American University Going Zero Waste by 2020

American University has made it clear that it takes waste management seriously. The university has pledged to reach zero waste by 2020, meaning that it will no longer send any waste to the landfill. It’s an ambitious goal, but AU is already two-thirds of the way there, thanks to an innovative waste management strategy.

American University has recently begun a massive composting program. Compost bins for organic waste—which includes food, paper wrappers, pizza boxes and anything made from compostable or biodegradable material—will be distributed throughout the campus. All the waste that’s collected will be sent to a composting facility and broken down into a nutrient-rich soil additive. The university also composts all paper towel waste from restrooms on campus, diverting about 13% of the university’s waste from the landfill.

Aside from composting, AU is taking other steps to reduce food waste in its dining halls. Back in 2009, the university’s main dining hall decided to eliminate trays, resulting in seemingly huge reductions in food waste and dishes.

In 2012, AU professor Kiho Kim decided to do a more formal study of the effects of trayless dining. His results confirmed what many already knew—going trayless resulted in a 32% reduction in food waste and a 27% reduction in dish use.

Other universities followed AU’s lead, including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, James Madison, and the University of Virginia. Now, dozens schools across the country have instituted trayless dining halls.

As far as recycling goes, AU placed 1st in RecycleMania—a nationwide recycling competition. The university collects and recycles vehicle waste—like lubricants, antifreeze, tires, and batteries—and has regularly scheduled e-waste drives. AU also recycles kitchen grease, converting it into electricity and hot water with a Vegawatt generator system.

American University’s efforts to minimize waste are admirable. Hopefully they can achieve their goal of being reaching zero waste by 2020!