchased 62 fewer tons of paper.
    • More than 80 percent (82 percent in 2009, 83 percent in 2010) of orders processed by Print and Mail Services are printed on recycled/Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. FSC certification guarantees that the print stock came from responsibly managed, sustainable forests. Recycled paper consists of either 10, 30 or 100 percent post-consumer waste content.
    • Through the Print Less initiative spearheaded by the Office of Information Technology and the University Library, the number of sheets of office paper printed was reduced by 18 percent between fiscal year 2009 and 2010. Sheets printed in printer clusters and public libraries on campus decreased from 11 million to 8.9 million. If stacked, these saved sheets would have reached the height of a 50-story skyscraper. In fiscal year 2010, a new benchmark of 9.3 million sheets per year was set with the addition of the Woodrow Wilson School student cluster printers to the print accounting program.
    • The Department of Athletics stopped printing media guides in fiscal year 2009 and now publishes them online, annually saving an estimated 1.4 million pages of glossy paper.
    • The University's goal to recycle at least 95 percent of non-hazardous construction waste materials formally was added to all construction contracts.   
    • Since implementation in 2008, some 812 linear miles of hand towels have been saved by converting bathroom hand towel dispensers to non-electric proportioning versions — a savings of 15.2 percent (see graph in sidebar).
  2. Goal: Reduce overall chemical usage in building maintenance and transition to Green Seal-certified cleaners.

    • The University has purchased five automatic ionic floor cleaning machines and several hand-held bottle sprayers, eliminating entirely the need for chemicals.
    • A total of 34 percent by volume (3,116 out of a total of 9,288 gallons in 2009) of custodial cleaning chemicals are now Green Seal-certified, with expected decreases in overall chemical usage as additional ionic floor cleaning units come online.
  3. Goal: Increase household recycling to 50 percent by 2012.

    Progress: Since 2007 the household-items recycling percentage has increased from 38 to 43 percent.

  4. Goal: Decrease the amount of landfill waste and increase the amount of total donations and recycling options during the 20 days of academic year-end events (including clothing, food, toiletries, school supplies and books).

    • The amount of landfill waste collected during the 20-day* period of move-out has decreased from 476 tons in 2006 to 387 tons in 2010, representing more than a 18 percent decrease (see graph below).
    • Donation collection sites for student move-out have expanded from six in 2008 to 18 in 2010 with the continuation of four "supersites" accepting all standard items as well as furniture.

      *Note: The 2009 report contained an error. The number of collection days reported should have read 20 days rather than 26.
  5. Goal: Expand the Ecology Representative (Eco-Rep) program.

    • The recruitment and engagement of undergraduate student ambassadors for recycling and resource conservation in the residential colleges has thrived under the direction of the Office of Sustainability, with continued partnership with Building Services and the student-based Princeton Environmental Network. There are now 25 Eco-Reps, compared to 14 in 2009 and six in 2008.
    • In collaboration with the Alumni Association and Building Services, the Eco-Reps focused recycling efforts at the fifth and 25th Reunion headquarters in 2010, and enhanced recycling efforts at the P-rade with twice as many recycling receptacles as in previous years (see photo in sidebar).
    • During spring 2010, the Eco-Reps launched a pilot residential education program (REP) on sustainability in Rockefeller College with the support of college administrators to educate freshmen. The sustainability REP is now offered on the list of optional programs for all residential colleges in both fall and spring semesters, and should help improve the recruitment of Eco-Reps.

Figure 9: Landfill Waste During 20 Days of Year-End of Activity

The amount of waste collected during the 20-day student move-out period has been steadily decreasing, including a 13 percent reduction from 2008 to 2010.

What's Next

Short Term

  • Expand year-end donation collection to include electronics.
  • Gather data on the existing surplus program and its impact on campus recycling (including electronics).
  • Propose a transition of Eco-Rep recycling and sustainability training modules in the residential education program from optional to required for all new students.
  • Continue to monitor the impact of the Print Less initiative and adjust the printing quotas as necessary to continue reductions.
  • Conduct a feasibility study of on-site food waste composting.
  • Pilot a dorm mattress recycling program.
  • Pilot a microfiber cloth cleaning program in Frick Chemistry Laboratory and Butler College with an anticipated significant reduction in water usage.
  • Continue the transition of automated floor cleaning machines to those that clean with chemical-free ionizing water and purchase additional hand-held ionizing spray bottle cleaners. 
  • Continue to track the percentage of Green Seal-certified cleaners purchased and explore options for expanding their use. Also track overall chemical use reductions as additional ionic floor cleaners come online.

Long Term

  • Consolidate all campus food waste in one container by 2012. Anticipated benefits include reduced truck traffic on campus, and increased feasibility of implementing an on-site composting operation with reusable end-products.
  • Evaluate a proposal for the elimination of 65 dumpster sites on campus in favor of centralized compactor locations. Anticipated benefits include increased campus green space, improved local air quality with transition to electric transport vehicles, reduced road maintenance, and reduced heavy load sanitation trucks from the current five to three by 2012 with anticipated reduction in fuel use by 40 to 50 percent.
  • Centralize tracking of building debris recycling data.

EcoReps Prade

Student Eco-Reps Karen Kreib '12 (left) and Leno Mena '12 enthusiastically supported recycling at the 2010 Reunions P-rade. The Eco-Reps collected cans, bottles and about 70 large bags filled with number 5 and 6 plastic cups along the route and delivered them to a recycling facility. Watch a student-produced video about this group.

Awards & Achievements
Among its Ivy colleagues, Princeton placed first in several categories in the 2010 national RecycleMania competition: the Per Capita Classic, paper recycling, bottle and can recycling, and food waste recycling. Among its peers, Princeton earned second place in the Grand Champion category.


Ion sprayer

The University has purchased several ionic hand-held bottle sprayers for general purpose cleaning, eliminating the need for chemicals of any kind. The sprayer electrolyzes water, creating unique cleaning properties that attract dirt particles from a surface and rinse them away.


Figure 8: Hand Towel Usage

Hand towel usage has decreased markedly in the last two years with the installation of non-electric proportioning dispensers in bathrooms. Some 812 linear miles of hand towels have been saved, a reduction of 15.2 percent. Click to enlarge.


Jim Elbrecht

"About 10 years ago, I began reusing large format roll paper boxes to ship our posters around campus. Soon after, I also started shipping mounted posters in reused cardboard from our press paper boxes. I feel it is better to reuse than to recycle. It also saves us money by not having to buy packing material."
—Jim Elbrecht, computer graphics specialist, Print and Mail Services 

Lesson Learned

Less waste is better than more recycling. While increasing recycling is important, reducing the overall amount of waste is more so. The University's metrics and goals now reflect that broader vision.