Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 66.31
Liaison Natalie Walker
Submission Date Aug. 9, 2021

STARS v2.2

University of Pennsylvania
OP-18: Waste Minimization and Diversion

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.02 / 8.00 Natalie Walker
Sustainability Manager
Penn Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Figures needed to determine total waste generated (and diverted):
Performance Year Baseline Year
Materials recycled 983.99 Tons 1,480 Tons
Materials composted 206.09 Tons 0 Tons
Materials donated or re-sold 85.82 Tons 0 Tons
Materials disposed through post-recycling residual conversion 0 Tons 0 Tons
Materials disposed in a solid waste landfill or incinerator 4,332.01 Tons 5,596 Tons
Total waste generated 5,607.91 Tons 7,076 Tons

A brief description of the residual conversion facility:


Start and end dates of the performance year and baseline year (or three-year periods):
Start Date End Date
Performance Period July 1, 2019 June 30, 2020
Baseline Period July 1, 2008 June 30, 2009

A brief description of when and why the waste generation baseline was adopted:


Figures needed to determine "Weighted Campus Users”:
Performance Year Baseline Year
Number of students resident on-site 4,386 6,310
Number of employees resident on-site 259 244
Number of other individuals resident on-site 0 0
Total full-time equivalent student enrollment 23,770 21,454
Full-time equivalent of employees 18,367 14,415
Full-time equivalent of students enrolled exclusively in distance education 378 0
Weighted campus users 32,480.50 28,540.25

Total waste generated per weighted campus user:
Performance Year Baseline Year
Total waste generated per weighted campus user 0.17 Tons 0.25 Tons

Percentage reduction in total waste generated per weighted campus user from baseline:

Percentage of materials diverted from the landfill or incinerator by recycling, composting, donating or re-selling, performance year:

Percentage of materials diverted from the landfill or incinerator (including up to 10 percent attributable to post-recycling residual conversion):

In the waste figures reported above, has the institution recycled, composted, donated and/or re-sold the following materials?:
Yes or No
Paper, plastics, glass, metals, and other recyclable containers Yes
Food Yes
Cooking oil Yes
Plant materials Yes
Animal bedding No
White goods (i.e. appliances) Yes
Electronics Yes
Laboratory equipment Yes
Furniture Yes
Residence hall move-in/move-out waste Yes
Scrap metal Yes
Pallets Yes
Tires Yes
Other (please specify below) Yes

A brief description of other materials the institution has recycled, composted, donated and/or re-sold:

The University diverts a number of waste streams from the landfill, including: construction debris and waste, electronic waste, wasted food, leaves and campus clippings, shredded paper, carpet tiles, and paving materials such as brick and stone. In addition, at all College Houses and numerous academic buildings there are specialty waste receptacles for compact fluorescent lights and batteries. The Sustainability Office maintains a variety of ongoing special recycling projects, such as recycling eyeglasses, shoes, hardcover books, and writing implements. Many offices recycle or compost coffee from break rooms and office kitchens. Local contracts are held with several companies, including Revolution Recovery, E-force, Elemental, and Organic Diversion, to recycle and compost campus materials. In addition, Schools and Centers at the University can choose to donate furniture and office equipment to other Schools and Centers at Penn through Ben's Attic, or to non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill Industries. If donation of furniture and office equipment is not an option, Schools and Centers are encouraged to use Revolution Recovery to dispose of the items.

Materials intended for disposal but subsequently recovered and reused on campus, performance year:

Does the institution use single stream recycling to collect standard recyclables in common areas?:

Does the institution use dual stream recycling to collect standard recyclables in common areas?:

Does the institution use multi-stream recycling to collect standard recyclables in common areas?:

Average contamination rate for the institution’s recycling program:

A brief description of any recycling quality control mechanisms employed:

In an effort to reduce recycling contamination, Penn uses single stream recycling. All campus bins are required to be placed as a pair, with one recycling and one garbage. For indoor recycling and trash cans, the Penn Sustainability Office provides clear, consistent signage that shows images of common items found on campus to reduce contamination and make recycling easier. All bins and bin liners are color coded: grey, black, or brown for trash, blue for recycling, green for compost, and red for hazardous waste.

Penn also separates cardboard from the single stream as an uncontaminated waste stream in order to improve downstream diversion of these materials. Cardboard is baled for recycling.

Schools and centers are encouraged to adopt centralized trash and deskside recycling practices to increase the likelihood that recyclable materials will be recycled. A resource was created in the Fall of 2020 to guide schools and centers interested in adopting these practices.

