Zero Waste Initiatives

The university has a goal to demonstrate leadership in both the reduction and diversion of waste with anticipated outcomes including achieving Zero Waste and reducing per capita waste generation.

Zero Waste Strategies

  • 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
  • Reduce hazardous waste generation

Current and Past Initiatives

Zero Waste Students holding up new campus bin signage


STARS waste credit image


  • UT achieves AASHE STARS Gold.
  • Forty Acres Pharmacy reduces paper waste by linking to medication information.
  • UT Surplus Reuse Store achieves 92% diversion from the landfill.
  • Green Labs hosts the first Lab Supply Swap, rehoming over 450 lbs. of lab items.
  • Trash to Treasure launches the Making Amends initiative which allows students to upcycle clothing and reduce textile waste.



  • J.R. 19 (S) 3 - Endorsement of UT Sustainability Master Plan and Goal of Zero Waste Campus by 2020.
  • Zero Waste Events intern team begins providing personalized event support.
  • First Zero Waste Gone to Texas satellite event: Gone to Engineering.
  • Zero Waste Hero certification program launches.
  • Resource Recovery presented with Helping Hand Tower Award for its role as a community partner with ProjectLEAD.
  • UT begins hauling its own compost. The inaugural year included vivariums, academic buildings, Unions, and UT Elementary.
  • Texas Athletics named Green Sports Alliance Environmental Innovators of the Year for the second year in a row.
  • Zero Waste Workplace reaches over 1 million square feet of academic building space.
  • Green Labs moves under Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) and hires a full-time coordinator.
  • Landscape Services has composted leaves for at least 20 years and invests in enhanced compost quality with new leaf vacuum/mulching and screening machines. The compost product is used in shrub and annual flower beds and greenhouse potting media.

ZW Initiatives 2018


ZW Initiatives 2017


  • Resource Recovery student interns test and organize outdated university computer peripherals and lab equipment at Surplus Property to assess reuse opportunities.
  • In stewardship of the SITES certified Dell Medical District, Landscape Services collects used coffee grounds from campus vendors to incorporate into the production of compost tea to feed campus plants and trees.

recycling and solid waste cans on campus


  • First-ever UT Austin Sustainability Master Plan signed under President Gregory Fenves.
  • Outdoor recycling and landfill trash bin infrastructure relocated, paired, and labeled enhancing recycling collection capacity.
  • SG AR 18 - In Support of Improved Composting on Campus.
  • Resource Recovery Student Internship program first cohort.
  • Green Offices program launched.

ZW 2015


  • UT becomes the second university in the country where its Chick-fil-A restaurants on campus switch to compostable cups instead of polystyrene.
  • Texas Athletics initiates football waste audits and waste sorts and consults with concessionaire to simplify the kinds of packaging materials coming into their facilities.
  • The School of Architecture opens the Material Exchange to reuse studio project materials.

ZW Softball 2014


ZW 2013


  • UT's recycling collection moves to single-stream collection and begins accepting glass products.
  • Green Greeks begins working to make Greek life more sustainable, including events and cleanup recycling.
  • University Health Services is awarded a Green Fund grant and over the next several years pilots and launches recycling and composting in their medical clinics.

ZW Initiatives 2012


  • The Natural Resources Conservation Plan was adopted, which included setting the Zero Waste goal and the creation of the new Resource Recovery unit.
  • Green Events program starts.
  • Landscape Services initiates milling of campus lumber for special projects such as frames and building furniture found at SSB, EER, NUR, and DMS.
  • Landscape Services begins processing 20-50 yards per year of tree debris into single-grind mulch to apply to bed and tree rings across campus.

ZW 2011


  • Green Labs program begins.
  • Becoming a reality after year of capacity-building by students, Green Fund begins supporting sustainability initiatives and research projects on campus, including many zero waste and recycling projects.

