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In spite of the fact that the problem of waste management is very urgent issue for every community around the world, the United States is the leading country in the amounts of waste generated every year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more than 280 million tons of municipal solid waste is produced in the US annually. The scientific data shows that an average American produces around 30 pounds of trash per week. Today, more then ever, reusing, reducing and recycling should become an important part of our everyday life.

Although there are many positive trends towards the development of a strong recycling program, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh still faces a serious problem and needs to find a way to reduce the amount of trash produced and create an environment-friendly sustainable campus.

Responsible parties

  • Facilities Management Department chaired by Steve Arndt manages the data on the solid waste produced on campus.
  • Facilities Management officer, Carol Kromm processes information on the amounts of waste produced by campus administration buildings.
  • Dawn Dettlaff, Housekeeping Services Supervisor, collects information on the amounts of solid waste produced by residence halls and is also very involved in the residence halls recycling program.
  • ONYX Waste Services is the company that is responsible for processing and disposing of waste.
  • Environmental Task Force organizes recycling evens and activities in residence halls.
  • Jim Johnson- Coordinator of radioactive, hazardous and medical wastes management.

Waste management at UW Oshkosh

Based on federal regulations, waste is classified into three main categories: 1) non-hazardous waste - does not pose any danger on humans and environment (ex. household garbage); 2) hazardous waste – waste of this type either contains leachable toxic components or has common hazardous properties such as reactivity or ignitability; 3) special waste – wastes of this type vary in their properties and are regulated with specific guidelines (ex. medical and radioactive wastes).

I. Solid Waste

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh generates waste in the form of glass, aluminum, plastic, steel, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard and trash. In 2002, the total amount of solid waste generated by campus equaled 960.86 tons. Co-mingled waste (glass, aluminum, plastic and steel) composed 1.18% of the total amount, paper made 1.66%, cardboard - 7%, while the amount of trash equaled 90.1%. Most of the waste generated by campus is not recycled.

Total amounts of waste generated in 2002


According to the policies and regulations of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state pays the city to pick up trash from the University. UWO pays for recycling of paper and co-mingled materials. For the year of 2002 the cost for recycling of waste generated by academic buildings equaled $500 per month. Recycling of cardboard is the only area that is profitable to the university. The recycling companies pay UWO for recycled cardboard. During the 2002-2003 academic year campus sold cardboard for an average of $27.8 per ton.

In January 2000 University signed a three-year contract with ONYX, the company that recycles and disposes wastes, paying them $28,638 every year for waste disposal. For the last fiscal year (07/02-06/03), the costs of commingled/mixed paper/waste removal solid-waste for residence hall buildings equaled $8031.97 ($422 more than the previous year).

Representatives of ONYX pick up trash from residence halls 6 days per week; the waste from Titan stadium is picked up seasonally, while trash from academic buildings is taken away twice per week. Most waste is disposed of by ONYX through the process of incineration. If compared to landfills, incineration is a safer way of garbage disposal, although it is a more expensive process and it also produces gases that pollute air, water and soil. Ideally, more efforts should be made to order reduce consumption and encourage recycling since both of these methods have implicit drawbacks.

Up until 1998, all UW higher education facilities were required to report their annual recycling totals to the central administration in Madison. The data collected by University facilities management department allows comparing solid waste generation over the last 7 years.


Co-mingled (tons)

Mixed paper (tons)

Corrugated cardboard (tons)

Trash (tons)




































As it can be seen from the chart below, there has been a downward trend in such areas as recycling of paper, co-mingled materials and cardboard, while the amounts of trash produced has slightly increased. This can be explained by the fact that the committee on recycling has stopped its functioning and the program has not been monitored properly.

UW Oshkosh Recycling


The recycling program was first introduced at UWO in January of 1992 as the outcome of the work of the Campus Planning Recycling Committee which was established in 1991. Since then, a great amount of effort was made in order to reduce resource consumption and encourage recycling. After the program was created, the committee stopped its functioning and its duties were partly transferred to the Residence Hall Environmental Task Force (ETF). This organization conducts recycling programs in the dormitories, reinforces responsibility among students, and encourages their participation in recycling efforts. Each Hall has its own ETF representative who informs students of recycling activities. Unfortunately, the activities of this group have declined due to the lack of interest among students.

The Department of Residence life has created a flier that highlights some facts on resource consumption and explains the need for resource preservation. (see attached)

Realizing the need for drawing students’ attention to the recycling problem, the UWO Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) plans to devote the 2003-2004 year to the organization of campus wide recycling campaigns.

