Zero Waste Program
The Resource Recovery branch manages our Zero Waste Program and is responsible for the efficient reuse and redistribution of campus resources. It also supports the campus in the implementation of programs to achieve UT Austin’s Zero Waste Goal as stated in the Sustainability Master Plan (PDF).
What is Zero Waste?
Zero Waste is the reduction of waste being sent to the landfill through both upstream (pre-consumer) and downstream (post-consumer) efforts. Achieving Zero Waste upstream can mean reducing the amount of disposable products purchased or changing packaging, while achieving Zero Waste downstream can mean diverting materials to the recycling facility instead of the landfill.
UT Austin's Zero Waste Goal
The university has a goal to demonstrate leadership in both the reduction and diversion of waste with anticipated outcomes including achieving Zero Waste by 2020 and reducing per capita waste generation.
Sustainability Master Plan
The Sustainability Master Plan (PDF) has outlined UT Austin’s commitment to Resource Recovery and Zero Waste through the following strategies and outcomes:
- Right-size solid waste and recycling infrastructure
- Develop reuse/recycle programs for special and/or not readily recyclable materials
- Develop programs to encourage highest and best use of materials
- Convert major campus events to zero waste
- Expand food waste avoidance, donation programs and organics diversion campus-wide
- Promote UT Austin as a national model for waste diversion for a research university by 2020
- Reduce hazardous waste generation
- Adopt a resource recovery plan by 2018
- Achieve a Zero Waste Campus by 2020
- Achieve 50% per capita reduction in waste by 2030
- Participation in a food recovery program by all food service locations by 2020
What we are doing
- Updating outdoor recycling and landfill infrastructure to pair bins, reduce the number of landfill bins and locate waste stations in appropriate and convenient locations
- Updating recycling, landfill and composting signage throughout campus to decrease confusion and contamination and increase accessibility
- Exploring opportunities to recycle and/or reuse difficult to recycle materials including vinyl banners, broken furniture and outdated books
- Supporting the recycling of lab-related waste including latex gloves, ice packs, and styrofoam
- Developing and implementing procedures and processes to ensure that items sent to Surplus Properties are reused rather than recycled to avoid sending items to the landfill whenever possible
- Supporting University Athletics in its goal to host Zero Waste Athletic events
- Supporting University Unions with its organics composting program
- Represent UT Austin at a variety of sustainability and Zero Waste conferences including: the US Zero Waste Business Council Conference, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference, the Green Sports Alliance Summit, and Texas Regional Association for Sustainability Conference, among others
Our Resource Recovery Student Interns
- We couldn't accomplish everything we do without the help of our student interns:
- Back row (L-R): Thi Vu, Annemarie Simmons, Cami Goncalves, Perry Pokharel, Jennifer Gomez, Christienne Te. Front row (L-R): Eduardo Bahena-Rodriguez, Ashley Alejandro, Jeremiah Guy-Williams, Emely Lopez, Nurriya Mohammad, Reneé Palma. Not pictured: Estephanie Diaz, Chineye Emeghara, Dajasia Hitchcock, Cheryl Meredith, Helene Olsen, Tyler Thompson, Sarah Dunham, Charlotte Nguyen, Amanda Obaya
Video: See What We Are Up To - Resource Recovery Intern Projects Overview
Resource Recovery student interns make a direct and tangible impact on our campus, providing valuable insight to zero waste initiatives. Watch the video below to learn more.
Initiatives & Outreach
Learn about what we're doing across campus:
We have recently completed a project throughout campus to ensure that the recycling and landfill trash bin infrastructure reflects UT Austin’s commitment to Zero Waste.
To do this, we removed the outdated separated recycling bins and replaced them with paired and labeled landfill trash and recycling bins. We also updated bin locations to ensure that bins were placed where they were needed most.
By pairing bins, our aim is to make it as easy to throw an item into the recycling as it is into the landfill trash. By labeling and color-coding the bins, we reduce confusion regarding what and how to recycle and make it quick and easy to identify recycling opportunities. See the pictures below for a before and after of our bin optimization work.
Paper Towel Composting
Paper towels are a significant part of UT Austin’s waste stream. In fact, on an annual basis, UT Austin generates more than 100 tons of paper towel waste in restrooms alone! This material, while not recyclable, is a valuable source of carbon in composting. We are currently rolling out restroom paper towel composting in the Student Services Building, with other buildings to follow.
Zero Waste Workplace Program
The Zero Waste Workplace program has received Green Fee funding to pilot the program in campus buildings. As a program member, a building will receive comprehensive guidance in recommissioning building infrastructure and enhancing occupant education to improve all aspects of material management throughout the building.
E-Waste Reuse & Recycling
Surplus Property properly handles and diverts outdated university electronics. Resource Recovery student interns have pioneered the testing and organization of material to increase return to reuse opportunities.
Zero Waste Events
Observation of campus events reveals opportunities for major and smaller events to be held under Zero Waste practices. The Campus Environmental Center's Green Events team provides free event consultation services for student organizations. Visit Green Events for more information.
Zero Waste Tips, Resources & FAQs
Video: "What happens to your trash and recycling" on the UT campus
Custodial Services and Recycling & Solid Waste teams utilize specific procedures to ensure that, from bin to truck, materials get to the right place. Watch the video below to see how the procedures are followed.
Zero Waste Graphics for Downloading
- A Longhorn's Guide to Resource Recovery (mini brochure) (PDF)
- Correct Disposal Guidance Signage:
- Zero Waste Events:
- Zero Waste Workplace One-Pagers:
Zero Waste Workplace is a building-scale implementation of zero waste best practices. We are currently piloting the program with support from the UT Green Fund. You are welcome to reference these resources; however, the specific materials are only provided to participating buildings at this time.
- Zero Waste Workplace Program Introduction (PDF)