Dump Truck Illustration

What if Only 10% of Our Waste Went to the Landfill?

Sizing up the university’s zero-waste ambitions.
Design consulting by Nigel Holmes
Illustrations by Michele McCammon
March 2019

In a sustainability officer’s perfect world, every piece of waste we generate would be reused, recycled or composted—nothing would need to exit the “circular economy” of materials for the landfill. Getting to zero is a bit of a utopian dream, but what if only 10 percent of waste went to the landfill? That’s the university’s “zero-waste” goal, which it plans to meet by 2030.

Here’s how Stanford is doing now, and how it might realize its trashiest ambitions.
Girl Throwing Away Trash Illustration
people on campus
tons of waste in 2017
Eiffel Towers Illustration
That’s the weight of 3
Eiffel Towers
That’s the weight of
Eiffel Towers Illustration
Trash Can Illustration
The goal is to divert 90% from the landfill by 2030, leaving only 10% trash.
‘[If] we look at what’s in the landfill, that’s really where the answer is.’
—Fahmida Ahmed Bangert, director of sustainability and business services
What Gets Reused, Recycled or Composted
Leaf Illustration
Yard Waste
4,671 tons
Apple Illustration
3,219 tons
Screws and Bolts Illustration
Building Materials
2,529 tons
Paper Illustration
2,242 tons
Wine Bottle Illustration
Plastics, Glass, Metal
833 tons
Stack of Books Illustration
Clothing, Books, Furniture
162 tons
Broken Cell Phone Illustration
Electronic Scrap
119 tons
How to Get There

Stanford has nearly halved its landfill tonnage since 1998 through aggressive education and waste management practices. What can it do next?

Reduce and Reuse
  • Resell more of the equipment and furniture no longer needed by campus departments.
  • Expand food donation programs.
  • Encourage faculty, staff and students to reduce their use of disposable materials.
Purchasing and Contracts
  • Require the purchase of goods and services that can be repaired, recycled or composted (e.g., ask campus restaurants to use compostable tableware).
Football Player Throwing Away Banana Illustration
Recycle and Compost
  • Improve compost collection (e.g., the stadium doubled its trash diversion rate in 2016 by adding compost bins during football season).
  • Expand laboratory recycling programs, targeting supplies such as lab gloves and cardboard.
Education and Outreach
  • Continue education efforts across campus so people recycle, reuse and compost properly. Only 23 percent of what goes into the landfill today belongs there.
  • Broaden use of My Cardinal Green, a personalized sustainability portal and incentive program that helps faculty, students and employees manage their conservation behaviors.
Yanichka Ariunbold, ’21, is an editorial intern at STANFORD.