Campus Recycling 101:
Universities Adopt Sustainable Recycling Strategies

University Students Push for Sustainability

The first day of class is just around the corner for many college students. With Gen Z emerging as the most eco-conscious generation to date, sustainability and recycling programs on campus are more important than ever. Further, an increased awareness regarding climate change has prompted many campuses to adopt more aggressive recycling programs. On average, Americans recycle roughly 34% of all waste – twice as much as two decades ago but still offering room for improvement. College recycling programs can be harnessed to increase that percentage by encouraging the next generation to form sustainable habits. Learn more about successful campus recycling programs around the country and gather tips and tricks on how to start your own!

Top College Recycling Programs

Any recycling program is better than none. However, several colleges and universities in the United States stand out among the crowd, boasting innovative techniques that get students excited to participate. Popular methods include providing recycling bins to every student, increasing composting bins around campus, and ditching bottled water and food trays. Home to the top three campus recycling programs in the country, American University, Valencia College, and College of the Atlantic are prime examples of campus sustainability.

American University

As the winner of the 2012 RecycleMania contest, American University adopted a zero-waste policy over a decade ago. According to the university, “AU’s waste management system aims to utilize renewable materials, enhance the campus environment, and protect the health of the University community. The Zero Waste team in Facilities Management tracks and audits waste metrics, develops strategies to improve sustainable purchasing, and engages with the community.”

Methods used in this program include composting all paper towels and kitchen waste from three food halls, cutting out bottled water and food trays, and recycling as many materials as possible. This includes everything from kitchen grease to furniture. Learn more about AU’s recycling program on their website.

Valencia College

Coming in at number two on the list, Valencia College boasts a model campus sustainability program. The winner of RecycleMania gold for waste minimization from 2012-2014, the college produced an average of 2.75 pounds of waste per person during the contest. In addition to an efficient paper, plastic, aluminum, and electronic recycling program, Valencia College students take part in waste reduction practices like double-sided printing and refilling water bottles with specially designed fountains around campus.

When asked about the success of the program, the college stated that it “urges employees to make double-sided copies when using a copier, or to send emails, rather than making copies of documents to share. Likewise, the college recycles cardboard boxes in which textbooks and paper are shipped. The college also has begun installing water fountains where students and employees can refill water containers, rather than purchasing disposable bottles of water.”

College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic is widely considered one of the most sustainable campuses in the United States. The secret to their success? Creating opportunities to recycle on every single floor in every single building. In addition to receptacles for bottles, cans, glass, printer cartridges, and paper, College of the Atlantic prioritizes food recycling. All organic waste is either composted or turned into a renewable energy source in the Sustainable Business Hatchery right on campus. Further, the college recycles all napkins and disposable utensils.

Administration states that the “student-run recycling program reaches every floor of every building on campus, making it easy to recycle just about everything we use. Compost systems at our farms and dining services create four tons of compost a year from pre-consumer waste and six tons from post-consumer waste. Compostable plates, cups, and utensils used at special events are processed off-campus at a commercially licensed facility.”

Building a Successful Program 

A solid recycling and composting infrastructure is the foundation of any successful campus recycling program. By offering multiple convenient opportunities to recycle, universities can simplify the process for students and faculty. However, ease of use does not guarantee widespread participation. So, the question is twofold. How does a university determine the best recycling model for its campus? And what makes students excited to get involved?

Conduct a waste audit

Determine current participation in on-campus recycling and identify the largest opportunity areas with a thorough audit. By looking at the state of recycling on campus, colleges and universities can better craft a tailored program. Waste analyses outline current waste management practices, providing information necessary to choose recycling container types and locations.

Select recycling containers and branding materials

Choose recycling containers based on the waste audit’s findings. This will likely include containers for different types of materials including paper, plastic, cardboard, and organics. Identify high-traffic locations for receptacles and standardize the program’s branding and graphics for increased recognition. All signage should be clear and easy to read.

Start an on-campus recycling organization

To increase student participation, consider kick starting a recycling-centered university organization responsible for spreading the word and creating influential messaging. Additionally, partner with other eco-focused organizations to distribute materials. Some student organizations even compete in national and regional competitions to raise awareness!

 Choosing the Right Recycling Containers and Bins

One of the most difficult aspects of launching a campus recycling program is choosing the correct recycling receptacles for your campus’s needs. There are multiple types of recycling containers on the market including products designed for residences, commercial facilities, and specific types of recyclable material. And of course, you’ll want to choose containers that are sustainably made, customizable, and low maintenance. Below are just a few potential containers available.


Easily portable and designed to withstand wear and tear, residential waste carts are two-wheeled carts designed to capture recyclables from homes and smaller facilities. On campus, these can be utilized for most on-campus buildings including offices, libraries, and dormitories. SSI SCHAEFER residential recycling carts range in capacity from 35 gallons to 95 gallons. When selecting a sustainable two-wheeled recycling cart for a campus program, it’s important to choose a durable container with a high truckload capacity. Available residential carts from SSI SCHAEFER include the Q-Series, M-Series, and B-Series product lines.


Commercial waste receptacles offer larger body capacity for areas with high waste volume. Typically easy to clean and resistant to rust and leakage, these recycling containers are well suited for organic waste collection, even in environmentally sensitive areas. Dining halls, high-capacity residential halls, and landscaping facilities benefit from commercial containers.

Specialty Carts

Specialty carts from SSI SCHAEFER meet a wide range of niche needs. Offering containers designed to withstand wildlife, hold medical waste, protect sensitive documents, and capture organic material, these receptacles can be used in a wide variety of facilities, including laboratories, hospitals, offices, and outdoor settings. The organics cart is the latest specialty cart from SSI SCHAEFER, providing an easy to maintain, watertight solutions for food and landscaping waste.

In addition to choosing the correct carts for your university’s needs, ensure that your cart manufacturer can customize the size, color, and branding. Standardized recycling containers increase campus participation!

Find a Trusted Partner to Help Launch Your Program

Partnering with a knowledgeable waste and recycling cart manufacturer can alleviate questions and concerns related to cart selection and program rollout.  Recycling carts from SSI SCHAEFER are 100% recyclable, customizable, and provide industry-leading truckload capacity. As experts in cart manufacturing and rollouts, SSI SCHAEFER is well-equipped to partner with any college or university seeking to implement or revamp a campus recycling program.

Reach out to the Schaefer Waste team today to ask questions or get more information!

Contact Us

Learn more about sustainable recycling!

  • All
  • All
Schaefer Plastics attends Waste Expo 2024

Waste Expo 2024

Join Schaefer Plastics at booth 2552 in Las Vegas, NV for Waste Expo 2024!

Read More

Don’t just protect your parts-protect your greatest asset!

With rolled edge solutions from Schaefer Plastics, your company can protect not only the parts but also the staff that assembles them together.

Read More
WasteExpo 2019

Mass Recycle 2024 LP

Join Schaefer Plastics in Marlborough, MA for Mass Recycle Conference! On March 19, 2024, this event will feature the Schaefer Plastics waste and recycling experts.

Read More

Schaefer Plastics North America Appoints Two Key Executives for Charlotte Headquarters

Schaefer Plastics North America Appoints Two Key Executives for Charlotte Headquarters CHARLOTTE, NC, February 22nd – Schaefer Plastics North America, a leader in reusable packaging …

Read More

WASTECON – Tradeshow

WASTECON® is where leaders in the waste management industry gather to find solutions to challenges and discover opportunities.

Read More
WasteExpo 2019

PWX 2022 – Tradeshow

PWX provides a first-class multi-modal learning experience designed for professionals at all levels and across the entire spectrum of public works.

Read More