Waste Management

Student throwing trash in Solar trash compactor on Iowa State Campus

An important component of sustainability is the consideration of waste production and opportunities to reduce and divert materials from the landfill. Iowa State University aspires to be an international model for sustainable behavior, constantly encouraging others to use better management practices (BMPs) and to discover diversified and expanded opportunities for managing waste.

Because of a unique partnership with the City of Ames and its refuse-derived fuel (RDF) system at the Resource Recovery Center (one that processes garbage, separating metals for recycling, to combine with natural gas to produce electrical energy for Ames electric customers), 60-70% of the materials the university does dispose of as waste is secondarily diverted as a supplemental fuel source. Through these collective opportunities on- and off-campus, ISU's current landfill diversion rate exceeds 75%.

Iowa State has many campus initiatives when it comes to managing its waste. Solar-powered trash and recycling compactors, envisioned by ISU students, have decreased labor costs and emissions from trash pickups by having their contents and functionality digitally monitored; have the capacity to hold five times more trash than previous receptacles; and have enriched the aesthetic of ISU's grounds. Iowa State also has a laboratory glass recycling program that reuses cat litter containers. Glass, a non-beneficial fuel for the Ames Resource Recovery Center causing unduly wear and tear to machinery, is collected in these containers before arriving at the Center. In addition, Iowa State's Environmental Health and Safety department offers education and training opportunities to the campus community about effective and responsible waste management practices. 

Iowa State University is on a mission to become a zero waste campus by keeping at least 85% of its waste out of the landfill by 2025 and Recycling Services approach in achieving this is through the reduction of waste produced, reusing materials repeatedly, as well as recycling into new products (composting food waste into soil compost). Our focus is to continue promoting the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle/Compost model which is vital in achieving an effective waste minimization/zero waste program.

Learn about the various paths waste may travel after it is disposed of on Iowa State's campus by viewing the Follow Your Trash map.

"For most things we use on campus it's either that we're reusing something or it's got some form of recycled content in it, and at the end of the day we're looking at where it needs to go. If we didn't use something, let's find a place to reuse or recycle it and so on. Two decades ago people didn't worry about that. It went in the dumpster and went away."

-Bob Currie, Facilities Services Director