Illinois State University: Solid Waste Characterization and Opportunity Assessment of the Bone Student Center

Photo of ISTC staff and ISU volunteers during the waste audit at Bone Student Center.
Photo of ISTC staff and ISU volunteers during the waste audit at Bone Student Center.

Project Title: Illinois State University: Solid Waste Characterization and Opportunity Assessment of the Bone Student Center

Sectors: Higher Education, Caterers, Food Service, Retail

Location: Normal, IL

Services: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Waste Characterization/Reduction/Management

Background: In June 2022, Illinois State University (ISU) completed the University’s first-ever Sustainability Strategic Plan. Among the many topics covered in the plan, “Materials Management and Waste Reduction” was a key focus. Soon after the release of the report, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) reached out to the ISU Director of Sustainability, Elisabeth Reed, to discuss opportunities for support and collaboration. After several discussions, it was decided that ISTC would conduct a waste characterization study (waste audit) to collect, sort, and weigh waste and recycling samples and identify opportunities for waste reduction and diversion. The Bone Student Center’s variety of uses and activities made it a good representation of the types of waste generated across the ISU campus.

Approach: Beginning in June 2023, ISTC began meeting with the ISU team to better understand the various areas and activities of Bone Student Center along with discussing the logistics of collecting and sorting waste and recycling samples. It was determined that ISTC, along with ISU volunteers, would collect waste and recycling samples from three “activity zones” of the Bone Student Center:

  1. Catering – This included one kitchen and one dishwashing room used by both catering staff and retail outlets.
  2. Retail – This encompassed food service locations as well as some indoor and outdoor seating locations used by customers.
  3. Concourse & Office – This encompassed general hallways, lounge and study spaces, event halls, one classroom, and office spaces.

The physical collection, sorting, and weighing of material took place on September 26-27th, 2023 in the Visitor parking lot of the Bone Student Center on the ISU campus. As per the ASTM D5231 standard for processing solid waste, we aim for 200-pound samples of both landfill-bound trash and single-stream recycling.

The TAP team also conducted a walkthrough of the Bone Student Center, taking pictures, observing current waste management practices, and conducting informal stakeholder engagement in each of the three activity zones.

The resulting report, presented to ISU staff in December 2023, describes and visualizes our findings from this data. An Opportunity Assessment included within that report details strategies and recommendations to reduce overall waste generation and divert additional materials from the landfill in each of the three activity zones, categorized as:

  • Education (e.g., Develop standardized educational signage for all single-stream recycling bins.)
  • Collection Container Improvement (e.g., Ensure trash and recycling bins are co-located to make recycling more convenient for building occupants.)
  • Programs & Procedures (e.g., Target single-use plastics or plastics not accepted in single-stream recycling bins.)

Results: Through this waste characterization study, the TAP team collected data that will inform ISU’s commitment to their Sustainable Strategic Directions of Food and Events as well as Materials Management and Waste Reduction.

“The waste characterization study conducted by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center provided valuable data that will guide us towards more sustainable practices within our student center and throughout our campus. The knowledge and expertise of the ISTC team elevated our understanding of various waste streams and provided realistic solutions towards diversion and waste reduction.”    — Elisabeth Reed, ISU Director of Sustainability

Other projects with this client: None at this time.

Browse Examples of ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) Projects

To browse descriptions of various past and current TAP projects, use the “Categories” menu to search for projects associated with various TAP programs, services, sectors, specific clients, or locations. You may alternatively type keywords into the “search” feature.

Note that this collection of project descriptions may not be comprehensive, as new projects are added regularly. We also may not describe general outreach activities or participation in statewide committees or networks in this collection. To learn more about such efforts, see our “Collaboration” page and browse posts in the “Technical Assistance” category of the main ISTC blog (the most recent of those posts are republished on the home page of this web site).

Confidentiality agreements may prevent us from naming specific clients or circumstances. In such cases, we may describe a project with generic terms to illustrate TAP expertise without revealing sensitive information (e.g. rather than naming a specific company or location, a description might highlight a waste characterization study at a mid-sized food manufacturing facility located in central Illinois and the results from implementing recommendations associated with that study).

If you cannot find a description for a specific project, type of project, or if you have questions about any of the projects featured in this collection, you may contact TAP at

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Sustainable Materials Management Plan

UIC SMM plan coverProject Title: University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Chicago, IL
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Sustainability Planning, Waste Characterization and Management

Background: UIC engaged the ISTC Technical Assistance Program zero waste team to conduct a waste characterization study and assist with the development of a sustainable materials management plan.

Approach: Beginning in 2019, many stakeholders observed current waste management practices and coordinated and conducted a waste characterization study to represent campus-wide activities. Study results and annual material generation data were analyzed and extrapolated, campus focus groups were held to provide input for ideal material management, and the research and recommendations were collated into one comprehensive plan to increase waste diversion and ultimately achieve a zero-waste campus.

UIC partnered with TAP to conduct the waste audit, engage stakeholders, and spearhead plan development. The plan identifies nearly 100 strategies for waste reduction and diversion and was informed by the results of a November 2019 waste audit, along with insightful input received from students, faculty, staff, and community members.

The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 material categories.

The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.

Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.

Co-led by ISTC, and UIC’s Office of Planning Sustainability and Project Management (PSPM), a team of staff, faculty, and students from various departments, external partners and industry experts developed the Sustainable Materials Management Plan.

Together team members worked to document and understand current waste management practices and analyzed waste generation. The Plan categorizes campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable, and non-recoverable.

The data revealed that 33% of the overall waste stream on campus is compostable material, such as food scraps. Nineteen percent of the waste stream is composed of recyclable materials such as paper or plastic bottles. Eighteen percent of the waste stream on campus consists of avoidable materials such as paper towels and disposable beverage cups. Five percent of the waste stream is comprised of potentially recyclable material such as plastic film and gloves that could be diverted through source-separated streams.

