Sustainability at the University of Maryland

Recycling, Composting, and Waste Reduction


Recycling is one of the greatest success stories at the University of Maryland. The campus recycling rate increased from 17 percent in 2003 to an impressive 63 percent in 2010. Still, we can all do more to boost that rate even higher. In 2008, an innovative recycling and composting program was piloted to reduce waste from home football games. The recycling of construction-related waste has increased for major projects.

Meanwhile, departments across campus are making strides to recycle more and take other steps to reduce environmental impacts. Programs and initiatives were implemented to raise awareness of recycling on campus among all students (and resident students, in particular), staff, faculty, and visitors of University facilities and events. Hundreds of recycling containers were installed across campus. Containers can now be found inside residence halls, classroom buildings, administrative buildings, and other facilities (such as the Stamp Student Union, Eppley Recreation Center, and all parking garages). Exterior containers were also installed near housing areas, high-use buildings, and open spaces.

The University recycles a wide array of materials including paper, metal, wood, food, bottles and cans, yard waste, construction debris, electron equipment and a variety of “industrial wastes” such as motor oil, antifreeze, batteries, tires and fluorescent tubes, among other materials.

At a Glance:

  • Used batteries are collected in various buildings on campus for recycling.
  • All buildings use single stream recycling.
  • Facilities uses the Can the Can program to encourage waste diversion in administrative offices.
  • Recycling on UMD construction sites will generate about 300 to 800 tons of recyclable waste per year.
  • Hiring is done using the paperless eTerp system.
  • Facilities Management runs the "Please Don't Litter" campaign on campus.
  • All seven types of plastic can be recycled on the Maryland campus.
  • Facilities Management created the University Recycling and Solid Waste Programs Coordinator and the Manager of Solid Waste Operations positions to manage and improve the campus recycling initiatives.
  • Paper towel and toilet paper dispensers across campus have been updated to accommodate recycled paper.
  • Sports game composting program includes home football and basketball games. The program achieves a recycling rate of 41%.
  • The UMD recycling program includes yard waste, construction debris, motor oil, batteries, tires, and other items.
  • Dining Services uses bagasse instead of polystyrene take-out containers.
  • University of Maryland participates in Recyclemania, a 10-week competition to recycle paper, cardboard, bottles, cans, and food.
  • South Campus composts pre- and post-consumer food, diverting ~175 tons of waste.
  • Recycling bins are installed around the campus grounds and in dorms, classroom buildings, administrative buildings, parking garages, and student service buildings like the ERC.
  • Terrapin Trader handles the University’s surplus electronics to be re-sold or recycled. Many electronics contain hazardous materials so it’s important to dispose of them properly.
Past Initiatives:
  • In 2011, UMD reached a recycling rate of 63%.
  • UMD achieved least waste per person in Atlantic Coast Conference of Recyclemania in April 2008.
  • In 2008, UMD hit a 50% recycling rate, an increased rate of 33% from 2003.
  • During fall 2005, Resident Life and Residential Facilities collaborated to collect 11 tons of recyclable cardboard during move-in.
  • Terrapin Trader participated in the Adopt-A-School Program in cooperation with PG County Schools in 2005.

Learn More:

Battery Recycling

To reduce the number of batteries, heavy metals and toxic chemicals in landfills, the University of Maryland Department of Environmental Safety and the University Recycling Program teamed to develop a program to recycle the campus' unwanted batteries. These include alkaline, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, and lithium batteries. View this list to find the battery recycling bin nearest to you. To request a bin, or if you have questions about the battery recycling program, please contact

Single-Stream Recycling

In October 2010, academic and administrative buildings switched to “Single Stream” Recycling. In 2011, residential buildings went single stream, too. This means that you can put all of your recyclable materials into one recycling bin. New lids on recycling containers have one opening to fit bottles, cans, and all types of paper, making it easier to recycle, and help the University increase its recycling rate! Here is a list of what you can place in these bins:

  • Paper: Newspaper, magazines, computer paper
  • Plastic Containers: #1-7 bottles, jugs, trays, etc.
  • Cardboard: cereal boxes, frozen food packaging, etc.
  • Aluminum: cans, containers, foil, pie pans, etc.
  • Books: paperback, textbooks, hardback, phone
  • Steel/Tin Cans: soup cans, fruit cans, etc.
  • Waxed Cartons: milk and juice cartons
  • Glass: jars and bottles
  • Plastic Bags/Film: must be contained within one bag!

