Emory’s Zero Landfill Waste Initiative: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Since the 1990s, Emory University has been enhancing and streamlining its landfill waste diversion efforts. In 2017 and 2018, the University made sweeping changes across the Oxford and Atlanta campuses to make progress toward Emory’s goal to divert 95% of our waste from area landfills by 2025, outlined in Emory’s Sustainability Vision and Strategic Plan, 2025. In working to achieve this goal, OSI and Campus Services documented significant progress leading up to the pandemic, but in summer 2020, Emory had to make adjustments in response to uncontrollable and unexpected events experienced by former composting vendors. After a year of regrouping and seeking a waste vendor who could help Emory pursue multiple sustainability and social justice goals, Goodr Co. was selected as Emory’s new waste partner.

Pathway to a New Partnership

In September 2020, Emory announced that the university had to temporarily send compost waste to landfills. This unfortunate change was necessitated when the previous vendors responsible for hauling and processing Emory’s waste ended composting services, in part because of the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation was exacerbated by above-average rainfall, which made the fields in which compost is stored and rotated inaccessible. During this time, OSI, Campus Services, and Procurement teams worked together to create a competitive request for proposals for one vendor to service all of Emory’s core waste streams.

In July 2021, Emory signed a contract with Goodr, an Atlanta-based, Black-woman-owned, sustainable food waste management B Corp whose mission is to “feed more, waste less,” to act as its holistic waste management provider. Goodr focuses on surplus food recovery, organics recycling, and holistic waste management by partnering with local businesses and nonprofits. Since August 2021, Goodr has been servicing animal bedding and kitchen food scraps from Emory’s Division of Animal Resources, the Dobbs Common Table (DCT) and Cox Hall Emory Dining locations.

Regaining Momentum

Over the next several months, Goodr will work with Emory to divert other waste streams, including all campus composting and recycling materials, and track progress through a dashboard of real-time, cumulative reporting on landfill diversion across all waste streams. Through this partnership, edible food recovery on campus and redistribution may be possible in the future as well.

In fiscal year 2020 (September 2019 to August 2020), Emory’s landfill diversion rate was 75%, a noticeable increase from the 59% diverted the year before the launch of the Emory University Waste Policy in January 2018. A group of peer-to-peer educators, the Zero Waste Ambassadors, was created to help students, faculty, and staff understand the “how” and the “why” of reducing and sorting waste on campus. The cessation of composting service in the summer of 2020 halted the multi-year increases the University had measured from 2018 to 2020. Emory’s average landfill diversion rate for July, August and September 2021 was 53.4%.

As Goodr starts servicing more of the campus waste streams, diversion rates are expected to be on the rise once again. However, it is essential for the joint success of Emory and Goodr in pursuit of more landfill waste diversion to focus on proper individual waste sorting. The largest barrier Emory faces in restarting post-consumer composting of all bins on campus is the inclusion of plastics, metals, wrappers, and other such items in the green compost bins. Green “Compost” bins on campus should only have food, used napkins, and compostable to-go containers from Emory Dining locations. These organic items can break down and become soil, but any plastic or metal items placed into green compost bins will not break down. Plastics, metals, mixed paper, and white paper should be sorted into the corresponding blue “Recycle” bins, to collect and recycle materials that can be turned into recycled products. Only styrofoam and disposable PPE should be put into the black landfill bins. Hard-to-recycle materials, including glass, batteries, CFL and LED bulbs, aerosol cans, ink jet and toner cartridges, and non-food grade packaging styrofoam are accepted at specific stations around Emory’s campus. More information on all of Emory’s zero landfill waste initiatives here.

OSI conducts education and outreach to inform students, staff, and faculty about the proper waste removal process. Anyone at Emory can join the Zero Waste Ambassador program to become a trained peer educator in your own networks. If you would like to request a presentation on this topic, please reach out to emorysustainbility@emory.edu.

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