In the fall of 2020, Penn's housekeeping team began auditing buildings across campus for compliance with Penn's bin pairing standards. These information will be used to develop strategies for improved communication and waste practices across campus.

From previously performed waste audits, Penn has learned that signage and clearly marked recycling bins reduces contamination and increases recycling rates. Based on these audits and a student Eco-Rep project carried out over several months in 2017, Urban Park (Penn's outdoor waste management team) has painted outdoor recycling bins and equipping them with new, clarified signage.

The average contamination rate for Penn's recycling program was established on the average contamination rate of our recycling hauler.

A brief description of the institution's waste-related behavior change initiatives:

Every Fall, the sustainability office puts on a "ReThink Your Footprint" campaign which is designed to bring awareness to waste and recycling practices on campus. During "New Student Orientation", the University distributes 1,000 free recycling bins each year to help students have better access to the recycling infrastructure. All student suites receive a free reusable bag for carrying recyclables from their dorm room to the recycling room throughout the year. Metal straws, reusable food containers, and other durable items are often given out out to students during Move-In to promote reusable items instead of single use items. In addition, the University hosts a large Move-Out initiative each year called "PennMOVES", where students can donate their unwanted clothes, electronics, books, and appliances. The program diverts between 30 – 50 tons of materials each year, to Goodwill Industries which might otherwise end up in a landfill.

In 2020 working groups were created to address specific actions to minimize waste and increase waste diversion from landfill and incineration. These working groups will be working to find solutions to reduce single-use water bottle use on campus and audit buildings for compliance with Penn's bin paring standards.

A brief description of the institution's waste audits and other initiatives to assess its materials management efforts and identify areas for improvement:

Penn performed an extensive waste audit program in the 2018/2019 academic year. 3 buildings were audited without notifying the schools and centers in advance. This type of unannounced audit allows for more a more accurate assessment of typical building practices as occupants did not have the opportunity to alter behavior. Similar audits will continue in 2021.

Several schools, including the School of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School of Business, conduct waste audits every year. In addition to these waste audits carried out by School facilities staff and consultants, several student-led waste audits have been carried out to gather information on targeted buildings. These audits provide a deeper understanding of waste and recycling habits on campus and provide a baseline for assessing specific interventions implemented in these buildings.

A brief description of the institution's procurement policies designed to prevent waste:

Penn's Purchasing Services, administratively located within the Business Services Division, promotes an environmentally sustainable supply chain. Purchasing Services works with its suppliers and the Penn community to actively identify and promote products and processes that make a positive sustainability impact. Purchasing Services is an active member of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council - a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and recognize purchasing leadership that accelerates the transition to a prosperous and sustainable future. The Council’s programs and community of practice help institutional purchasers: prioritize opportunities to influence the social, environmental and economic life cycle impacts of purchased goods and services; identify existing leadership standards and approaches that address these priorities; benchmark progress toward goals; and receive recognition for advancement.

Purchasing Services helps drive sustainability in Penn's supply chain by:
◦Identifying, enabling, and/or promoting green product solutions
◦ Working with suppliers to implement green solutions
◦ Recognizing and promoting green purchasing champions in the Penn community
◦ Tracking individual impact to Penn's sustainability efforts among its staff

Some examples of the above activities include:
◦ To promote more sustainable food purchasing practices, Penn Purchasing recently redesigned the Catering@Penn website so that users can search for caterers based on diversity classification, local/regional designations, and environmental sustainability capabilities, including waste reduction measures.
◦Penn Purchasing makes switching to more sustainable alternatives easier for buyers by automatically replacing office equipment in Penn Marketplace with more sustainable alternatives, including items with less packaging and recycled content
◦ To reduce packaging waste, Penn Purchasing has worked with the University's office supplier to deliver most office supplies in reusable totes, instead of cardboard boxes.
◦ Penn Purchasing promotes environmentally-preferred products by highlighting them among other supplies available from many of the University’s preferred contract suppliers. For example, in the on-line Penn Marketplace, green products are highlighted by a symbol indicating their environmental benefits.
◦ Penn Purchasing has instituted a minimum purchase limit for office supplies of $25. When implemented in 2010, this minimum order requirement was estimated to eliminate over 6,000 purchase orders annually, reducing waste and emissions associated with small or unconsolidated deliveries.
◦ Penn Purchasing has instituted an additional 3% discount on purchase orders over $200 to encourage bundled orders
◦ In an effort to reduce waste associated with common office materials, default printer toner is now made from recycled content; the same is done with copy paper. At this point, almost all schools have adopted the use of recycled content copy paper. Penn's Managed Print program, fully implemented at more than 25% of campus, saves paper, toner, and electricity by reducing unnecessary printing and right-sizing the amount of equipment used in offices."

