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Stanford’s long history of minimizing waste began with a student-led recycling program in the early 1970s, and has remained an integral component of sustainability programming ever since. Robust efforts to minimize campus waste, and increase recycling and composting have significantly reduced the total amount of material Stanford sends to landfill.

Stanford’s landfill diversion rate, also referred to as its recycling rate, has increased from 30% in 1994 to 63% in 2017. The university has established a target to reach zero waste--defined as a 90% diversion rate or higher--by 2030.  

Zero Waste by 2030

Stanford's initial Zero Waste Study began in 2017 through in-house development of a cost-benefit model,  which has now completed industry peer review. Development of the study began with a comprehensive analysis of waste infrastructure, practices, and programs on campus to-date.  The Zero Waste Study prioritizes reduction, spearheaded by initiatives in purchasing and contracts, followed by reuse, recycling, and compost, as indicated by the waste heirarchy. Education and community outreach will help to facilitate progress through every step of the way, to embed waste minimization behaviors into the campus culture. 

What solutions did the study identify that will help Stanford improve its diversion rate from 63%, to 90% or higher? Extensive waste audits reveal that presently more than 75% of what ends up in the landfill could be recycled or composted. The solutions in the Zero Waste Study focus on stronger green purchasing policies and increased reuse and composting across Stanford's schools, departments, and buildings, along with enhancing the existing recycling program. The Zero Waste Study will also be peer reviewed by the Sustainability Design Team faculty identified as a part of Stanford's Long Range Plan.

The cross-cutting benefits of a comprehensive waste management program include conserving energy, reducing landfilled materials, conserving natural resources by providing recyclable materials to manufacturers, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from the supply chain.

2017-18 Results

View the 2017-18 Sustainability Year in Review for more in-depth data on Stanford's diversion rate over time.

  • The Deskside Paper Recycling and Mini–Trash Can Program expanded into 102 buildings, with 8,720 total sets of bins and Zero Waste Guidelines delivered. This program continues to be extended into existing and new academic buildings becoming the campus standard.
  • Departments have funded 99 compost collection points through the Customer-Funded Compostables Collection Program, launched in July 2015. The Voluntary Compost Program increased participation to over 264 volunteers collecting food and other compostable materials from common spaces to bring to collection bins.
  • Over 700 people were trained on best waste sorting, recycling, and composting practices through waste reduction classes, café staff trainings, and custodial trainings. Other outreach efforts included ten campus tabling events and ten tours of the Stanford Recycling Center.
  • Stanford Surplus Sales’ furniture reutilization program helps departments avoid landfill fees and contributes to university sustainability goals by collecting and selling unwanted furniture and equipment at discounted prices. The program successfully diverted approximately 117 tons of furniture from landfill in 2017-18, including 89 tons of furniture donated from the Escondido Village Graduate Residence project.
  • Stanford Surplus Sales collected and processed 129.6 tons of electronic waste in 2017-18, ensuring the material was appropriately recycled within the state of California.
  • Three Sustainability Game Day Challenges were hosted in partnership with the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation. Game Days resulted in an 8-24% increase in waste diversion rates from the prior year, thanks to increased composting infrastructure, food donation programs, student participation, and fan outreach and engagement.