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Waste Reduction


Princeton continues to seek and test innovative solutions 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 6: Total Waste (Including Recycling) Generated
Total waste
From 2006 to 2010, overall campus landfill waste decreased by 13 percent.

Goals, Strategies & Progress

Goal: Reduce overall waste from campus.


  • From 2006 to 2010, overall campus landfill waste decreased by 13 percent, from 842 to 732 pounds per capita (faculty, staff and students). When comparing 2009 and 2010, waste declined by 2.5 percent. The most precipitous annual drop (69 pounds per capita) occurred between implementation of the Sustainability Plan in 2008 and 2009.

Strategy: Reduce hand towel waste by transitioning to proportioning dispensers. 


  • By converting bathroom hand towel dispensers to non-electric proportioning versions, paper towel usage has decreased about 14 percent per capita since the project was implemented in fiscal year 2008. Cumulatively, some 1,750 miles of hand towels have been saved. In the past year, paper towel usage increased slightly — from 1,818  to 1,895 feet per capita, a 4 percent increase.

Strategy: Reduce paper usage. 


  • The University purchased about seven fewer tons of paper in fiscal year 2011 than 2010 (69 fewer tons than in 2008), avoiding the use of an estimated 25 tons of wood products and the emission of 20 tons of CO2.
  • Through the "Print Less" initiative spearheaded by the Office of Information Technology and the University Library, the number of sheets of office paper printed in printer clusters and public libraries has decreased by 22 percent, from 11 million to 8.6 million sheets, since fiscal year 2009.
  • The average amount of paper used by the University's Print and Mail Services decreased from 6.9 pounds per order in fiscal year 2010 to 6.2 pounds in fiscal year 2011. This was accomplished in part by maximizing cutting configurations in order to increase page yield per sheet.

Strategy: Reduce corrugated delivery box waste associated with University orders by participating in the OfficeMax reusable box program.


  • Princeton's Purchasing Department continued to provide OfficeMax with reusable boxes for office supply deliveries in 2011, avoiding the use and disposal of about 470 boxes per month.
Figure 7: Total Waste (Including Recycling) During 20 Days of Year-End Activity
Total waste 20 days
The amount of landfill waste collected during the 20-day period of move-out has decreased from 77 pounds per capita in fiscal year 2006 to 59 pounds per capita in 2011.

Goal: Increase reuse and recycling. 

Strategy: Increase household recycling to 50 percent by 2012. 


  • Since 2007, the household-items recycling percentage has increased from 38 percent to 45 percent.
  • Campus recycling guidelines were updated, and 500 copies were posted in restrooms and common rooms throughout residence halls.

Strategy:  Increase donation and recycling options during the 20-day period of year-end move-out.


  • The amount of landfill waste collected during the 20-day period of move-out has decreased from 77 pounds per capita in fiscal year 2006 to 59 pounds per capita (faculty, staff and students) in both fiscal years 2010 and 2011, representing more than a 23 percent decrease (see Figure 7).* 
  • Donation collection sites for student move-out have expanded from six in 2008 to 19 in 2011 with the continuation of four "super sites" accepting furniture, clothing, school supplies, books, and unopened food and toiletries.

*NOTE: The baseline year has been updated to 2006 from 2001 to better track changes that took place following the adoption of the Sustainability Plan in fiscal year 2007 and to conform with the requirements of the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System (STARS), a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance development by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. To better align the tracking of move-out waste with overall annual waste, move-out data now includes recycling waste and is now being reported in per capita terms; in fiscal year 2010, only move-out landfill waste was reported.

Increase reuse and recycling options for items including electronics, office furniture and dorm mattresses.


