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Zero Waste Building Systems Transition FAQ

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1. Why is Stanford changing its waste system?

Stanford is on the path to Zero Waste, defined as 90% diversion from the landfill or higher, by 2030. Our campus diversion rate has remained stagnant at 65% for the last 15 years and our campus waste characterization study shows that 26% of the waste going to landfill is recyclable and 36% of the waste is compostable. The University's Zero Waste Plan incorporates a new system that adopts best practices, industry standards, and efficiency standards to ensure all waste is disposed of correctly. This system will not only help us reach our Zero Waste Goal, but will also reduce exposure to germs and pathogens, keep bins more sanitary, and meet state regulations.

2. What are elements of the Zero Waste Building System?

  • Use of centralized waste collections and deskside self-service bins. Daily service to labs, kitchens, conference rooms, and common spaces will not change.
  • Switch to single-stream recycling (combining paper, cardboard,  plastics, metal, and glass). Replacement of all wheeled carts with 16 gallon rectangular bins with color coded lids and labels.
  • Centralized collection of flattened corrugated cardboard in or next to centralized waste collection stations
  • Compostables collection in break rooms and kitchens
  • Paper towels to be collected from restrooms as compostables 
  • Custodial removal of all recyclables, compostables, and landfill waste from centralized waste collection stations in buildings daily five times a week or as assigned

Depending on departmental preferences, building occupants may see some differences with deskside bin services. If you have questions, please follow up with

3. Why do I have to take my trash to centralized collection points?

We are asking for full participation from everyone on campus to help Stanford reach the Zero Waste by 2030 goal. Every person on campus generates waste, and we found that 62% of campus waste in landfill bins was made up of common recyclables and compostables. Our own waste characterization studies show that people sort incorrectly into their deskside bins and that people are more likely to sort correctly at a shared waste collection point. Lastly, centralizing waste collection points, or stations, empowers people to be more mindful of the waste they are generating. Individual action makes a difference!

4. When will this transition be implemented in my building?

The transition will happen in the next year and a half. So far in this extended pilot phase, we have over 50 buildings who have volunteered to be early adopters of the program.

5. How will this impact my lab or conference room?

​​Any recycling bins in these locations will be switched out for single-stream recycling bins, which will be serviced daily by custodians. With daily service, there may be a need for less bins.

6. Why did Stanford switch to single-stream recycling where all of the recyclable materials are commingled into one bin?

There are multiple reasons why Stanford chose to switch to a single-stream recycling system. Most of our surrounding community and the Bay Area in general have switched to single-stream recycling. To reduce confusion, we are standardizing our program to be similar to the surrounding communities. We hope that this will reduce confusion between home and at-work recycling programs and increase participation in recycling on campus. Single-stream recycling also allows better utilization of space and room for the compost bin.

7. How does this program impact cardboard recycling?

This program will streamline the cardboard collection process. Prior to the new changes, every individual was responsible for taking their cardboard out to the dumpster and some buildings paid extra for custodial collection. Under the new Zero Waste Building System, people will be able to leave flattened cardboard next to any centralized waste station. By breaking down and flattening the cardboard, you will be sending a signal to the custodial team that the cardboard is no longer in use and is ready to be recycled.

8. What if I already pay for compost collection from interior locations?

Once your building is transitioned to the new Zero Waste Building System, we will cancel the work order that charges for the service.

9. What do I do with my trash in the bathrooms?

The main waste container in the bathrooms will be converted to a compost bin and a small black bin (for the landfill) will be added to take any waste that is not compostable or recyclable. There will still be waste receptacles in stalls to handle sanitary products, which are not compostable.

10. What about reuse programs and events, batteries, toner, and e-waste recycling programs?

These important waste reduction programs have not changed and are available. Learn more about them at our Sustainable Stanford Zero Waste website.

11. How will this program impact the custodial team?

Custodians will play a strategic role in our Zero Waste Program. They will be responsible for moving the waste from the color-coded, centralized waste collection bins into color-coded bags and then to corresponding outdoor color-coded dumpsters and compactors. They will also keep the bins in clean and sanitary condition. The custodians will be an important conduit on bin contamination within the building by reporting issues to the Office of Sustainability. These reports can help increase our outreach and communication to areas within buildings that are struggling with proper sorting.

12. What happens to our trash after it leaves the campus?

Recyclables get processed, sorted, and sold off to manufacturers to make new products; food waste from dining halls gets turned into animal feed; compostables get composted into soil products; and landfill waste is landfilled. Once you put the waste materials into the correct bin, this amazing system can turn your waste product into a new product!

More Details:

Recyclables | Materials from the blue labeled recycling bins will be transported to a regional recovery facility and be separated into categories like aluminum, steel, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic. The different groups of materials will be organized into bales to be sold to a third party that will transform the valuable material into a β€œraw” material to be used again.

Food and compostable material | Materials from green labeled compost bins (leftover food, compostable containers, food-soiled paper, paper towels) and yard trimmings go to the Newby Island Organics Facility, located in San Jose, and are placed in aerated static piles. This material will heat up and be rotated to provide oxygen to the decomposers. Over the course of 60 to 120 days, the organic material will be turned into valuable soil amendments. The food waste from the dining halls is taken separately to a local facility and turned into animal feed.

Landfill | Materials placed in the black-labeled landfill bin will go directly to the Newby Island Landfill, also located in San Jose. The landfill waste stream is not sorted before being placed in the landfill. The load of unsorted landfill waste (even if it has recyclables and compostables) will be dumped into a pit in the ground and compacted. There is very little to no oxygen, so waste that ends up here is covered with more landfill waste and trapped in the landfill permanently.

13. Where can I learn how to sort my waste properly?

The Office of Sustainability staff welcomes opportunities to provide proper waste sorting training to you and your team. You will be amazed at how much your waste sorting skills will improve with a few tips! You can add this to a team meeting agenda or organize as a stand-alone, team-building exercise. If your office has already switched to the new system, register here. If you have not yet transitioned to the zero waste building system, register here. If you are interested in asynchronous/on your own sorting training, please complete the Axess training. Although this STARS training course was designed for Stanford students, it is applicable for staff and has a cool sorting game at the end. For more information on proper sorting practices and guidelines, review the Sustainable Stanford Zero Waste website.

14. Can I get My Cardinal Green points for participating in this transition?

Yes! Make sure to sign up for the platform!

15. More questions?

Please email