Working Group Takes on Penn’s Trash

March 17, 2014

As a small city of more than 30,000 people, Penn daily produces a large amount  waste – some of it headed for recycling, some of it for compost, and, yes, some of it for the landfill. Always a part of the University’s Climate Action Plan, solid waste management received intense focus starting in the summer of 2012 with the creation of a Solid Waste Management Working Group and regular meetings between Facilities & Real Estate Services senior leadership and representatives from School and Centers across campus.  The goals of the Group included:

•          Increasing the waste diversion rate to 40% by 2014

•          Piloting new practices, such as composting in classroom and office buildings

•          Increasing the efficiency and ease of Penn’s waste management systems


The Working Group started by documenting Penn’s existing conditions and practices, discovering, for example, over 100 different types of waste receptacles in use on campus and over 30 different types of signage.  Ongoing work included stakeholder interviews and workshops, culminating in a Solid Waste Management Plan published in June 2013. The plan offers 30 recommendations for University-wide implementation.

Currently, the Working Group is continues to review and modify the plan as it begins implementation.  While still very early in the process, results so far include:

•          Approved new standard operating procedures

•          Developed new signage and pictograms for the recycling, compost, and landfill

•          Set up program pilot programs for composting in several different centers and schools.

“We are in our first steps here,” says Joe Gaither, Urban Park Supervisor and member of the Working Group, “but the schools and centers are working together, and our housekeepers and students are being included in the conversations.” Gaither is confident that the Solid Waste Management Plan will be successful and sustainable over the long run because those impacted are directly involved in the process. Stay tuned for updated policies to be published on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.


The average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. That's as far as a trip from Philadelphia to Houston.

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