  • The University’s "Surplus Program," coordinated by the Purchasing Department to facilitate reuse and recycling, resulted in about 21 percent of discarded furniture, electronics and other specialized equipment being donated, reused or sold in the past fiscal year. 
  • A dorm mattress recycling program was introduced in spring 2011. The program is expected to result in approximately 400 mattresses — more than seven tons — being recycled each year.
  • "Curb-side" electronics recycling was expanded to the student body for items including computers, televisions, cell phones, MP3 players, PDAs and other peripherals. 
  • A total of 41 percent of printer toner cartridges were recycled in fiscal year 2011, a slight decrease from the previous year, when 43 percent were recycled, but an increase from the 2009 fiscal year, when 32 percent were recycled. (Due to an increase in the estimate of toner cartridges per bin ordered, the percentage of toner cartridges recycled in fiscal year 2010 was adjusted from 35 percent to 43 percent.)

Strategy: Recycle food waste, including cooking oil. 


  • Currently, all of Princeton's food waste — 1,116 tons in 2010 — is recycled by a local pig farmer.
  • Dining Services, Building Services and the Office of Sustainability evaluated a food waste dehydration system at Forbes College. The system proved too challenging to adopt due to cost, energy use and sanitary issues related to utilizing dehydrated meat waste. Other options continue to be evaluated.
  • 100 percent of waste frying oil produced by Dining Services in the 2011 fiscal year (2,665 gallons) was recycled into biodiesel off site (see Figure 4). Between fall 2009, when the collection program began, and spring 2010, 70 percent, or 1,901 gallons, of collected waste oil was recycled.

Strategy: Employ a 95 percent construction debris recycling policy and encourage a greater percentage of recycled debris on large projects.


  • The Office of Design and Construction took steps this past year to apply the University's 95 percent construction debris recycling policy for major projects to smaller projects, by identifying potential local waste/recycling haulers.

Goal: Reduce overall chemical usage in building maintenance.

Strategy: Transition to "blue-cleaning" equipment that cleans with water to reduce the need for cleaning chemicals.


  • The total volume of cleaning chemicals purchased decreased by 30 percent between fiscal year 2010 and 2011.
  • Over the past year, four additional ionizing floor cleaning machines and five additional hand-held ionizing spray bottles were purchased, bringing the totals to nine floor cleaning machines and 11 spray bottles. The equipment, used for general purpose cleaning, uses ionized water instead of cleaning chemicals. 
  • A new device, the Orbio 5000-Sc, was installed in the Frick Chemistry Laboratory on a pilot basis. The Orbio converts water and salt to a nonchemical safe cleaning agent and degreaser.

What's Next

Short Term

  • Continue to evaluate on-site food waste recycling alternatives, including composting.
  • Devise a new tracking method to better quantify the amount of food waste generated per capita.
  • Increase donation opportunities through the University’s Surplus Program.
  • Increase move-out donation options for items including clothing, food, toiletries, school supplies and books, and create donation opportunities during move-out at graduate housing sites.
  • Pilot automatic hand dryer systems and carry out a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Place recycling receptacles for bottles and cans in specific dormitory rooms.
  • Develop a program to promote the purchase of remanufactured toner cartridges and the recycling of toner cartridges.
  • Assemble a cross-departmental team to expand the "Print Less" initiative.
  • Monitor the efficacy of the Orbio cleaning system and consider implementing it in other large campus buildings.
  • Consolidate all campus food waste into one centralized 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.

Long Term

  • Pilot a single-stream recycling program and compare it with the existing sorting system to determine if there is resulting behavior change and increased recycling rates.

Princeton's EcoReps toured the All County Recycling facility in Trenton, N.J., which processes the University's household recyclables.

"I was thrilled to pay a visit to Princeton's recycling facility, All County Recycling, in Trenton last fall! The other Eco-Reps and I were relieved to finally have all of our recycling questions answered and bring the new information back to Princeton to help improve our recycling systems on campus."

Chrissy Badaracco, Class of 2012, Eco-Rep

Orbio cleaner

The Orbio 5000-Sc generates a multipurpose cleaning solution on-site using tap water and salt, eliminating the need for traditional cleaners. Michael Carson, Building Services supervisor in Frick Chemistry Laboratory, demonstrates the device.


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.