University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Indoor Solid Waste & Recycling Collection Assessment & Infrastructure Improvement

New collection bin station with sections for landfill, mixed paper, and aluminum cans plus bottles
New collection containers being deployed on UI campus.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Indoor Solid Waste & Recycling Collection Assessment & Infrastructure Improvement

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: In 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, becoming part of a network of institutions of higher education committed to campus carbon neutrality by the year 2050. UI developed an Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) as a roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. The iCAP identifies relevant goals, objectives, and potential strategies in the following categories: energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing, and distribution; transportation; water and stormwater; purchasing, waste, and recycling; agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; carbon offsets; financing; education; outreach; and research.

Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate the achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for more information.

In 2019, ISTC and WTS staff began an analysis of collection practices within buildings with the explicit intent to increase the capture of source-separated recyclables.

Approach: TAP staff shadowed building service staff to identify current practices and opportunities for improvement. The processes for handling waste and recyclables for typical academic and residential buildings were mapped out, including movement of waste materials from the building to dumpsters, and ultimately to the WTS. TAP staff also worked with F&S to document (in terms of current deployment and unused inventory) the number and variety of landfill and recyclable collection bins found in buildings across campus.

Examples of the variety in size, color and signage of older collection bins on campus.
Examples of previous generations of bins and associated signage found on campus.

This information allowed TAP to make various recommendations to UI F&S related to:

  • building construction and renovation standards for recycling space allocation;
  • collection container allocation, placement, and related training for Building Service Workers (BSW);
  • updating collection containers to improve clarity and consistency across campus;
  • improved signage for clarity and consistent messaging;
  • use of bin liners and existing dumpsters to streamline material flows to, and separation at, the WTS; and
  • a campus-wide recycling campaign.

Results: TAP is currently working with F&S on implementation of these recommendations. At the end of 2019, new collection containers were identified which would collocate landfill (trash) bins and bins for the two types of recycling streams on campus—mixed paper and aluminum cans plus bottles. The new collection containers use color-coding to distinguish the different streams—black for landfill, green for the mixed paper stream, and blue for the combined aluminum cans and bottles. Matching directional signage featuring pictures of example materials appropriate for each waste stream attaches to the back of the bins to assist with proper source separation. A URL for more information on campus recycling is also prominent on the bin signs. Images on the container access doors (for emptying the bins) reinforce proper placement of materials. The containers are themselves constructed from at least 1000 recycled plastic milk jugs, reinforcing the importance of not only recycling but “closing the loop” by using products made from recycled materials.

105 containers have been deployed over 30 buildings, beginning primarily in first-floor hallways. Additional containers are being obtained and deployed to locations keeping factors such as building occupancy and status of currently existing collection infrastructure in mind. F&S sees the deployment of the new containers as a key factor in raising awareness of recycling opportunities and processes on campus, as well as combating persistent misconceptions about campus recycling practices.

The new collection containers and implementation of other recommendations made by ISTC’s TAP not only foster achievement of campus iCAP goals but also relate to the recently released F&S Strategic Plan 2019-2023, which includes key performance indicators for diverting waste from landfill in its “Lead in Energy Management and Sustainability” section.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Quad Recycling Containers

 

Cylindrical concrete bins for outdoor waste collection
Retrofitted waste receptacles for collection of trash (labeled “Landfill”) and recycling.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Quad Recycling Containers

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: The Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for further details.

As part of continuous improvement efforts, in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 TAP worked with F&S to improve the collection of recyclables on and around the main campus quadrangle, known as “the Quad.”

Approach: Prior to the implementation of this project, separate outdoor recycling bins were not available on the Quad.  Rather, receptacle lids indicated trash and recycling should be commingled; materials collected from those commingled bins were subsequently lightly sorted at the University Waste Transfer Station (WTS) for visible aluminum beverage cans and plastic beverage bottles #1 and #2. All other materials collected were sent to the landfill. Off-campus, in the surrounding communities, a wider range of plastics are collected by haulers, so many people coming to campus had a perception that those same materials would be recyclable on campus. This situation, coupled with a lack of dedicated recycling containers on the Quad, led to a high degree of contamination and the resulting loss of recyclable materials to the landfill-bound stream. It also perpetuated long-standing misconceptions among members of the campus community that materials from ANY waste bin on campus were subsequently sorted at the WTS–leading many people to think that placing recyclables in a waste (landfill-bound) container was acceptable, even in areas/buildings where separate collection bins for recyclables were provided. Many people believed that such behavior was “ok,” because recyclables would be captured at the WTS. The reality was that additional hand-sorting at the WTS only occurred for waste collected from certain facilities and spaces, not ALL spaces on campus, and that not all materials deemed “recyclable” in surrounding communities were collected for recycling on campus. Clearly, changes were necessary to the collection infrastructure on the Quad, as a high-traffic area, to begin to break down misconceptions and improper behaviors on campus.

Outdoor concrete waste bin with lid labeled for both trash and recyclables
Previously used standalone bins did not include clear behavior cues.

The plan to improve collection efficacy and messaging was to introduce 20 new recycling bins to be paired with existing bins on the Quad, turning 40 stand-alone containers into 30 waste/recycling stations. To achieve this in a cost-effective manner, it was decided to retrofit the existing outdoor, cylindrical concrete waste receptacles from the Quad so that some would be clearly labeled and color-coded for recycling and others for landfill-bound trash.  In addition to the expanded bin options, signage would be placed in the buildings surrounding the Quad to launch the new recycling procedures and clarify what materials could be recycled. To measure the impact of this project, waste audits of materials placed in trash containers were conducted before and after the proposed changes, October 2014 and April 2015, respectively.

