UO’s Zero Waste Program plays important role in university’s recycling process

Across Franklin Boulevard lies the farm up north where all of your waste goes. A row of blue, plastic 55-gallon drums hold anything and everything from hundreds of metal cans to empty Reddi-Wip whipped cream bottles. Every item thrown into the wrong bin ends up here to be sorted. Student workers empty the bins on a table, each bin takes about five minutes to empty, although that depends on the level of “contamination” of other items. What about that cup with the recycling logo you threw in the recycling bin? That’s actually contamination.

The University of Oregon Zero Waste Program handles all the disposal of campus’ waste. Started in March 1991, Zero Waste plays a crucial role in disposing of everything from milk cartons to french fries from the dining halls. Last year, Zero Waste recovered 1475.72 tons of garbage and among other things, 88.82 tons of books.

“Sometimes you’ll find a science book from the 1930s or an outdated law book,” said Cimmeron Gillespie, Zero Waste’s Marketing Coordinator.

Zero Waste boasts a recovery rate of 55 percent, meaning it recovers 55 percent of the materials thrown away and diverts them from landfills or being incinerated. The other 45 percent of UO’s waste is recycled, composted or recovered for reuse. The group receives funds from ASUO in order to pay for student jobs, but also receives revenue from selling recovered materials to contractors.

“We’re all about pulling waste out of the garbage stream,” said Karyn Kaplyn, Zero Waste’s director. “That’s a really multileveled operation, we have to educate the public to focus on zero waste opportunities and it also involves institutional changes.”  

Now, those institutional changes are being made. Since In 2014, Zero Waste placed so called “zero waste stations” in buildings like Deady Hall which offer trash containers compost and recycling.

“By having everything in the same place, we’re giving people the opportunity to put waste in the right place,” Gillespie said. “If there’s only a trash can in the room, odds are you’ll throw something in the trash.”

UO Zero Waste does not only deal with “traditional” forms of waste like recyclables and trash, it also started a reusable office supply exchange (ROSE) for student groups. Tucked inside PLC is a room no bigger than a broom closet, which holds everything from Liberty Bell mousepads to laptop bags and label makers.

“It’s pretty much like a little Office Depot,” Gillespie said. “One time we got a laptop bag that belonged to UO President Michael Schill.”

The ROSE distributes these and many more items to student groups and according to last years’ numbers, saved the UO almost $17,000. Since ROSE’s start in 1997, the program saved over $300,000 worth of paper, pens, binders and bookends.

Gillespie is quick to note that Zero Waste’s success isn’t caused by one single factor.

“Tens of thousands are people are using our system,” Gillespie said. “To me, that’s something that is really meaningful. All this takes people being thoughtful and careful and I think Zero Waste represents those attitudes on our campus.”

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Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin

Michael is one of the Emerald's associate news editors. In his free time, he enjoys rock climbing and going to house shows. Drop him a tip via email at [email protected]