Pacific Lutheran University: Waste Sort


A day of sorting through food scraps, tennis balls, candy wrappers, and other material paid off as passerby stopped to comment on the mountain of material that could have been diverted from the wastestream. 

Some were so shocked that they questioned the results of the waste audit. "It just proved that we needed an eye-opener," said Chrissy Cooley, Sustainability Coordinator. 

PLU diverts more than 70% of its waste, and this event helped show the community that more can be done. A team effort by several campus groups, the biggest challenge was getting the word out in advance of the event. "It's not so hard to dump a bunch of trash and sort it. It's hard to let students know why we're doing this," said Cooley.

Messaging and Media 

Cooley and her team revamped PLU's RecycleMania marketing plan this year. With the goal of changing behavior rather than just raising awareness about recycling, they referred to social marketing research and presented recycling as a social norm. Last year, PLU's waste diversion rate wass 68% and this year's RecycleMania numbers bring it to 77%. 

After the Sustainability Office issued a press release to local media, they earned a radio story and an article in their local paper. Cooley also found that local businesses helped spread the word about the event by retweeting her.  

How-to: the Details 

  • Partners: The Sustainability Office worked with representatives from the Residence Hall Association and student government to plan, promote, and recruit volunteers. PLU was forunate to have existing student positions in both organizations who met regularly with the Sustainability Office in order to coordinate for events like Garbology. However, you could recruit "Eco-Reps" or liasons from campus groups that you'd like to work with and keep in the loop. 
  • Planning: Garbology planning began in October for the February RecycleMania kickoff event.  A major concern was spreading the word so students knew what they were seeing when a mountain of waste appeared in the middle of campus.  
  • Promotion: This year, PLU worked to promote recycling as a social norm, and they made that part of their messaging. Examples of marketing:
    • One campus-wide email
    • Posters at every recycling station on campus
    • Messaging by other campus groups (Residence Hall Association, student government)
  • Logistics: In advance of the event, Sustainability Coordinator Chrissy Cooley and her team contacted their waste hauler to cancel their scheduled waste pickup. After custodial staff had consolidated the day's trash to dumpsters and bins, volunteers were unleashed to collect and sort. The Sustainability Office was also careful to notify different campus offices before the event to offer assistance with any inconvenience it might have caused. 
  • Incentives: A core group of volunteers encouraged passersby to stop and sort, with different  prizes based on time spent sorting (see below). A group of campus safety officers stopped by to help!