Can the Can

The University has made great strides to increase its waste diversion rate. More solid waste is being diverted from landfills than ever before and programs continue to expand to reuse and recycle more types of materials. In 2010, Facilities Management expanded its "Can the Can" recycling program. Under this program, standard office trash bins are replaced with quart-size containers for non -recyclable trash. Each office is also given a recycling container. Housekeepers provide removal of recyclables from the offices and individuals are responsible for carrying their own non-recyclable trash to a centrally located container. The Main Administration building is an early adopter of the program. After implementing the program in May 2010, the recycling rate for the building climbed from 49 percent to 71 percent! Can the Can will continue to roll out across campus during the 2011-2012 academic year.

UMD Construction Site Recycling

University of Maryland is now recycling its construction waste from campus renovation projects, advancing the 75% diversion rate goal by the end of 2013. A collaborative effort between FM’s Campus Projects, FM’s Solid Waste and Recycling Unit and the Office of Sustainability, this recycling effort will generate about 300 to 800 tons of recyclable waste per year, officials said. The newly implemented program shifts waste produced by campus renovation projects from local landfills to recycling facilities. Campus Projects was very interested in finding ways to revise its waste management practices that would benefit both the outside contractors and the campus. Having contractors dispose of the waste was a pass-through cost and this new program allows the university to ensure it is properly recycled at no additional cost to the projects. This project is a win-win effort because it benefits the individual projects while advancing campus sustainability goals. Click here to read the full story. Click here to read the Diamondback article.

Facilities Management’s Recycling and Solid Waste Division is now taking our campus construction and demolition waste to local processor Sun Recycling in Beltsville, Maryland. The Sun Services Material Recycling Facility (MRF) opened in October 2013 and serves the entire Baltimore Washington corridor, including Maryland, Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. The facility operates as a zero landfill facility and provides customers with LEED credits. The recycling facility accepts construction debris, sorts the material by commodity type and sends to various processors for re-use. Scrap metal, wood, gypsum, and aggregates are made into usable products. This marks an important step for our recycling and solid waste efforts on campus. It provides business for a local vendor and cuts down on the amount of travel and carbon emissions required to depose of the waste. Sun Recycling recycles 80% of the materials at their facility. You can learn more about Sun Recycling here.

eTerp: Paperless Hiring Process

In March 2010, the University implemented eTerp (PeopleAdmin), a web-based employment system that has transformed the way faculty and staff searches are conducted on campus. Paper is virtually eliminated from the classification and hiring process, as all documents are uploaded to a central website and search committee members can choose what they wish to print, rather than receiving hard copies of all documents.

"Please Don't Litter" Campaign

In 2009, Facilities Management (FM) developed a "Please Don't Litter" campaign and affixed simple green bumper stickers to FM service vehicles. The campaign reminds people of the importance of properly recycling and disposing of solid waste on campus. While recycling continues to grow on campus, FM estimates that daily litter removal costs the campus more than $300,000 per year.

Expanded Plastics Recycling

In early 2009, the University began recycling all seven varieties of plastic. This expansion required a revised contract with the recycling company that serves campus, which previously had only allowed for recycling plastic materials stamped with 1 or 2. Now, in addition to recycling drink containers and milk jugs, the campus can recycle all plastics, everything from milk crates and flower pots to plastic trays like those supplied by Goodies-To-Go.

Move-In, Move-Out

Two times each year, a tremendous amount of waste in generated by the student residents. During Move-In, Residential Life and Residential Facilities work together to collect all the cardboard boxes discarded by students. In the few days of fall opening 2005, 11 tons of cardboard were collected and recycled.

Move-Out presents a different problem. Students typically throw away sofas, chairs, desks, and anything else they either don’t want or can’t fit in their cars. For the past several years, students and Resident Life staff have implemented "Don't Waste, Donate!" and have arranged to have trucks from area charitable agencies collect and haul away whatever students don't want to take with them. In addition, "Terrapin Junktion", a community yard sale during Move-Out, provides an outlet for unwanted goods and benefits the surrounds College Park community by offering low prices for household goods.

The "Trash to Treasure" donation drive is a partnership with Goodwill, SGA, RHA, Residential Facilities, and Resident Life. The collection was a success with all six stations receiving a significant number of donations from residents as they moved out of the halls. Donated materials - including TVs, clothes, small pieces of furniture (bookcases, end tables, chairs, entertainment units) small appliances (fans, space heaters, coffee pots) and carpets - filled 24-foot truck from top to bottom.

