Mission: “To make sustainable waste management more relevant and easily accessible to the student body through policy and physical changes at Penn State.”

Outdoor Recycling

Fall 2016 Update:

  • OPP to add 6 bins in front of the HUB in January to kick off the pilot program
  • UPUA support for more outdoor recycling

We continue to express our support for the outdoor recycling efforts at Penn State – particularly, for further expansion to the rest of campus after the pilot program.

Original Recommendation:

The Waste subcommittee of the SSAC has continued to develop this recommendation for outdoor recycling bins on campus at Penn State.  Currently, almost no outdoor recycling is present on campus, and this is making it difficult for students and faculty to recycle when they’re walking outside through campus.


The UPUA’s What to Fix campaign also identified the need for outdoor recycling on campus.


The SSAC’s benchmarking research on the topic found that Northwestern University established an outdoor recycling program in 2008.  The program was successful due to their placement in “high traffic areas”.  After nearly a decade, the recycling bins have since become a campus standard.


On April 5 – 7, 2016, OPP conducted a waste audit with the Center County Recycling & Refuse Authority (CCRRA) of 39 outdoor trash bins.  The number of trash cans at each location were:

  • Shortlidge, 9
  • Pattee Mall (upper), 6
  • Curtin Road Bus Stops, 5
  • Fisher Plaza, 4
  • IST Ramp, 3
  • Forum, 6
  • Lower Allen, Old Main, Pugh, 6

Of the 580 pounds of waste sorted, the composition was determined:


As shown, almost 40% of the waste in the trash bins was plastic.  Of the 220 pounds of plastic, it was also determined that 83 pounds of that was miscellaneous plastic, 72 pounds was plastic bottles, and 65 pounds was plastic film.


Photo Credit: Center County Recycling & Refuse Authority

From the research conducted over the Spring 2016 semester, the SSAC is recommending an outdoor recycling pilot program that consists of the following action items:

  • Convert 50% of trash cans in high traffic areas to recycling bins (15-20 bins)
  • “New” recycling bins will be moved and paired with trash bins
  • 1 for 1 switch = Net zero gain
  • Initial focus on all types of plastic

The pilot program would minimize costs by taking existing infrastructure (trash cans) and converting them into plastic recycling bins by the simple addition of labeling that runs around the outside of the can and on the lid.  These new recycling bins would then be placed next to existing trash bins to ensure that trash gets thrown into the trash cans and plastic gets thrown into the plastic recycling bins.

Discussion with OPP has already resulted in OPP approval for plastic bin conversion.  A financial analysis has concluded that the pilot program would save the University $290 annually (assuming 20 cans converted).  In Center County, recycling costs $25/ton while trash costs $67/ton (Spring 2016).  Based on the audit, 1.88 pounds of plastic were generated per bin per day.  For 20 bins, the cost to dispose of the contents as trash is $459.75 per year.  For those same 20 bins, the cost to dispose of the plastic as recyclables is $171.55 per year.  Currently there are 256 trash cans in the core of campus and 410 total, so these cost savings can be extrapolated for expansion past the initial 20 bins recommended in the pilot program.

In the future, after the initial 15-20 bins, the SSAC recommends considering an expansion of the program to 10-20% of the cans throughout core campus.  Also, after discussion with OPP, the SSAC recommends considering an aluminum co-mingling recycling program in the recycling bins.

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