Campus Recycling - Efforts in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Paradigm


There are two separate recycling systems at the University of Kentucky: one for campus housing and a second for the other offices and facilities on the campus. The first is a single stream collection that is processed by the city. The second recycling system falls under the jurisdiction of the Physical Plant division.

The reduce-reuse-recycle paradigm has its origins in sustainability. It encourages sustainable living by reducing the amount of waste, reusing materials to prevent more waste from filling up landfills, and recycling to turn waste into something useful.

History of UK's Efforts

The recycling effort at UK began in the 1970's, but there are little-to-no records from this time period, as the efforts were not centralized. This centralization would come together in 1995, when the efforts of campus recycling would become part of PPD (UK's Physical Plant Division) under the Occupational Safety and Health program. The program initially focused on paper waste, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, and then expanded with a strong focus on recycling cardboard - which the University recycles enough of to have a specific contractor for. Cardboard recycling is at its highest during campus move-in days for the Residence Halls, during which there is a concentrated effort on collecting all of the boxes from incoming students, using volunteers - now through the Office of Sustainability. Tom Gregory has been the person in charge of UK's recycling efforts since the programs induction into PPD and can be reached by email at or via phone at (859) 257 - 8788. A full account of Recycling Operations stats can be found here, with a roughly 2 year delay in statistics while they are compiled.

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The Ethical Call

Sustainability is a term not easily defined, and the UK Office of Sustainability offers 2 different definitions; Richard S. Levine and Ernie Yanarella, co-directors of the UK Center for Sustainabilty Cities, see it as a “local, informed, participatory, balance-seeking process, operating within its Sustainable Area Budget, exporting no harmful imbalances beyond its territory or into the future, and thus opening the spaces of future opportunity and possibility.” They also offer a definiton provded by the UN Brundtland Commission’s Report: Our Common Future which defines sustainability as “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Many definitions of sustainability also refer to a triple bottom line that includes valuing economic vitality, ecological integrity and social justice in equal parts while in pursuit of development.

It is important to note as well that the terms green and sustainable are not synonyms of one another, as green talk is narrower in scope and usually focuses only on the ecological integrity leg of the triple bottom line. For a full explanation of the difference see a PDF on the terms.

Education and Research Effort

Office of Sustainability website
The Office of Sustainability has a Sustainability Pledge for staff, faculty, and students on their website. This pledge is passively managed; it is not advertised efficiently. A task for the Eco Reps is to make students aware of the sustainability pledge and encourage them to commit to it.

Student Eco Reps
Eco Reps provide peer-to-peer education about recycling and sustainability. One Eco Rep is Elaine Alvey, a senior at UK; she takes the "Smoothie Bike" -- a pedal-powered blender to make smoothies -- to dorms to facilitate discussion among students on recycling and sustainability. They also organize educational trips, like visiting UK's organic farm. Student Eco Reps are valuable from a sustainability perspective because they help to involve students in the recycling process and can educate their peers about the value of recycling from an environmental, social, and economic perspective.

Operations Integration


Recycling: Campus Housing

The residential facilities' recycling is coordinated by housing maintenance. Goals of campus recycling include reducing waste, creating more sustainable facilities, and encouraging residents to develop habits and lifestyle choices that will have positive economic, social, and environmental impacts. In each residential facility, there is at least one Eco Rep, which encourages and promotes activities of sustainability. Residents, as well as faculty and staff members, can take a sustainability pledge on the UK sustainable website where they have to pledge to do at least two sustainable activities such as using less water, unplugging electronics, using less paper, etc. UK Sustainability

The system is “single stream” which means that all the recyclable material can be placed in one container. The following materials can be recycled:
  • Metal Cans (Steel and Aluminum)
  • Plastic and glass bottles. Yogurt containers, cups, bags and other plastics are NOT recyclable in Lexington at this time.
  • All types of paper (Office, colored, glossy, etc).
  • Cardboard and pressboard (ex. cereal boxes).

Campus Housing coordinates with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) on recycling at Cooperstown, Shawneetown, Greg Page and the Commonwealth Village Apartments. In these areas there are two large blue recycling bins beside each dumpster. The following materials can be placed in those bins:
  • Metal Cans (Steel and Aluminum)
  • Plastic and glass bottles. Yogurt containers, cups, bags and other plastics are NOT recyclable in Lexington at this time.
  • All types of paper (Office, colored, glossy, etc).
  • Cardboard and pressboard (ex. cereal boxes).

UK has been very successful with encouraging residents to recycle and educating residents on where to place recyclable items. By recycling, campus residents diverted over 185,062 pounds of material from the waste stream during the 2006-2007 school year alone. This includes cans, cardboard, paper, plastic, comingled, and glass.

A tower, 3-bin recycling system to collect plastic bags, small batteries, and ink cartridges will be deployed later this year in all residence halls for students. There is currently no program to recycle computers and other electronics that students need to dispose of in the dorms.

Each residence hall receives $200 for sustainable projects. One such project included the installation of low-flow shower heads.

Recycling: Facilities

The Physical Plant division oversees recycling across the University of Kentucky campus beyond campus housing. The collected recyclable materials are divided into 3 groups: cardboard, paper, and everything else grouped together.

Cardboard, due to its large quantity, is picked up by Central Kentucky Fiber.

All of the paper is shredded for privacy reasons and is contracted out to a third party. Over 50,000 lbs. of paper is recycled a week, which equals 25 tons. It costs $33 for each ton that ends up in the landfill, so the University is saving $825 a week by recycling paper.

The remaining recyclables include aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass, all of which is processed by the city.

In the spring of 2011, the Environmental Management group decided to halt the recycling of Alkaline batteries as it was not cost effective and the contents of the batteries still ended up in the landfills.

The recycling processes across the campus facilities are vital to a sustainable culture on campus. Recycling reduces landfill waste and has the potential to save the university money, which fulfill environmental and economic sustainability principles.

Composting Collection

The University recycles all pre-consumer kitchen waste for composting. Pre-consumer waste consists of biodegradable material which is discarded before consumers use it.

This includes
  • Leaves,Trimmings and landscape waste
  • Coffee grounds from campus coffee shops
  • Kitchen Food waste products (vegetable peels etc)
  • Uneaten prepared food from university cafeterias
This does not include leftovers or plate scrapings of any kind!

These materials are picked up and taken to a University facility in Woodford County. There is currently no post-consumer composting process in place.


Compost materials are laid out in long strip mounds which
  • Have access to oxygen
  • can be easily turned by machinery
  • Have volume great enough for microbial activity to self sterilize
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Compost piles must be constructed and proportioned appropriately in order to breakdown properly. This means the mixing of high-carbon, woody/fibrous or "brown" materials with nitrogen rich or "green" materials such as manure from the farm. The large amounts of leaves, clipping and carbon material from campus allow the animal operation in Woodford county to better balance their nutrient waist. With composting they can capture nitrogen and prevent it from polluting surface water.


The waste vegetable grease from the kitchens is collected by Creech, a group in Northern Kentucky and turned into biodiesel. This biodiesel is sold to Riley Oil Company to be used in a B5 blend that is 5% biodiesel. Some of the University of Kentucky buses run on the B5 blend.

Surplus Property

All staff can send electronics, furniture, and other equipment to Surplus Property, which organizes an annual auction to the UK community and the public. These items can then be bought and reused by other departments or by community members through the auction. If they can’t be reused, Surplus Property will try to recycle them; these materials are only disposed if reusing and recycling are not possible. This initiative is valuable not only for the UK campus, but also for the Lexington community. The equipment auction is a valuable from a sustainability perspective because it creates a culture of reusing and recycling, cutting down on landfill waste, saving the university money by not having to purchase new equipment, and fostering community ties. All of these are important to fulfill the environmental, economic, and social components of sustainability.

Water Bottle Refilling Stations


The University is encouraging the reuse of water bottles. All incoming students in 2011 received a refillable water bottle – over 5,000 reusable bottles were distributed. There are currently 23 water bottle refilling fountains around campus (some are located in the Student Center, Johnson Center, Keeneland Hall) with 7 more planned for installation in the Chemistry-Physics building. However, UK has not banned the sale of plastic water bottles around campus; instead their focus is on promotion of the refillable bottles. The "hydration stations" on campus were featured in the Herald-Leader in the fall of 2011.

Water Management

The university has an obligation to use our fresh water wisely, both conservatively and to manage the water that runs off our campus.

The UK campus has installed some buildings with dual-flush toilets. These dual-flush toilets reduce water usage by offering two choices for the amount of water used in each flush. Some of these toilets can be found in the Agricultural North building, but are not found across campus. These dual-flush toilets are important from a sustainability perspective as they reduce unnecessary water consumption, which reduces our demand on the environment.