Management of Recycling and Solid Waste

Facilities Management has initiated a renewed commitment to recycling and composting by creating two new positions. The Coordinator, University Recycling and Solid waste Programs, postion has been filled and is responsible for the overall management and development of the recycling and waste management program on campus. The goal of this position is to take on new initiatives to make recycling easier on campus, educate our campus and surrounding community on how to recycle, and develop our recycling program to include more recyclable materials, so UM may steadily increase its campus recycling rates. To support the Coordinator, Facilities established and filled a new Manager of Solid Waste Operations position. This position has day-to-day responsibility for both Recycling and Solid Waste employees, their daily service and activities, and the fleet.

Football Games: "Feed the Turtle"

The Department of Athletics, Facilities Management, Dining Services and the Office of Sustainability collaborated to develop the "Feed the Turtle" program to greatly expand recycling and institute food composting at all home football games. The goal of the program is to divert large quantities of solid waste from local landfills, improve the game experience in and around Byrd Stadium and to provide environmental outreach to our fans. The program includes custom-built containers made of recycled plastic to collect recyclables and food compost in the stadium, "valet recycling" and extensive solid waste collection in tailgate lots, and an event staff training plan. In its first year in 2008, over the course of 7 home games, the program resulted in the diversion of nearly 59 tons of solid waste from landfills, a recycling rate of 41%. When you're at a UMD home game make sure to look for your nearest recycling and compost bin! Read more about the success of Feed the Turtle!


The composting of leaves and other yard wastes has long been a standing practice at UM. However, the campus has undertaken several initiatives to expand this effort by focusing on pre- and post-consumer food waste and food packaging. In 2007, Dining Services initiated the collection of food waste at the South Dining Hall and the Diner which was well received by students and staff. This effort grew to over 175 tons of food waste being diverted from landfills to compost.

In 2008, Dining Services eliminated the use of polystyrene take-out containers and replaced them with a new take-out container made of bagasse, an organic, compostable product made from sugarcane. While the new product was significantly more costly, Dining Services launched a campaign to encourage diners to "eat-in" using washable dinnerware which resulted in a 15% reduction in the number of take-out containers used. This helped to offset the increased cost while increasing our compostable waste. Dining Services continues to seek compostable packaging products to replace those that must be disposed in a landfill.


Recyclemania is an eight-week recycling contest among colleges and universities nationwide which is sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The University, along with 200 other institutions, first participated in 2007 and has participated every year since then. Each week from the end of January through April, the University’s recycling rates for mixed paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, and pre- and post-consumer food waste are calculated. The competition allowed the University to monitor its progress over time. In addition, the competition allowed institutions to compare themselves relative to other institutions. UMD consistently ranks as one of the top performers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Click here to see a summary of UMD's RecycleMania performance.

Terrapin Trader

Terrapin Trader is the University’s surplus redistribution operation that plays a major role in the reuse, redistribution, and recycling of used office furniture, lab equipment, and electronics. Through a variety of different programs, Terrapin Trader has been responsible for keeping a wide array of material from ending up in local landfills. Terrapin Trader, which is open to students, staff, faculty, and the general public, sells products, accepts bids on products, and also hosts auctions. In addition to their current clientele, Terrapin Trader hopes to reach out towards the other university systems, to have a more thorough surplus redistribution program.

Terrapin Trader also extends its redistribution efforts to local Prince Georges County schools. Each year, an elementary, middle, and high school, is selected to participate in the Adopt-a-School Program. Throughout the course of the school year, representatives of each school meet with Terrapin Trader staff to discuss needs identified by the schools and Terrapin Trader donates items from their surplus to the schools based upon those needs identified.

Electronics Recycling

Electronic equipment remains one of the fast growing types of waste in the nation. Computers, printers, copiers and a wide variety of other equipment are routinely replaced; there are often hazardous materials in some parts of components. As a result, it is important that this waste be properly managed. All electronic equipment at the University is considered surplus equipment and is collected by Terrapin Trader. Functional equipment may be sold to the general public and that which cannot be sold or does not work is sent to a qualified vendor where it is deconstructed into individual components which are recycled.

Small electronics collections bins are found in most on-campus residence halls as well as several IT departments. Click here to see what electronics can be recycled.