Besides the recycling of co-mingled materials, paper and cardboard, UW Oshkosh also has a seven year history of lamp recycling as is explained in detail by the following table. (download exel file with the table)

The types of recycled bulbs include:

  • 4’ and under Fluorescent bulbs;
  • 4’ or greater Fluorescent bulbs;
  • U-Tube lamps;
  • Compact lamps;
  • Incandescent lamps;
  • Shatter-shield lamps;
  • Broken fluorescent lamps;
  • Metal halide lamps;
  • Mercury vapor lamps;
  • High pressure sodium lamps;

In spring 1999 members of UWO SEAC together with the Residence Life Department of Custodial services conducted a 10-week study to determine the impact that placing individual recycling bins in residents’ rooms would have upon the volume of material being recycled. During the first 5 weeks that represented phase 1 of the study, the trash was collected from floors 2-9 of the North Scott residence hall (see attached chart 1). The collection of trash was made on successive days e.g. week 1- trash was collected on Monday, week 2- Tuesday, week 3-Wednesday, etc. After trash had been collected, its total mass was determined. During the second 5 weeks (phase 2) the recycling bins for paper and co-mingled material were placed in every room. The method of trash collection was the same as during phase 1 (see attached chart 2). When the totals from phase 1 were compared with the totals from phase 2, it occurred that the mass of the recycled material from phase 2 was higher that that for phase 1 which suggests that as the mass of recycled material increased, the mass of trash would decrease. The placing of individual recycling bins into each room made it easier for residents to recycle as well as reduced the amount of trash generated. However, the results of the study also had some discrepancy: while the mass of co-mingled material collected during phase 2 was higher than that during phase 1, the mass of paper was lower. The low numbers for paper mass during phase 2 can be explained by the fact that paper collections were not done in conjunction with trash collections as well as were not conducted on daily basis. Inspired by the results of the study, members of SEAC recommended putting of individual recycling bins not only to every room in residence halls but also to each classroom in administration buildings.

II. Hazardous substances

UWO generates small quantities of hazardous waste. Most waste is generated by the chemistry department. Although the types of waste vary, the most common include ionides and sodium.

The waste is usually first stored in special areas of science departments. Then it is moved to the hazardous waste building where it is stored in special containers in accordance with EPA regulations and is separated by the type and degree of danger. The waste is usually picked up 4 times per year by ONYX and is shipped to different state approved landfills in Wisconsin and some parts of Illinois. Most waste is burned, while mercury is recycled by the process of neutralization in special disposal sites.

In order to minimize the risks posed by the hazardous substances and to avoid high costs of spill removal, chemistry department has almost stopped usage of mercury. The department has also cut the orders of other hazardous chemicals for these same reasons.

III. Radioactive waste

Radioactive waste is mainly generated by chemistry and biology departments. The quantity of such waste is very small and most materials have low levels of radioactivity: they have a short half-life and neutralize fairly fast. Among the most common types of radioactive materials generated by the science department are Carbon 14, Tritium and Sodium 22.

The University paid between $15,000 and $20,000 to dispose radioactive waste that had accumulated in the department over a period of five years.

Radioactive waste is stored in special containers in the hazardous wastes building and is then taken away by ONYX and is landfilled. This type of waste is very difficult to dispose of and it is difficult to find appropriate sites of disposal due to the fact that they need certain pH conditions under which they can be disposed. The science department tries to eliminate the use of radioactive chemicals whenever possible.

IV. Medical waste

While discussing medical waste it is important to make distinction between medical waste generated by The Health Center and waste generated by the College of Nursing. Waste produced by the Health Center is disposed through its own program, while waste from the College of Nursing undergoes the same main procedures as hazardous and radioactive wastes.
Waste produced by the College of Nursing includes gloves, prescription drugs, etc. Normally, such type of medical waste is burned rather than recycled. An average pickup usually consists of 15 containers and 3 bags. It is the cheapest type of waste to dispose of. The cost of an average shipment equals $140.

Waste management on other campuses:

The first universities to start recycling programs in the US were Colorado University, Stanford University, The University of California at San Diego and Cornell University.Effective recycling programs also exist in the University of Colorado at Boulder and The Bowdoin College.


For Administration:

∑ Increase the scale of the recycling program.
∑ Create demand for recycling paper by requiring the use of 100 % recycling paper.
∑ Add recycling bins to the classrooms.
∑ Print less brochures, mailers and fliers. Aim towards putting the information of the electronic bulletin board.
∑ Place an allowance on the number of pages each student can print during a semester. Each time the student logs in to a computer the computer will keep count of the number of pages they have printed and students can be required to pay for copies beyond the allotted amount.

For Faculty:

  • Double-side copy all assignments and handouts.
  • Educate students about the need to reuse and recycle.
  • Try to minimize the amounts of hazardous chemicals used in the science labs.

For Students:

Be responsible in their recycling habits.

Read books in the course reserve rather than photocopying the pages.

Reuse one-sided paper.

Donate unwanted clothing, books and furniture.

Before making a purchase find out where it was made and whether it is recycled.

Reuse packaging materials.

Useful websites:

Turning garbage into gold.
Reassessing the History of U.S. Hazardous Waste Disposal Policy
Environmental Protection Agency


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Last update: October 10, 2003
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