One area where the University has not stepped up to the plate however is in the control of runoff water. With such a large campus it is difficult to manage waters on property and equally worthwhile. The University pays exorbitant taxes to the city for the load it puts on the storm drainage system. Transylvania University across the Lexington downtown however mitigates these financial costs by the employment of rain gardens and evapotransperative losses in standing areas. In short, Transylvania's campus is landscaped such that water during a storm event is first directed towards discrete low lawn areas. It is not until after these fill with water that runoff water has access to the storm drain system. Their campus is able to put a lot less storm water into the city’s storm drain system per acre than UK. That means not only that they save the tax money, but also that they do not put the extra demand on Lexington’s system. Furthermore it means their own lawn chemicals better stay on their property until they can be degraded naturally (instead of rinsing into the watershed) and they make considerably less of a pollution flush into their watershed.


Planning, Administration and Engagement

Paper Reduction

The University is reducing paper usage in several ways:
  • The schedule book/bulletin of classes has gone electronic.
  • Phone books are no longer delivered to individual dorm rooms; instead only a handful of phone books are delivered to each residence hall for the use of the entire dorm. This reduced the phone books coming onto campus from 6,000 to a few hundred.
  • Staff and faculty are on a paperless payroll system. They have to opt in to receive a paper pay stub.

Also, individual printers in offices will soon be obsolete. Instead all offices will share printers in order to cut down on maintenance and ink cartridges.

Student Organizations

The Student Sustainability Council is composed of students who are in charge of stewarding the funds from the Environmental Stewardship fee that all students pay as part of tuition. Currently there is around $120,000 in this fund. Any student can submit a project proposal for grant money out of this fund. Currently, a proposal for funding outdoor recycling receptacles around campus is in process.

The VIP center (Violence Intervention and Prevention Center) collects old cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and ink cartridges and reuses them by reprogramming them as 911 emergency phones or recycling them for charity.

The Merchandising, Apparel and Club collects jeans and other denim articles of clothing and recycles themduring a yearly denim drive. Denim can be recycled into insulation for home construction.

"Empowered U" website to launch in January
In January, a new website will go live that will be integrated with the Office of Sustainability website called “Empowered U.” This site will offer incentives and prize drawings quarterly for students making energy-saving and sustainable choices.


Wildcat Wheels Bicycle Library is an educational resource that provides free bicycle use and repair assistance to students, faculty, and staff at UK. The core of the program is a bicycle recycling system that takes abandoned bicycles from the campus and recycles them into the campus fleet.
In addition to the bicycle library, WWBL also operates an on-campus bike shop and offers bike maintenance workshops. Click here for more information on checking out a bicycle.

Photo from Wildcat Wheels Website

Conserve, Reuse and Recycle

Conserving and recycling are two important aspects of conserving our resources and impact; however all to often the creative reuse aspect of recycling is often overlooked. Using less is a good start, however we all go through some products and recycling isn’t free. On campus, with the exception of scrap aluminum cans, Recycled goods do not even cover the cost of man hours for Kirby pick up. Glass and plastic both cost the university. Furthermore, City recycling facilities (where all the university recycling is processed) are heavily subsidized by the government.
The imaginative approach to reducing our impact is to find new uses for Glass, Plastic, and Aluminum or Tin cans.


What hasn't UK done to fulfill "its mission to improve the lives of Kentuckians" through campus recycling?

The University has spent very little time focusing students towards the first two parts of the system - reducing and reusing. Reducing has only largely been addressed by encouraging students to purchase reusable water bottles and thus reducing the amount of plastic ones used, but this is only one small aspect of the issues. Reduce is not simply left out on a UK scale however - it is usually the last thing anyone thinks about in the paradigm because the idea of buying less or needing less is counter to the American capitalistic society; it requires a shift in thinking and behavior beyond convenience. As a college campus, it is UK's duty to encourage social progress - and in this direction (and others), it is falling short.


Calculate your carbon footprint!

Reduce - amount of water used, amount of electricity used
Water: Install low-flow shower heads; dual-flush toilet water savers; put milk jugs or bricks in your toilet tank to reduce volume of water used in each flush; turn off the water while brushing your teeth
Energy: Use low-energy bulbs like CFL and LCD; turn off the lights when leaving a room, unplug appliances and chargers when finished
Solid Waste: buy products with minimal packaging
Other Reduce suggestions

Reuse - Craigslist, Goodwill, ReStore, freecycle, consignment shops
Other Reuse suggestions
Fun ways to reuse lightbulbs

Recycle - Find recycling centers near you on
Compost kitchen and yard waste
Other Recycle suggestions
Got the latest iPhone? Recycle the old one!

Campus Resources