The remaining 24% of the waste stream consists of materials that are currently non-recoverable, i.e. items for which recovery end markets or programs do not yet exist, or for which solutions are not yet available at UIC or in surrounding areas. This includes items like single-use equipment and other non-recyclable paper, glass and plastic items.

“Data has been a critical part of our success in reaching almost a 50% recycling rate at UIC over the past decade, even while the number of students on campus has grown by 20%. With the help of data, the recycling program at UIC has vanquished a once prevalent view that Chicago doesn’t recycle. With the report from the ISTC led waste audit, the volume of food scraps, and the presence of currently recyclable materials point to impactful steps we must take in waste reduction, outreach, and education,” stated Joe Iosbaker, UIC’s Recycling Coordinator.

Bar graph showing the percentage of various types of materials present in the UIC waste stream during the November 2019 waste audit

The study team also gathered input from members of the campus community through an online survey and a series of focus groups. Discussions shed light on knowledge, perceptions, and expectations of waste management infrastructure, the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities, and challenges. This feedback from the UIC community was used to develop strategies to increase recycling and waste reduction. Through this multi-layer process, UIC now has a comprehensive roadmap to build from the 47% recycling rate today and prime the conditions for a zero-waste campus by 2050.

“The comprehensive presentation in the Materials Management Plan provided by ISTC gives us a greater understanding of the tasks we have,” Iosbaker asserted. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability Cindy Klein-Banai reinforced those sentiments stating, “This study has provided the data and next steps for robust strategies for reaching our Zero Waste Goal within the UIC Climate Commitments. It also demonstrates the need for broad responsibility in developing our program across all units and departments of the university.”

“ISTC’s Zero Waste team acknowledges the great potential of a comprehensive, campus-driven Sustainable Materials Management Plan,” shared April Janssen Mahajan, Sustainability Specialist at ISTC. “We fully embraced the challenges and opportunities this project offered to help UIC reconsider, reimagine and redefine campus waste and materials management in support of the university’s mission to become a Zero Waste Campus.”

Results: UIC Sustainable Materials Management Plan

Other projects with this client: None at this time

Other projects in the higher education sector:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Sculpture

Two men sitting in front of waste sculpture
Hursh Hazari (left) was an engineering graduate student at the time this project was implemented. Nahid Akram (right) was a graduate student in architecture.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Sculpture

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Stakeholder Engagement 

Background: The second phase of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Characterization Studies also involved a public engagement aspect funded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee. 

Approach: ISTC staff members worked with a pair of graduate students to design and build a sculpture made from waste materials taken from the University’s waste stream. Plastic beverage bottles were gleaned from the sorting line at the University Waste Transfer Station and from recycling collections at various sites around campus. The bottles were cleaned, sanitized, and fitted into a mesh framework to form “bottle blankets,” which were then attached to a wooden skeleton in the shape of the “Block I.”

Design, cleaning, and fabrication took place at the ISTC building on campus. The resulting 7″ x 7″ x 7″ sculpture was dismantled, transported to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts (KCPA), and re-assembled in the lobby of KCPA, where it was displayed along with information on the waste characterization project–including the composition of the waste stream revealed by the study–as well as information on waste generation in the United States and reduction tips, how quickly the number of bottles within the sculpture would enter the US waste stream at that time, and other relative impacts. The sculpture debuted at the 2016 Sonified Sustainability Festival and remained on display throughout Earth Week.

People assembling a sculpture made from beverage bottles and wood
ISTC’s Joy Scrogum (crouching, lower left) and graduate students Hursh Hazari (standing, center) and Nahid Akram (seated, right) assemble the sculpture at KCPA.

A fact sheet about opportunities to reduce and recycle waste on campus in the broader Champaign-Urbana community was created in conjunction with the sculpture and make available on the ISTC website for download (via QR code displayed with the sculpture). Upon dismantling, the bottles from the sculpture were returned to the University Waste Transfer Station for proper recycling and framework materials were distributed to other campus units for reuse (e.g. wood was reused by the Facilities & Services carpentry shop, plastic mesh was used to protect plants as part of campus prairie restoration plantings, etc.). 


Waste sculpture on display at Krannert Center for Performing Arts
Completed sculpture on display at Krannert Center for Performing Arts.

Other projects with this client:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Characterization Studies

Image of UIUC Quad

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Characterization Studies

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Waste Characterization Study  

Background:  The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) was contracted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to conduct a campus-wide waste characterization study and pilot new waste stream diversions.

Additionally, TAP piloted four targeted zero waste efforts for campus: plan and execute a zero-waste football game; deploy a campus-wide nitrile glove recycling program; design and monitor on-the-go recycling bins for the main quad; and collect real-time fill data using commercially available sensors to gauge route efficiencies and recycling rates.  See the link below for “Other projects with this client” to learn more about those related projects.

Approach:  The two-phase project involved sampling eight buildings, including two residence halls, one academic building with laboratories, one academic building without laboratories, an administrative building, the student union, a bookstore, and a mixed-use event building. Each building was also audited for availability and location of refuse and recycling bins. Subsequently, employees and students that occupied these buildings were surveyed, to gauge knowledge of current programs, gaps in service, and overall satisfaction with the campus recycling program. With this data, TAP created both waste reduction and diversion plans for the individual buildings, as well as campus-wide recommendations.  

The second phase of this project also involved a public engagement aspect funded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee. TAP staff members worked with a pair of graduate students to design and build a sculpture made from waste materials taken from the University’s waste stream. See the link to a description of that project below under “Results.” 


Other projects with this client: