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 for status updates.

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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

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Green Lunchroom Challenge

Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Project Title: Green Lunchroom Challenge

Sectors: K-12 schools (primary original sector targeted), Higher Education, Institutions (any with on-site food service)
Location: Illinois (primary focus); United States (Beyond IL)
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization

Background: According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represented 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounted for 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the US — yet, 40 percent of food in the US went uneaten. According to Feeding America, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.* Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and an opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.

Funded by US EPA Region 5, this project focused on food waste prevention and reduction at K-12 schools.

*See the second edition (2017) of the NRDC “Wasted” report at for more recent statistics. See for more recent statistics related to US food insecurity.

Approach: Launched in 2015, the Green Lunchroom Challenge (GLC) was a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their foodservice operations. By registering, participants were accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The GLC website provided suggested activities that ranged in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants were not required to complete activities, but with each activity that was completed successfully, they earned points toward recognition at different “levels of accomplishment” (Bronze: 250-500 points; Silver: 501-1000 points; Gold: 1001-1900 points; Platinum: 1901 or more points).

In addition to typical activities related to food preparation, presentation, and waste disposal, schools could also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Links to archived suggested activities are available at Participants that achieved different levels of accomplishment are highlighted on the GLC website and received certificates for on-site display. TAP staff members also provided comments and recommendations for further improvement to participants based on activity documentation submitted.

GLC brochure
Brochure used to market the project.

A kickoff workshop/training session was held at ISTC headquarters in Champaign, IL on September 17, 2015. This session provided an overview of the GLC, presentations on relevant tools and programs, and a group discussion of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools. A free school food service training session was also presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of school food. The presentations and training were videotaped to enable schools unable to attend, or which learned of the GLC after the kickoff, to benefit from the information shared. Presenters in addition to Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners included: Joy Scrogum, ISTC; Susan Vescovi, US EPA Region 5; Kelly Boeger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Housing Dining Services, and Raj Karmani, Zero Percent. Throughout the project period (for the US EPA grant), TAP hosted webinars for participants on subjects such as food donation for schools, USDA’s “Smarter Lunchrooms” concepts and food waste reduction, commercial composting services available to schools, school gardening and on-site composting, and case studies of outreach on food waste prevention and reduction with schools.

Additionally, TAP partnered with the Springfield [IL] Public Schools (SPS) to assess the opportunities for food waste reduction and diversion. This hands-on assessment provided insight into the barriers and opportunities in implementing the activities included in the Green Lunchroom Challenge.

Results: By the time the project funding ceased, 27 IL schools, three IL school districts, and two “other” organizations (an elementary school in New Jersey and the DeKalb County [IL] Health Department) had signed up to participate in the GLC voluntary pledge program (see the archived participant list). Although funding for the project ended in December 2016, TAP continues to share resources via the GLC website blog to assist any institution or organization with on-site foodservice operations with food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion.

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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.

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