Friday, August 19, 2016

New Recycling, Compost, and Landfill Labels!

Hot off the press and ready for the the Fall 2016 semester, the University of Michigan welcomes the new, standardized waste bin labels!

Why are these new labels so great?

It’s a big world out there, filled with plenty of waste bins. Sometimes it becomes confusing, trying to figure out what goes in each bin. Before the University switched over to single stream recycling, there were bins of all different types: paper, newspaper, plastic, you name it!

There are even relics of these old bins still around campus.
Labels before single stream recycling.
Now, you can place any accepted recyclable into the blue recycling bins on campus, regardless of whether they say “paper only.” Those old labels make things pretty confusing!

So get ready to see more and more of the new Recycling, Compost, and Landfill labels replacing the old ones around campus. You can already find a few newly labeled bins at the Duderstadt Library on North Campus.

Easy to Use
These three new labels will let you know exactly what you should place into the bin. Each label includes images and captions of acceptable materials, so say goodbye to the guess work. If the product you wish to recycle isn’t on the sign, put it in the landfill bin! Plus, all three bins will direct you to our website, where you can find loads of information about which materials are accepted as recyclables or compostables at U-M.

Reality Check
The new labels will use the term landfill, which clears up any uncertainty about where products put into that bin will end up in the future. Remember, your trash doesn’t disappear the moment it reaches the bin. The University is dedicated towards reducing the amount of waste it sends to landfills (read more about U-M’s sustainability goals here). To accomplish this waste reduction goal, the entire U-M community needs to see the distinction between sending waste to the landfill rather than recycling or composting facilities.

Minimizing Contamination
The new compost signs also include a popular saying in the waste reduction and recycling world, “when in doubt, throw it out.” While some contamination is allowed in recycling, ZERO contamination is permitted when we send our compostables to the WeCare Organics compost facility. Every single item incorporated into a compost pile must be able break down into a nutrient rich product that can then be used to fertilize gardens and improve soils. Minimizing contamination is a priority when collecting compostables, so if you’re not sure, put it in the landfill bin.

They Look Good
These snazzy new labels will certainly give the waste bins around campus a new look!
So fancy.
So new.

Let's say goodbye to to some well loved, but slightly confusing labels.

Friday, August 12, 2016

College: The Best Time to Reduce Waste

The start of the new fall semester is the perfect opportunity for University of Michigan students to challenge themselves to reduce waste on campus and in their own lives. Taking the extra step to incorporate waste reduction practices into students’ daily lives is a skill that we wish to foster here at U-M.

dontstartslacking.JPGRufus the Recycler will be pushing everyone to challenge themselves to reduce waste this semester. Use this September to practice your waste reduction strategies so that you can win big during the 2016 Nothrowber! Nothrowber is a month long social media event full of waste reduction challenges in October. Make sure to follow Planet Blue on Twitter and like Planet Blue on Facebook to partake in fun, challenges, and prizes!

Being a waste conscious student on the U-M campus has its advantages! Here are some of the ways you can challenge yourself to reduce waste in your daily life!

Power of the backpack
You have a convenient place to store everything you need for class and then some. Try packing these items and see what kind of impact they have on your day.
Reusable water bottle
  • Water refill stations are located throughout campus. They are more convenient than vending machines and they save you money.
Reusable coffee mug
  • Walking around central campus has its perks, like the ability to smell freshly brewed coffee from almost any street corner. It's often hard to resist. So if you stop by for some caffeine, you’ll always be prepared with your reusable coffee mug! Tip: most coffee shops give a discount for bringing your own mug.
Reusable bag
  • Keep a foldable reusable bag in your backpack for any shopping trips you might do before or after class.
Hand towel
  • Do you use disposable paper towels when you wash your hands on campus? Try drying off with your own hand towel. Just remember to wash it after a few uses to make sure you’re not wiping germs back onto your hands.

Green hacking the campus computing locations
Ever noticed stacks of printed on papers by the printers in the fishbowl or UGLI? Those are abandoned pieces of paper often printed on only one side. You can use the backs of these printed pages for scrap paper or practice problems while you’re studying! Don’t forget to recycle the paper once you’re done.

Go healthy
When you pack and plan meals in advance, they are often much more healthful than if you grabbed something on the go during the day. Try packing lunch in reusable containers.

