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Talking Trash: BU’s Zero Waste Goals

On October 16, 2019, a group of Boston University students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Trustee Ballroom to discuss one thing: waste.

Waste contributes to climate change through methane release in landfills, as well as potential pollution of water sources and large amounts of land being used to hold waste. As part of Boston University’s Climate Action Plan, which set a target for the university to be carbon neutral by 2040, BU also set a goal of achieving net zero waste by 2030. This means that at least 90% of the waste on campus must be diverted from the trash and either reused, recycled, or composted. This goal can only be implemented with the help of Boston University students and staff; thus, the Zero Waste Campus Forum was born.

Waste comes from everywhere. Shipping something from Amazon to one’s doorstep creates waste. Wrapping birthday presents creates waste. On the waste management hierarchy below, the most preferred method is source reduction and reuse, while the least preferred is treatment and disposal. It is important to be conscious not only of products purchased, but also of packaging and shipping methods. This can be a lot for the average consumer to address, which is why waste is such a big issue in cities like Boston. And at a large university like BU, reaching a zero waste goal won’t be a walk in the park.

The forum was planned by Sustainability@BU, who founded BU’s Climate Action Plan. At the forum, representatives from the Zero Waste Implementation Task Force spoke about their goals, as well as the urgency of their mission. This was followed by a breakout session, where attendees were encouraged to join discussions on the categories of the zero waste plan of most interest to them, such as “Supply Chain” or “Engagement.” Within these groups were staff representatives who could give a closer look into what actually happens behind the scenes. The groups discussed ideas for reaching zero waste within the framework of their topic, and at the end, each group gave a brief overview of what they discussed to the entire room. 

The combined perspectives of students, faculty, and staff gave a holistic view of what can be done to reduce the university’s waste in a timely manner. Some students proposed a sustainability training for students before they are matriculated into the university, while some professional staff suggested a signed agreement for incoming staff detailing the university’s commitment to sustainability. Staff emphasized the prospect of sharing resources between departments (like pens, sticky notes, etc) and students advocated for making composting more accessible on campus. With these voices as indication, the university now has an idea of where to focus their efforts and knows what issues students and staff really care about. And this forum was just the first step in reaching the zero waste goal. Sustainability@BU is also encouraging students and staff to fill out an online survey to share their views on how to reduce waste at BU.

And BU is not the only one trying to be less wasteful. With Boston having its own Climate Action Plan, new programs are being implemented around the city to reduce its carbon footprint. For example, Project Oscar is a pilot program in Boston where there are public compost bins placed around the city. This is a test program to see if this type of public composting is feasible (and useful) in the city, but with enough positive feedback it could be implemented all throughout Boston. There are other programs such as Boostrap or City Compost where residents can pay for weekly compost disposal from their doorstep. By piloting these programs on a small scale, the university can lay the groundwork for future large-scale projects that can vastly decrease the university’s waste. 

As of 2018, BU’s recycling rate is 39%. This compares to the US National Recycling Rate of about 34%. Students, faculty, and staff throw away 5,827 tons of waste each year. The only way to reach the zero waste goal is to get all members of the BU community on board with the mission. This is why forums like the one on October 16th are vital to ensuring the university reaches their goals and does its part in making Boston greener. 


Trustees of Boston University. “Zero Waste.” Boston University Sustainability, Sustainability@Bu, 2010,

Paben, Jared. “National Statistics Show Stagnant U.S. Diversion Rate.” Resource Recycling News, Resource Recycling, 1 Aug. 2018,

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