Stanford has increased its landfill diversion rate, also referred to as its recycling rate, from 30% in 1994 to 65% in 2014, with the goal of reaching 75%, the new state goal, by 2020.

Stanford’s waste reduction, recycling, and composting program serves all academic and athletic areas, Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), Faculty Staff Housing, Stanford University Medical Center, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and all associated construction sites. The university continually improves and expands recycling and composting collection activities, identifies new markets for waste materials and recyclables, and raises awareness so that reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting become an ingrained set of behaviors. Stanford partners with Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc. (PSSI), its recycling and waste management service provider, to reduce waste, increase landfill diversion, and move closer to zero waste (defined as at least 90% diversion).


Efforts to minimize waste have significantly reduced the total amount of material Stanford sends to landfill: 8,343 tons in 2014, compared to 14,000 tons in 1998. This year:

  • Stanford achieved a recycling rate of 65%, up from 30% in 1994. The recycling rate for construction and demolition waste generated by campus projects (taken to a specialized facility) was 87%.
  • Staff with deskside recycling bins

    Staff with deskside recycling bins

  • The Deskside Paper Recycling and Mini–Trash Can Program expanded into 70 buildings after successful completion of the pilot program, with 6,000 sets of bins delivered. This program will be expanded into all academic buildings in the upcoming year.
  • Over 200 people attended the BeWell class “Reducing the Stress of Recycling and Composting,” taught by PSSI/Stanford Recycling, to educate themselves on what is and isn’t recyclable and compostable on campus. In addition, 30 people attended the waste management reduction class offered by Office of Sustainability and PSSI/Stanford Recycling. Attendance has increased with each offering of this class.
  • More than 120 individuals are participating in the Voluntary Compost Program, which enables individuals to collect food and other compostable materials from break rooms and kitchens within their building or department and take them to nearby compostable-collection bins. In addition, the Customer Funded Compostables Collection Program launched this year, enabling composting at a building-wide level.
  • PSSI conducted regular waste audits of campus buildings and determined that more than 50% of the remaining landfilled waste is either recyclable or compostable. Food waste makes up the largest percentage of material sent to landfill and remains the primary target for program development.
  • The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory continues to expand its food waste and paper towel composting program to additional office buildings. Approximately one-half of SLAC’s 1,500 staff work in a building where the program has been implemented.
  • This year saw the collection of 305 more tons of food scraps and yard trimmings than last year and the addition of four new compostables collection points.

Stanford scored in the top 20 in six of the eight categories in the national RecycleMania 2015 contest: Gorilla (3rd), corrugated cardboard (7th), bottles and cans (6th), paper (11th), food service organics (7th), and per capita classic (18th). In the spirit of friendly competition, Office of Sustainability created a music video parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” called “All About No Waste,” to encourage the campus to reduce waste and recycle and compost more. The video received more than 5,000 hits, and campaign pledges more than doubled from previous years.

Waste diversion trends since 2000

Academic Integration

PSSI regularly partners with staff and student groups to conduct waste audits across campus. These events offer the campus community an experiential learning opportunity while providing valuable data to PSSI about the content of campus landfill bins. In addition, PSSI continues to provide tours of the university’s recycling facility to classes and other groups on campus.

In keeping with a tradition of engaging students with ideas for improving Stanford’s waste program, PSSI worked this year to advise students on a variety of initiatives. Student projects on waste-related issues included examining the metals industry and the food waste system, studying the effectiveness of recycling bin designs, promoting the use of reusable mugs, ascertaining how polyester fabric and textbooks are recycled, determining the best waste material for a bioreactor, and learning how anaerobic digestion of organic material fits into sustainable materials management. PSSI also organized a field trip for students to visit the Newby Island Compost Facility, where Stanford sends its compostable materials.

Encouraging a Zero Waste Stanford

Encouraging a Zero Waste Stanford

Looking Ahead

The state of California (through AB 341) has set a policy goal of a 75% recycling rate by 2020. Stanford’s Department of Buildings and Grounds Maintenance (BGM) has completed a comprehensive review of all current recycling and diversion programs and identified several new waste management initiatives and technologies that will further increase the university’s recycling rate. The primary focus will be on capturing more organics and paper.

BGM is evaluating several new technologies related to capturing and processing food waste, and prototype or demonstration projects will likely result. PSSI will continue to focus on increasing the availability of composting services on campus by expanding compost collection in offices, cafes, and student housing, as well as at Maples Pavilion and other event venues.

Expansion of the Deskside Paper Recycling and Mini–Trash Can Program to more campus buildings will continue to make paper recycling more convenient. Increasing the amount of clean, source-separated paper collected represents a major opportunity for the university.

The program will continue to work with the Department of Athletics, R&DE, and Office of Sustainability to promote and improve recycling and composting at the stadiums. These projects will be components of efforts related to Stanford’s membership in the Green Sports Alliance. Ongoing waste audits will provide relevant information, including building-level waste data, to guide expanded program implementation and a building rating system that Office of Sustainability is developing for 2016.