Pick snacks like bananas, oranges, and apples that come perfectly packaged by nature! Then stop by the Dana building to compost peels and cores.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Greenwashed Games for a Blue Planet

Since winning the the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in 2009, Rio de Janeiro set ambitious goals for the environmental efficacy of its games. “Green Games for a Blue Planet” is this year’s theme for the Olympics. The world had high hopes for the proposed sustainability of Rio 2016, especially with Brazil’s reputation for producing 85% of its energy from renewable sources. However, as the games approach, it’s apparent that Rio is struggling to meet their foremost sustainability goals.

The Sustainability Management Plan: Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games outlined multiple objectives. The objectives grouped under the theme of “environmental conservation and clean-up” included the following:

  1. “Minimize the impact on the existing ecosystems at the Olympic and Paralympic facilities and their immediate surroundings
  2. Promote the environmental clean-up of bodies of water in the regions of the Games.
  3. Strengthen and accelerate environmental protection, conservation, restoration and rehabilitation programmes.
  4. Expand monitoring of air and water quality in the Games regions”
Many of the headlines you’ve probably seen in the past few weeks paint a dirtier, more polluted picture of the progress made in Rio.

Rio has broken its promise of an environment-friendly Olympics -Vice news

While Rio has made some progress towards these goals, ultimately the environmental pledges remain ineffective. The failure of Rio to meet its own ambitious goals is reminiscent of Sochi’s failure at zero waste for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

What does it mean for promises of sustainability to be repeatedly disregarded on the world stage? Promising to clean up waterways and conserve threatened ecosystems cannot be eye catching, empty promises used to greenwash a world event like the Olympics. These are very real issues felt by both the residents of Rio as well as the half of a million tourists and athletes visiting for the games.

Will we see an Olympics where sustainability goals are followed through and not used to simply secure the bid?

At many organizations, goals are used to kickstart sustainability efforts and encourage the community to partake in these efforts. The University of Michigan has multiple goals that guide us toward sustainability. Visit Planet Blue’s website to learn more about U-M’s goals, the actions being taken towards meeting these goals, and the people making real change.

Friday, July 29, 2016

New Additions to Campus and Upcoming Events

Excited for the new semester to begin? When you get back to campus there are a few changes you’ll want to look for as well as some sustainability events to mark on your calendar!

New to Campus

15 more Water Bottle Refill Stations
4 more gooseneck attachments to water fountains for filling water bottles

More water refill stations in high traffic areas means less plastic bottles thrown out on campus. So make sure to carry a reusable water bottle around and to refill it at one of the many refill stations or water fountains!

Sustainable Living Experience
This fall the Oxford Houses, located just across the street from the Nichols Arboretum, will be home to the University’s first ever Sustainable Living Experience. This residential community will foster environmentally-minded students that will act as sustainability leaders on campus. Students participating in the Sustainable Living Experience will have access to pre- and post-consumer composting at Oxford’s Twigs dining hall as well as fresh fruits and veggies from the onsite garden.
ArborBike | Instagram

ArborBike Stations
Don’t worry if you forgot your bike! ArborBike stations are located across campus with a new location coming to the corner of South Forest and Washtenaw. These bikes can also be returned to any station. They are the perfect solution to getting around campus or town without having to drive or take the bus!

Pop Up Gardens
If you’re out walking or biking the campus, make sure to stop at the various pop-up gardens before the season is over! Growing food locally is a great way to avoid packaging and reduce waste.

Fall Sustainability Events You Shouldn't Miss
M Farmers Market
Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables on Thursday, September 16 and Thursday, October 13 at the M Farmers market on Central Campus and on Thursday, September 29 and Thursday, October 27 on North Campus! Exact locations to be announced. Check here for new information!

On Wednesday, September 21 head to the diag for free food, live entertainment, games, and loads of information and fun centered on sustainability for our campus and planet!

Hang Out With Rufus On Campus
Rufus the Recycler will back this fall with his visits to the diag. Spoiler: Rufus is getting an updated look this summer so come prepared for pictures with the most stylish recycler on campus. Dates and times to be announced.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Eco-Friendly Moving Guide

August approaches with the reminder that student move in is on its way! U-M residence halls and off campus neighborhoods will be welcoming back thousands of students along with their overstuffed boxes and suitcases.

Packing and moving in and out can produce a lot of waste from the things left behind to the packing materials used to protect breakables. So whether you are moving into the dorms or between leases, this moving guide will help you reduce waste and divert waste from landfills!

