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Reducing Waste

Accelerating a zero-waste future

A zero-waste future requires a systemic approach. At Harvard, we aim to sustainably manage all waste streams—including plastics, electronics, recyclables, and organics, as well as construction, demolition, and hazardous waste—while prioritizing waste prevention and reduction.

Compost sign with symbols and text for food, compostable containers, and other items.

How is Harvard reducing waste? 

Harvard is taking a systemic approach to waste prevention and reduction, aiming to ensure the materials that the University purchases and handles are used effectively and for as long as possible. Harvard is also strategically preventing waste throughout our value chain, while minimizing on-campus municipal solid waste (or trash) and sustainably managing other waste streams. 

We are focused on piloting solutions on campus to reduce waste. The Office for Sustainability is developing guidance and resources to help Schools and Business Units create their own zero-waste plans and goals. 

Harvard aims to measure and report data annually for Harvard’s major waste streams and develop a strategic zero-waste plan by the end of 2024, including guidance and resources to help Schools and Business Units create their own zero-waste plans and goals.  

Reuse, Recycle/Compost, and Sustainably Manage

  1. First Reuse: Harvard’s first focus is on reusing and repairing products/materials on campus.
  2. Second, Recycle and Compost: Harvard has a robust process for recycling and composting across campus.
  3. Third, Sustainably Manage all waste streams.
"Harvard Recycles" sign on a red bookshelf.

Piloting Solutions to a Zero-Waste Future

New life for Harvard’s compost

Compostable materials collected on Harvard’s campus are used to produce energy.

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Save that Stuff trucks deposit collected organic waste on the warehouse floor.

2022-2023

Waste Highlights

Yellow icon of a person throwing away trash with a magnifying glass next to it to demonstrate waste auditing.

4+ waste audits

Four waste audits were conducted across campus to understand common contamination problems and opportunities for more waste diversion. Findings from the audits can be used to inform education efforts and improvements to signage and bin placements.
Blue icon of a gear with a wrench and screw in the middle.

3 fix-it clinics

Harvard Libraries and Harvard Recycling held three Fixit Clinics this year, including one at the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC). Local fixers partnered with community members to troubleshoot their broken items, helping to prevent landfill waste and promote a culture of repair.
Green recycling arrows with items in the middle such as a lamp, table, backpack, jacket, bike, toaster, charging plug - all to demonstrate "freecycling".

4+ freecycles

Harvard Campus Services' Recycling and Waste Management team hosted four community-wide Freecycles this year, where hundreds of items were exchanged to find a new life. Several other Freecycles and swap events were organized across campus through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Graduate School of Education (GSE), and Harvard Business School (HBS).
Recycle icon with lab icons in the middle like a pipette and lab bottle.

Nearly 11,000 lbs. of lab plastics recycled

In its first full year of the lab-plastics “tip box” recycling initiative, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) increased its plastic recycling rate by 10,953 pounds. The plastic recycled from this initiative is being made into new laboratory products locally in Cambridge, and those new products are already making their way back into the labs at Harvard.
Pink icon of a recycling symbol with furniture in the middle to demonstrate furniture recycling.

80-90 truckloads of furniture

During the start of move-in season, Harvard University Housing’s (HUH) 16-week reuse station program generated 80-90 truckloads of furniture, as well as more than 2,000 pink bags of home goods, clothing, and food donations.
ICON Landfill Reduction

5K lbs. of material

Nearly 5,000 lbs. of material are avoiding landfills annually, thanks to the 16-week reuse station program hosted by Harvard University Housing (HUH), in collaboration with Facilities Maintenance Operations’ (FMO) Recycling Program. Weekly pickups ensure items reach their donation destination to one of several partnering charities: Harvard Habitat for Humanity, Allston-Brighton Food Pantry, Cambridge Family Shelter of the YWCA, Furnishing Hope, as well as those in need on/near our campus.