e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Materials Management: Zero Waste


We traditionally think about materials that are thrown in the trash as "waste" and therefore, they are assigned minimal value. The term "materials management" recognizes that all items have inherent value and are oftentimes created from finite resources (think traditional plastics) and harmful extractive practices. Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) challenges us to systematically rethink how we use (or avoid using) and reuse materials more productively throughout their entire lifecycle.

Instead of placing equal importance on "reduction", "reuse" and "recycling", SMM most heavily emphasizes source reduction (not using or producing something in the first place). All members of the campus community are encouraged to help in this effort by reducing what they purchase, reusing what they can and avoiding single use products, even if they are recyclable or compostable, to the greatest extent possible.

Moving toward a less wasteful campus requires a systematic shift in how all members of the community conduct themselves. Check out the Events, Purchasing, Surplus Property and On Campus Actions pages for more information about how you can be an active participate along our path to zero waste!

We have set zero waste goals, are making tremendous progress and are winning awards! ESF's zero waste program won the NYS Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling's (NYSAR3) 2020 Recycling Leadership Award in the Education Category.

Properly Composting and Recycling on Campus

Please pay close attention to signage posted on bins throughout campus and near the Trailhead Café. They will direct you as you place items in the trash, recycling or compost bins.

The dropdown menus below include an explanation of what can be placed in trash, recycling and compost bins on campus:

  • Vegetables

  • Pasta & bread

  • Fruit

  • Meat & fish

  • Tea bags & coffee grounds

  • Paper towels

  • Most Trailhead items:

    • All to go containers (except triangle shaped)

    • Forks, knives & spoons

    • All soup cups

    • All drink cups (except cold cups as of Fall 2021 semester) and all lids

    • Napkins

    • Condiment containers

    • Coffee sleeves

    • Stirrers & straws

Items beyond this list are compostable only if they are BPI certified. If you don't know if an item is BPI certified, please place it in the trash

  • Newspapers

  • Magazines

  • Cardboard

  • Cans

  • Glass jars & bottles

  • Plastic bottles & jugs

  • Milk & juice cartons

  • Stackable plastic dairy tubs

  • Scroll to the bottom of this page for instructions for recycling specialized items (ex: batteries, shredded paper, ink & toner etc)

  • Styrofoam

  • Wrappers

  • Chip & snack bags

  • Plastic and coated (shiny) paper plates & cups

  • Plastics (see recycling flyer for exceptions)

  • Non -compostable Trailhead items

    • Triangle shaped containers

    • Wrap paper

    • Fry containers

Onondaga Country Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) has a wealth of recycling information, complete with a "How Do I Get Rid Of.." tool to help you decide whether something belongs in the trash, recycling or compost.

Reimagining Materials Management on Campus

Prior to the Fall 2019 semester, ESF did not offer campus wide composting and its trash and recycling bins were mismatched and poorly labelled. During the summer of 2019, students and staff conducted a comprehensive bin audit of the Syracuse campus. Every single interior bin, in every building, was photographed and mapped. This audit painted a stark picture of the reasons why the campus recycling rate was hovering close to the national average of 34%. For example, Illick Hall alone had 28 different types of unlabelled and mismatched trash and recycling bins!

College leadership approved a plan to replace all interior hallway bins on campus and to implement a formalized compost program. Fall 2019 saw the rollout of these new consistently designed bins, complete with educational signage. Traditional office trash bins were also replaced with liner-less 1.15-gallon mini bins. These bins encourage office occupants to bring their compost to hallway bins, as custodial staff do not wash them. Compost bins were also placed in restrooms during Fall 2020, at the request of the campus community. The campus also signed the Post Landfill Action Network's Break Free From Plastic Pledge in January 2020. Check out our progress page to see how these changes impacted our operations!

Syracuse Haulers collects campus trash and recycling and provides monthly trash and recycling weights. Natural Upcycling provides compost hauling services.

Steps are being taken to expand bin audits and composting to ESF's regional campuses.

Specialized Recycling

Item Campus Process Recycler
Electronics Departments with electronics to recycle should contact Deb Snyder. Grounds staff then collect electronics for recycling. E-Waste+
Light bulbs Facilities staff gather lightbulbs as they are replaced and coordinate with EHS for recycling Complete Recycling Solutions
Metal Facilities staff place metal in dumpster for pickup by recycler Metallico
Shredded paper Building occupants place shredded paper in plastic bags. Custodial staff picks up. Grounds staff hauls to recycling facility Bodow Recycling
Ink/toner Building occupants place in labelled bins located in each building. Grounds staff collects for recycling. Emaginit
Tires Garage compiles tires from all campuses and recycler picks up from Syracuse campus HTI Recycling
Hardcover books Building occupants alert grounds staff when very large amount of hardcover books are ready for recycling Hanna Paper
Batteries Building occupants place in labelled bins located in each building. Grounds staff sorts batteries to prepare for recycling Inmetco Battery


Sue Fassler
Sustainable Facilities Manager