Planning Ahead
Instead of waiting to pack the night before, sort through your belongings a few weeks in advance to figure out exactly what you’ll be bringing with you. Organize the items that didn’t make the cut so that they can be donated, recycled or properly disposed. Find out where you can dispose medications, harsh cleaning products, and unwanted electronics in your town. These items can release harmful chemicals into the environment if they are flushed down the drain or placed in landfills.

Try not to go grocery shopping the week before you move. Instead, use up anything fresh in your refrigerator and eat up all of your frozen veggies. This will help you reduce the amount of food waste you’ll throw out come moving day. If you can’t eat everything up, bring it with you or put it in the compost bin!

Image by Ashley Poskin
Coordinate with friends, family, or local businesses to find out if they have spare cardboard boxes for you to reuse and pack your belongings in.

Before you begin stuffing boxes with newspaper, consider using linens, towels, rags, or even socks to protect breakables during the move. When you run out of reusable packing materials, take advantage of newspapers and old school work that can be recycled at your new place. It’s best to avoid materials like packing peanuts made from styrofoam because they are often not recyclable. Go to if you’re moving to a place off campus to find out what materials can be recycled.

Reduce the number of cardboard boxes and save space by packing clothing in laundry baskets and suitcases. To make moving clothes into your new closet even easier, just twist a rubber band around the hooks of your hangers and move the clothes in a cluster- no packing materials necessary and you won't have to spend time rehanging every shirt!

Move In
Congratulations! You’ve successfully moved all of your stuff into your new place. Before you settle back into college life though, make sure to collapse and recycle cardboard boxes and plastics. You may also want to keep the cardboard boxes around for your next move or use them as a collection bin for future recyclables.

If you’ve just moved into a residence hall, follow your hall’s directions for how to take care of cardboard, bubble wrap, styrofoam, and packing peanuts. You can find more information about where/how to dispose of packing materials in the residence halls here.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Why Divert Waste from Landfills?

When we throw away the things we no longer need or want, we make a choice about where that trash goes. Recyclables get made into new products. Compostables breakdown into compost.

Trash is sent to the landfill and returned to the Earth. Or is it?

Contrary to common belief, trash stored in landfills is not meant to break down. Rather, landfills are designed to preserve trash so that pollutants produced from decomposition cannot escape to the surrounding environment and nearby water sources.

Landfills prevent breakdown by fostering anaerobic and dry conditions-this means that there is very little oxygen or moisture found in landfills to support the microorganisms responsible for decomposition. Landfill excavations show that many items, like newspapers and food, look roughly the same after spending years buried in a landfill.

Despite these conditions, landfills still release methane and carbon dioxide emissions from the breakdown of organic materials. According to the EPA, “landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States.” Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

The story of a landfill is bleak. Landfills don’t provide a solution for our waste, rather they just provide convenient spots for us to relocate our trash. It’s imperative that we reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

The University of Michigan is committed to both waste prevention and climate action, as stated in the following Campus Sustainability Goals.

2025 Goals:

Reduce waste tonnage diverted to disposal facilities by 40% below 2006 levels

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2006 levels

U-M’s improving recycling and composting rates show how U-M is actively working towards the goal of reducing waste sent to landfills.
The University progresses towards the emissions reductions goal by pursuing renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency across campus buildings. While U-M does not include emissions from landfills in its calculation of the emissions reduction goal, the effect waste diversion has on greenhouse gas emissions is an uncalculated bonus that aligns with the University’s commitment towards sustainability.  

Recycling allows us to divert materials from landfills that can then be reused to make new, purposeful products. Recycling also reduces emissions because less energy is spent extracting and transporting raw materials-another environmental benefit that goes unmeasured.
Composting food waste is another solution to diverting waste from landfills that produces very little emissions and that provides many benefits for the environment. The US Composting Council reports that the incorporation of compost in soil promotes carbon sequestration and indirectly reduces emissions by improving soil health. Improved soil health results in less reliance upon irrigation and fertilizer use.

Never doubt that that your choice to reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost waste will have a positive impact on the environment and your U-M community.

EPA: "Climate Change and Waste Reducing Waste Can Make A Difference"

For more information about waste reduction and recycling on campus visit the WRRO’s website:

For more information about landfills, waste reduction, and greenhouse gases referenced in this post, visit these sites:

PDF published by the U-M Greenhouse Gas Committee

PDF about the connection between waste reduction and climate change:

EPA’s basic information about landfills and methane:

Article by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council about why things don’t break down in a landfill:

A guide to how composting and GHG’s relate: