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Help Answer Key Trends & Best Practices at Higher Ed

A growing number of colleges and universities are finding that uniform bin standards, centralized collection arrangements and other best practices are the key to improving waste diversion programs. But resistance to change and a lack of understanding about these practices can stand as barriers to implementing them. This survey project is a collaboration between CURC, National Wildlife Federation, Zero Waste Campus Council, Campus Race to Zero Waste and Busch Systems to better understand the current trends toward adopting these practices, and share the key lessons learned on how to successfully implement them.

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What Topics Does the Survey Cover?

The survey consists of between 15 to 20 questions and can be filled out in five to ten minutes. Higher ed sustainability and facilities staff with first-hand knowledge will be asked questions detailing waste collection arrangements from indoor academic and administrative areas including:

Waste stream configuration

Uniform standards for bin design and color

Consistent labels and signage

Custodial collections from office workstations

Removing bins from classrooms

Food waste collections outside of dining locations

Who Should Participate?

To get an accurate understanding of current trends, we encourage as many higher institutions as possible to participate, whether or not they’ve adopted specific practices.

We encourage having a sustainability or facilities manager as the lead person to complete the survey, but anyone with direct knowledge of the campus’ waste operations may otherwise do so.

2 or 4 year colleges and universities in the US, Canada or international Schools that have implemented bin standards, centralized collections, food waste, collections, etc.

Schools that have not implemented these practices.

Why You Should Participate!

This survey is your opportunity to understand what your peer institutions are doing, and share your experience with sustainability colleagues at other schools.

The goal of the project is to gather the data and lessons learned needed to help sustainability managers advance best practices that often face institutional resistance.

Decision makers and other stakeholders want more than a theoretical ROI when considering major changes to facility operations. Who else has done it? What evidence is there to show new practices deliver actual results? How do you get staff to accept changes?

The results of this survey will be shared this summer (2024). A summary of high-level trends will be published to a wide audience through fact sheets and presentations. However, only schools that have completed the survey will have access to view the full results including:

Detailed trend stats on all the topics covered, segmented by institution type.

Ability to compare the responses of peer campuses using Carnegie Classifications, regional athletic conference and other groupings.

Advice from schools that have previously implemented certain practices.

How You Should Participate!

Review all the survey questions before starting the survey. We encourage completing the entire survey in one sitting as the form does not have a way to save partial responses.

Frequently Asked Questions – General

Will I be able to see responses for specific schools?

Only the summary trends based on all survey responses will be made available to the general public. However, schools that complete the survey will be given special access to view and filter the individual responses of peer institutions based on Carnegie Classifications Size & Settings, athletic conference and other groupings.

What if I don’t want my school identified with the results?

The survey form includes an option at the very end to indicate if you wish to keep the identify of your school anonymous, including from other participating schools. In this case, other schools will only be able to view your responses based on Carnegie Classifications and other groupings with any identifying information stripped out. Note: no school and personal contact information will be shared with 3rd parties or used for marketing in any circumstance.

What if I want to be able to compare against specific other schools?

The best way to ensure you’ll be able to compare against specific other schools is to encourage your sustainability or facilities counterpart at those schools to complete the survey.

My school is not currently doing the best practices mentioned, should I still fill out the survey?

Absolutely! All higher ed institutions are encouraged to participate regardless of what (if any) recycling or diversion practices they have in place. A diverse sample of participants will help identify national trends.

When will the results be publicized?

This summer. Everyone who completes the survey will receive a notice once they are published.

Frequently Asked Questions – Completing The Survey

What if I don’t know the answer to certain questions?

We encourage reviewing the survey questions before starting the form, and if needed, consult colleagues to get answers to any questions you don’t know. If you do not have access to certain details, select the “Not sure” option included with most questions.

Should I include auxiliary departments, satellite campuses, etc. with my responses?

In general, your responses should reflect what’s happening at on a distinct campus. That may or may not include nearby off-campus facilities or auxiliary departments, as long as they include the same basic academic and/ or administrative settings. Satellite campuses outside the immediate area or with distinct identities should generally be treated separately. Just keep in mind that dining facilities, residential units and other distinct settings with unique waste streams and usage patterns are not included.

What if there isn’t a simple answer to a question, or my responses apply to only certain parts of campus?

We understand high ed institutions are complex and there may be nuances to certain responses. The spirit of the survey is to understand what’s happening broadly at a given school. There may be exceptions to certain practices depending on the area of campus, in which case you could nonetheless represent the dominant situation or the clear trend for the institution as a whole. If there truly is no dominant practice, use the “other” option to explain the situation.

What should be included in calculating our diversion rate?

The survey asks for your diversion rate as general way to classify beginning versus more advanced waste reduction programs. There is not a specific standard for calculating this, but in general it should factor all sources of MSW waste generated for the institution as a whole. To ensure a reasonable apples- to- apples comparison, the calculation should exclude significant sources of one-time construction and demolition waste, and diversion should only apply to materials that are quantifiably recycled, composted, reused or source reduced. Material sent to waste-to-energy facilities should be classified with trash / landfill, not as recycling.

What counts as a “formally-adopted standard” for waste collection bins on question #4?

“Formally-adopted” is meant to distinguish between the loose, informal preferences that a recycling or custodial department may have for bin styles, colors, labels, etc. from more formal guidelines that have been vetted by and (if necessary) approved by a wider set of campus stakeholders. Because informal preferences can change with personnel, the survey is only interested in standardized guidelines that have broader institutional acceptance.

What do “standard configuration of bins” mean on question #6?

This refers to the individual waste and diversion bins / collection streams that are paired together at each locations. This question only applies if there is a consistent arrangement used in most locations. If there is no coordinated, consistent pattern, check the option for “Location dependent – No Standardized bin arrangement”.

Question #9 refers to custodial service of desk side bins but we use a different crew of waste / recycling staff to service these.

This questions refers to any staff or contractor tasked with emptying deskside bins. The point of the question is to learn whether this service is provided to individual office staff and faculty members or whether they’re expected to empty them into the centralized bins in common areas.