A brief description of the institution's surplus department or formal office supplies exchange program that facilitates reuse of materials:

Penn's "Ben's Attic" is an online exchange for surplus Penn property, furniture, lab equipment, electronic equipment, and more. Ben's Attic provides an easy and sustainable way to find a new use for items that are no longer needed by campus departments. The creation of this site was a response to customer requests and in support of the University's "Climate Action Plan" and continued sustainable practices. For more information, see https://upenn.unl.edu/

A brief description of the institution's platforms to encourage peer-to-peer exchange and reuse:

Penn's peer-to-peer exchange system is similar to its surplus platform, Ben's Attic. Penn's "Ben's Attic" is an online exchange for surplus Penn property, furniture, lab equipment, electronic equipment, and more. Ben's Attic provides an easy and sustainable way to find a new use for items that are no longer needed by campus departments. The creation of this site was a response to the customer requests and in support of the University's "Climate and Sustainability Action Plan" and continued sustainable practices. For more information, see https://upenn.unl.edu/

A brief description of the institution's limits on paper and ink consumption:

The University currently promotes a Managed Print Services (MPS) with an "opt in" arrangement, which was launched in 2013. To date, many campus offices, departments, and schools have opted in.

A brief description of the institution's initiatives to make materials available online by default rather than printing them:

All course registration is performed on-line. In addition, the campus personnel directory is located exclusively, online. Several schools, including the Law School, have moved to a digital application process, eliminating paper applications.

As part of the "Green Office Certification" protocol, an optional program in which offices can participate to incorporate sustainability collectively into their office, offices are encouraged to opt out of receiving printed mass mailings and catalogs. Over 100 offices across campus have participated. "Green Office" is further described in section EN-7.

A brief description of the institution's program to reduce residence hall move-in/move-out waste:

Penn hosts a large Move-Out initiative each year called "PennMOVES", through which students can donate unwanted clothes, electronics, furniture, electronics, books, and appliances. The program diverts between 30 – 50 tons of materials each year that might otherwise end up in a landfill to Goodwill Industries. Unopened canned or boxed food is also donated to local food banks.

Penn Sustainability also runs programming during Move-In. Staff and students table outside of college residences and as part of a move-in fair to educate students about waste and recycling practices on campus. Students also support staff with ensuring that cardboard and other recyclables end up in the correct recycling stream.

A brief description of the institution's programs or initiatives to recover and reuse other materials intended for disposal:

Penn has an internal furniture and equipment sharing program called Ben's Attic which provides a platform for schools and center to sell items to members of the Penn community. Construction and demolition waste is collected by Revolution Recovery, a Philadelphia based construction waste management firm that separates the material into recycling and reuse streams. These commodities are then sold, greatly reducing the amount of Penn's construction waste being sent to landfills.

Some of the leaves from Penn's 6,000+ trees are collected every year and allowed to decompose at Penn's on-campus landscape yard. This ""top dressing"" is used on gardens and planting beds, saving Penn disposal costs and the cost of processed landscape dressing while keeping leaf waste out of the landfill. Remaining leaves that cannot be decomposed on campus due to capacity are distributed to other local landscapes for decomposition by Penn's landscaping contractor.

Penn utilizes reusable, hard-sided sharps and infectious waste containers instead of disposable cardboard boxes. These containers are sanitized and redeployed for collecting used items. This program streamlines the waste removal process and eliminates the associated cost of autoclaving and secondary disposal.

Website URL where information about the institution’s waste minimization and diversion efforts is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:


The University of Pennsylvania is a major research institution, with over 3,000 degrees granted annually from twelve professional and academic schools at the Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate levels. Penn is committed to reducing emissions and energy use, as stated in the 2019 ""Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0"". This submission documents Penn's efforts during the FY19/20 year and compares them to the FY09 baseline year which corresponds with the University's ""Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0"". The submission relies on information related to the main, academic, West Philadelphia campus, but to more fully document efforts across the Penn system, information related to the Morris Arboretum and New Bolton has also been referenced and noted as outside the boundary in descriptions. The information is used to enrich examples of University efforts and is not intended to be the primary justification for credits. The responses for each of the questions and sub-questions are drawn from University materials, both internal and public documents. Each section notes the website where the information can be found.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.