ZW 2013


  • Eco2Go reusable to-go containers initiated by University Housing and Dining, saving 3.15 tons of disposables from the landfill in the first year.
  • Office of Sustainability created.
  • Longhorn Recycling Roundup launches with a student volunteer Tailgate Recycling Crew, handing out plastic bags to sort recyclables and non-recyclables to tailgaters at football home games, and collecting recyclables at the stadium gates. Additionally, a compost station was set up in the North End Zone food court.

ZW Initiatives 2008


  • Sustainability Steering Committee develops the first UT Austin Campus Sustainability Policy, which was then adopted by President Powers.
  • First University Housing and Dining plate waste study is conducted to study the effect of eliminating trays and reveals that that one change resulted in food waste being cut in half.
  • University Housing and Dining begins composting food waste.

ZW Initiatives 2007


  • President William Powers appoints the first UT Austin Sustainability Steering Committee comprised of faculty, administrators, staff, and student representatives as a forum for an ongoing discussion about sustainability.
  • The Campus Environmental Center hires their first part-time student coordinator to oversee recycling efforts on campus.

ZW Initiatives 2006


  • The Campus Environmental Center's Recycling Task Force partners with UT's Facilities Services to expand its efforts to increase material types collected, recycling awareness, and the number of volunteer staff.

ZW Initiatives 2005


  • Trash to Treasure program starts.
  • The Campus Environmental Center runs an ink cartridge recycling program, which is later run by Document Solutions.
  • Recycling Task Force members conduct a waste audit of 1,300 pounds of campus waste to determine the portion of recyclable content.
  • CAN'EM, a project run by UT Police Department and partners, collects aluminum cans from home game tailgating.

ZW Initiatives 2003


  • Student-run Recycling Task Force effort places and services 12 recycling bins around campus to recycle aluminum, glass, and plastic to expand upon the university's paper recycling.



  • An effort to improve UT's collection of recyclables leads to the creation of a Recycling Task Force, an off-shoot of student government and a coalition of campus environmentally-minded organizations and students that would later become the Campus Environmental Center and lead to the eventual institutionalization of recycling by Facilities Services.

ZW Initiatives 1999


  • UT Recycling Program receives Best Comprehensive Program Award by the Austin Corporate Recycling Council, 1999 Environmental Vision Award, and Recycler of the Year from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation (year unknown).
  • The UT program recycles all types of paper as well as industrial products like antifreeze, oil, freon, batteries, and scrap metal.

ZW Initiatives 1998


  • Largely through student effort, the Division of Housing and Food Service (now University Housing and Dining) puts a recycling bin in every dorm room.

ZW Initiatives 1996


  • Longhorns Recycling Roundup begins challenging Texas fans to recycle cups at Texas Athletics facilities.

ZW Initiatives 1995


  • UT Recycling Advisory Committee announces the creation of a recycling coordinator position.
  • 60% of UT's total waste in 1995 is paper.
  • UT begins considering increased loading dock space to ensure the future design of UT buildings will be receptive to recycling.

ZW Initiatives 1994


  • Recycling Advisory Committee is formed by UT President Robert Berdahl to advise him on recycling issues and "assist in making the university a model of environmental awareness and action."
  • UT alumnus Kevin Tuerff (B.S. '88) co-creates Texas Recycles Day, which later becomes the nationally recognized America Recycles Day.
  • UT has been recycling other products such as batteries and tires "for some time."

ZW 1993


  • UT Physical Plant begins a paper recycling program.

ZW Initiatives 1992


  • Campus Environmental Committee recommends to President William Cunningham funding and approval to 1) start recycling cardboard and paper with a plan to phase in more materials later and 2) to reduce the overall amount of paper used.

ZW Initiatives 1991


  • The State of Texas legislature amended the Texas Health and Safety code with S.B. 1340, which codified the state's recycling policy including the requirement of all state agencies to recycle.
  • In response to S.B. 1340 and petitions signed by 1,000 students, faculty and staff requesting a campus-wide recycling policy, the university forms an ad hoc Campus Environmental Committee to study 1) campus recycling and source reduction and 2) campus beautification.
  • Student-led efforts initiate and manage recycling at UT with limited collection containers.