UofL ranks #7 in PLAN’s first annual list of Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses in the U.S.

Top: Carleton College’s Free & For Sale Frenzy event
Left: University of Louisville students with a head of celery found in a dumpster!
Right: Haverford College students conducting a waste audit

Today, we are excited to release the first annual list of Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses in the United States (as assessed by PLAN’s Atlas Zero Waste Certification™ Program)!

We also wanted to take a moment to offer some critical self-reflection on the pros and cons of releasing a Top 10 list.

We are hesitant to play into the trope of campus competitions for a few reasons. First, we have been openly critical of these in the past. For example, this Instagram post covers our complicated feelings about recycling competitions. We are aware that competitions often don’t incentivize the types of system change we need to turn the tide on the ever-growing production of single-use disposable plastics and the demands that the latest IPCC report places on all of us to build systems that effectively reduce consumption at the systemic level. Campuses often use competition platforms that don’t call for systemic changes as a method ofgreenwashing their overall sustainability efforts by highlighting an objectively small accomplishment in the grand scheme of their overall sustainability efforts. We believe that PLAN’s new assessment framework focuses on systemic impacts:

Atlas' Systemic Impacts
  • We spent four years building the Atlas Zero Waste Assessment™, working with two campus advisory councils and over a dozen pilot campuses from all over the United States to ensure that our assessment was rigorous, thorough, and didn’t leave space for greenwashing or gamification of the points system. The points-based analysis that Atlas provides is a quantitative method of measuring qualitative impact. We assess the qualitative because we know that the diversion metric does not effectively measure zero waste, and we want to focus this assessment on the responsibility of institutions to provide the systematic infrastructure necessary to achieve zero waste.
  • This assessment sets a high bar to achieve even a Bronze certification. It is worth noting that the top-scoring campus so far has only scored a 73.5% (essentially, a C minus), and that the average campus score so far has been in the low 50s. For more scoring information and a detailed FAQ on the project’s methodology and analysis, check out this page.
  • Updating the assessment is a constantly evolving process. As we learn more about emerging best practices and we research new technologies, we will continue to raise the bar for what it takes to be certified as a zero waste campus. If you would like to suggest updates or additions to the assessment, please fill out this form and we will be in touch!
  • The Atlas Zero Waste Certification™ is a call to action. We are looking for campuses to step up and take responsibility for the materials they manage and the waste they produce.
  • We want this Top 10 list to serve as a space to highlight campuses for their achievements and innovations. We have yet to see a campus achieve zero waste, or come close, and we don’t even know if it’s possible under the current circumstances present within the capitalist system of linear consumption. Under each campus’s scores, we have included details of their programs and links to learn more about their work.

We also realize that this list is not representative of the wide diversity of campuses in the United States, and generally includes only well-funded and well-resourced campuses that are also predominantly white institutions (PWIs). We currently offer all campuses in the United States the opportunity to request assessment and certification services from PLAN at a discounted rate or for free, and we even offer stipends for student Fellows if their campuses could not otherwise afford to pay for this program. We are continuing to work on our efforts to improve our equitable access systems, and welcome thoughts and feedback from the community. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time by emailing atlas@postlandfill.org

Keeping those reflections in mind, we’re excited to share the profiles of the Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses (as assessed by Atlas).

U of Louisville, 58.2%
1. College of the Atlantic, 73.5% Silver

Left: Campus Free Sale
Right: Students with a full head of celery found in a dumpster

Louisville, KY I 23,200 students I Public | UofL’s full Atlas Zero Waste Scorecard

  • Scope 1: 63.4% – BRONZE
  • Scope 2: 53.9%
University of Louisville
  • The University of Louisville has had a Zero Waste Committee in place since 2013 that has led the campus through a number of strategic initiatives. UofL has implemented a “mini-bin” trash collection system in offices, and increased recycling and pre and post-consumer compost collection across campus. They also have a reusable to-go container program in the dining hall, a Food Recovery initiative that collects food weekly from multiple locations, and multiple educational and awareness raising campaigns like “Weigh the Waste” to encourage food waste reduction. The Student Activity Center on campus has the Cardinal Cupboard campus food pantry, and a student-run Free Store

  • In the Spring of 2021 UofL became the second campus to complete Stage 2 of the Atlas Zero Waste project and publicly published a Strategic Vision for Zero Waste. The vision includes a series of proposals to hire additional staff to improve materials management infrastructure on campus, expand the campus surplus property program and reusable to-go ware availability on campus, and establish a number of other key initiatives.

Source: Top 10 Zero Waste Campuses in 2021 (Post-Landfill Action Network, Oct. 27, 2021)