By the Numbers

Waste Not

By Jay Thompson

Photo by Jean Paul Molyneux

In October Cal Poly launched a new pilot program to significantly reduce landfill waste on campus. The program, called Zero Waste, features new collection containers installed at key locations around campus. Each of the 27 stations is used to collect recyclables and trash, and includes a new bin for compostable materials that previously ended up in the landfill. The new category includes all food scraps, napkins and compostable containers, drink cups and coffee cups.

“We’re excited to be able to offer this to the campus community,” said Dennis Elliot, Cal Poly’s director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability. “Every year we receive requests from students, faculty and staff to help the campus move toward a zero waste status. This pilot program will allow us to work out the kinks before we expand the system to the entire Cal Poly campus.”

Students who reside in the red-brick, or “south mountain” dorms — Trinity, Santa Lucia, Muir, Sequoia, Fremont and Tenaya halls — now have zero waste stations in the lobbies of their residence halls. Zero waste stations were also installed throughout the University Union, The Avenue food court and at Kennedy Library.

The goal is to significantly divert the amount of campus trash that ends up in a landfill. Cal Poly already diverts the majority of its trash, but the California State University Chancellor’s Office has asked campuses for further reductions by the year 2020.

“Within five years, we’ll need to divert 95 percent of all trash from the landfill,” Elliot said. “Cal Poly has been a leader in sustainability. We think this is achievable and something the campus will embrace.”

At that point, Cal Poly’s facilities team will evaluate what it will take to get the campus to that final step — truly creating zero landfill waste. But for now, with the addition of a third waste container, some confusion is bound to occur among students, faculty, staff and campus visitors — so what goes where? “When in doubt — recycle it,” Elliot advised.


Percentage of waste diverted from landfills at Cal Poly (2013)


Percentage of waste diverted from landfills across California (2013)


Cal Poly’s target reduction of landfill waste by 2020

250 tons

Compost produced annually from Cal Poly food waste

2,100 tons

Compost produced annually from Cal Poly agriculture and landscape waste

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