ISTC worked with F&S to coordinate the sample collection for the waste characterizations. Each trash bin (labeled “Landfill” after receptacle retrofitting) was emptied and was lined with a trash bag for ease of collection. Samples were collected early in the morning to accommodate the regular schedule of the waste collection staff and the bins were relined with a trash bag for the next sample. For the post-implementation audits, the samples were collected from both the designated “landfill” and “recycling” bins. Waste sorting was conducted at ISTC. All samples were sorted into three categories:

  • Bottles & Cans: Included #1 & #2 plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans
  • Recycled in the Community: Included materials recycled by the City of Urbana’s U-Cycle Program
  • Landfill: Materials that were neither recycled on campus or by the U-Cycle Program

Results: Waste audits revealed the presence of retrofitted separate bin waste/recycling stations resulted in significantly less recyclable material being sent to the landfill, although there was still significant contamination of the designated recycling bins with trash or materials not recyclable on campus. More than 50% of the material in designated recycling bins in the April 2015 audit was trash, approximately 25% was “Bottles & Cans” recyclable on campus, and approximately 22% was material recyclable in the broader community but not on campus. At the time of the post-implementation audit, the bins had only been out on the Quad for about a week. TAP recommended increased education and outreach to help reduce contamination of the recycling stream, as well as improvements in collection routes to reduce trash overflow being placed in designated recycling bins. TAP further recommended that only the recycling stream be sent to the WTS for a secondary sort to reduce the amount of material needing to be sorted and to improve the capture rate for “bottles & cans.” Finally, TAP recommended that the University increase the number of commodities collected for recycling on campus to decrease confusion. 

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Zero Waste Football Game

A volunteer stationed by bins to help game attendees sort waste properly.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Zero Waste Football Game

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Services: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: In Fall 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign participated in the Gameday Recycling Challenge for the first time. The Gameday Recycling Challenge is a friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their home football games. The Challenge occurred on October 25th for the homecoming football game against the University of Minnesota. During the game, efforts were implemented to reduce waste by composting and recycling. At the end of the game, all the waste streams were sorted and weighed, and the results were tabulated. Result categories included waste minimization, diversion rate, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling, and organics reduction. Each participating game’s data is used to rank and determine the Challenge winners. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials. The University will use this year’s diversion rate as a baseline to improve efforts going forward in upcoming years. 

Marching Illini form recycling symbol
The Marching Illini incorporated the recycling symbol into their halftime show.

Approach: ISTC led a multi-department collaboration to identify and deploy collection stations for composting and recycling across Memorial Stadium. ISTC also lead the effort to recruit and manage over 150 volunteers to guide fans on recycling practices. Additionally, ISTC worked with concessionaires and caterers to ensure that most of the service was either recyclable or compostable.

Scoreboard image at Memorial Stadium
Fans in the Block I used cards to form the recycling symbol.

Results: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials during this event. Among the Big 10 Conference schools participating in the Challenge that year, UIUC placed third in the “recycling” category and second in the “organics” category.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Nitrile Glove Recycling

Images of the two custom glove bin options presented to University Housing
Two glove recycling bin options presented to University Housing.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Nitrile Glove Recycling

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: The Technical Assistance Program (TAP) conducted a waste audit of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) headquarters building on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus in February 2013. The results of the waste audit revealed that single-use non-hazardous gloves were 13% of the ISTC waste stream at the time. The Zero Waste Illinois team explored multiple options to reduce and recycle the single-use non-hazardous gloves. Kimberly Clark, a company that manufactures nitrile gloves, takes their gloves back to recycle into park benches, bike racks, etc. through their RightCycle program. ISTC piloted the use of the RightCycle program throughout its labs.

The subsequent UIUC campus waste characterization studies revealed single-use non-hazardous gloves were significant components of the waste stream at other campus locations. Thus, the expansion of the nitrile glove recycling program to other campus locations was explored.

Approach: After successfully integrating the glove recycling project within ISTC labs, the Zero Waste Illinois team explored expanding this program for University Housing at its dining operations, with funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee. The dining hall at Ikenberry Commons was selected as the pilot facility for the glove recycling program within University Housing. After several meetings with various stakeholders in University Housing Dining Services, collection was deemed to be the critical step in the process. It was determined that installing a collection bin to hang off existing trash bins would be a simple, inexpensive way to encourage proper separation of the used nitrile glove for recycling. Since no appropriate commercial collection unit was available, two custom-designed options were presented to the dining hall. Created using Inventor, a 3D design program, one option was a 3D-printed plastic piece designed to latch onto the side of existing Brute trash containers while securely cradling a small recycling container for the gloves. The other option involved screwing two hooks through the side of a small recycling bin and then using the hooks to hang the recycling bin from a trash container. Although the plastic piece was more creative and designed by a University of Illinois student, in a University of Illinois lab, it was more expensive to roll out. Therefore, the hook design was implemented across all dining operations.

Results: In 2020 dining diverted over 7,000 lbs. of gloves through this program. Based on this pilot project, the University explored expansion of the glove recycling program at other campus locations. See https://icap.sustainability.illinois.edu/project/glove-recycling for status updates.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

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.). 

Results:

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:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

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.” 

Results:   

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/