Although progress has been made toward achieving Ohio State’s zero-waste goal, a lack of knowledge on proper recycling techniques and accessible compost bins on campus creates an additional challenge.  Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

It’s not easy being green — even at Ohio State. 

Ohio State adopted a zero-waste goal in 2015 as part of a list of sustainability goals set by the university, according to Ohio State’s sustainability website. One goal was to divert 90 percent of Ohio State’s 20,000 tons of annual campus waste from landfills by 2025. Strides have been made toward achieving zero waste on campus, but a lack of knowledge on proper recycling techniques and accessible compost bins on campus creates a challenge for students who wish to help in the effort, according to campus officials in sustainability.

Michael P. Shelton, associate director of Ohio State’s Sustainability Institute, said in an email that when nonrecyclable or noncompostable items are put in recycling and compost bins, contamination can occur, sending more university waste to landfills. 

“Probably the number one limiting factor of diverting more Ohio State waste from the landfill is the amount of recycling and compost contamination,” Shelton said. “While it is often well-intentioned, putting items in the recycling bin that cannot actually be recycled puts a damper on the entire effort.” 

Shelton said companies that sort through recyclable and compostable waste may charge an extra fee or even reject the waste if it is too contaminated. 

Composting is also challenging for students due to contamination and a lack of access to compost bins, Shelton said. However, the university has made efforts to properly dispose of pre-consumer waste through composting.

Pre-consumer food waste is typically generated in the kitchen areas – before the final product reaches a consumer’s hand,” Shelton said. “In this regard, the waste can be more efficiently controlled and collected. So, the university collects this food waste from some of the larger facilities on campus that provide food – Kennedy Commons, Ohio Union, Central Production Kitchen (which generates much of the food that is then offered for sale at Dining cafes), and the Blackwell Inn.”

Ohio State is currently working with the Central Ohio Food Waste Initiative to establish a regional composting facility, according to the initiative’s website. However, Shelton said composting can be a challenge for the university because of Central Ohio’s “weak” composting market. 

“Central Ohio is particularly poor in this regard – with only two viable state-licensed facilities able to accept food waste at a large scale in the area – one in Franklin County and the other in Delaware County,” he said. 

Despite this, the push that the Sustainability Institute, Facilities Operations and Development and the Athletic Department are making toward achieving zero waste might allow the goal to be met by 2025, Mary Leciejewski, zero waste manager for FOD, said

“We have our own resource and recycling shop,” Leciejewski said. “We actually have drivers and trucks that pick up a large percentage of the waste and transport it to either trash or landfills or the recycling center and in some cases to different composting sites.” 

Graham Oberly, the sustainability coordinator for the Athletic Department, said in an email that some athletic facilities offer waste reduction events.

“Several athletics facilities hold zero-waste events to measure waste production and identify best practices and all athletics facilities are working towards improving their waste infrastructure and systems,” Oberly said. 

The Sustainability Institute is also helping the university meet its goal by overseeing the implementation of sustainability as a focus area for the university’s new general education requirements, Shelton said. 

The institute also oversees the Ohio State Sustainability Fund, which is responsible for investing $9.3 million into sustainability projects over the past decade — including a $400,000 grant to help FOD install hand dryers in place of paper towel dispensers, according to the Sustainability Fund’s annual report. 

Another example of positive progress comes from Ohio State’s Marion campus, the first zero-waste campus in Ohio, according to the campus’ website. 

“If you think of everything that comes to campus, the idea is to transform where that ends up into a more sustainable location,” Leciejewski said.