UNC has active recycling programs for more than 40 different materials. These include traditional materials such as office paper, bottles, and cans; construction waste such as concrete, carpet, and ceiling tiles; and hazardous materials such as batteries, computer equipment, and mercury.

Traditional Recycling

Recycling CansIn FY 2015, the University recycled and composted 4,673 tons of materials. UNC began an annual recycling study in 2009 to gauge a better understanding of recycling and waste reduction involvement across campus. The study found that 42% of campus discards in 2013 were recycled or composted. The majority of composted materials were organic waste such as yard waste and food waste. Fiber such as corrugated cardboard and paper also made up a large fraction of the materials recycled.

During move-in week, the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling (OWRR) works to reduce move-in waste. In August 2015, OWRR recovered 18 tons of cardboard, 800 pounds of plastic film, and 520 pounds of Styrofoam for recycling. During move-out OWRR runs a program focused on donating used goods to keep them out of landfills. The efforts of OWRR and students groups on campus have reduced waste considerably.


Annual Recycling Statistics


Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling

Campus Programs

When students move out of the residence halls, donation stations help keep clothing, office supplies, futon frames, and carpeting out of the landfill. In 2015, most of the donated items were given to Triangles Residential Option for Substance Abusers.

To further involve students in the effort to reduce and reuse, the Office of Waste Reduction & Recycling launched their Residential Green Games, which pits on-campus student residential communities against each other to see who can reduce, reuse, and recycle the most.  Over 9,000 on-campus students participate each year.

In response to a November 2003 Student Congress resolution, OWRR and the Athletics Department launched a pilot project to recycle plastic bottles and beverage and popcorn cups at football games in Kenan Stadium. Initially run by OWRR staff and volunteers, recycling stations have been established and are now run by the Athletics Department. Encouraged by the success at Kenan Stadium, the Athletics Department has expanded the recycling program to its other outdoor venues. A trial Tailgating Recycling Program was implemented in 2008 and collected 0.68 tons of materials. The program has since expanded and recycling is encouraged at every tailgate. Starting in 2011, the Environmental Affairs Committee of Student Government partnered with OWRR to run Game Day Challenge, a friendly competition between colleges and universities to see which institution can reduce and recycle the most waste from a single home football game.

Rather than sending the mattresses removed during residence hall renovation to the landfill, UNC Housing found Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in Pamplico, South Carolina, that recycles 100 percent of old mattress materials. The plastic wrapping on the new mattresses is taken by a local grocery store that has a recycling partnership with Trex Products. The wrappings are recycled alongside plastic shopping bags to make decking materials.

To help reduce overall paper waste, University Mail Services works with the Intra-Mail Network (IMN). In the past, undeliverable bulk mail, such as an improperly addressed catalogue, was deposited in a recycling bin in the mail center. Now, IMN works with participating commercial mailers to ensure that mail is deliverable.

Since 2009, all students on meal plans receive a reusable food container. Once used, the container is exchanged for a clean and sanitized unit. This three-compartment, polypropylene clamshell is now the only to-go container in use at the dining halls. Since the program’s inception, approximately 76,000 Styrofoam containers have been eliminated annually.

Customers who purchase and use a Carolina Dining Services reusable drink container receive at 20% discount on their hot and cold beverages. The program is available at Lenoir Mainstreet. The Beach, Tar Heel Cafe, and Rams Head Market. Customers who bring their own reusable beverage container receive a lesser discount that varies by location.



In 2009, UNC won the Carolina Recycling Association’s award for the Outstanding Composting or Organics Recycling Program. Efforts cited include food waste collection by Carolina Dining Services, animal bedding collection by the Department of Laboratory and Animal Medicine, yard waste processing by the Grounds Department, and the partnership between UNC, Orange County, and Brooks Contractor, a composting and processing company. Composting keeps organic materials out of landfills, where they would decompose and produce methane, a greenhouse gas at least 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In 2013, composting avoided almost 400 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. 7,654 gallons of used cooking oil collected from Carolina Dining Services were also recycled and made into biodiesel fuel in 2013.

In addition to CDS composting, the Environmental Affairs Committee of student government (EAC) worked with OWRR and the Residence Hall Association (RHA) to begin the Carolina Compost program in several residence halls. EAC members distributed covered compost bins to residents of Cobb and the Olde Campus Upper Quad communities in 2013 and plan to continue the program in the coming years.

Beyond composting, Carolina Dining Services is working hard to reduce waste. Smaller plates, the discontinuation of trays, and signage about food waste and healthy eating contributed contributed to reduction in food waste across all campus food services. Since 2007, the Daily Grind and Global Cup Café have composted coffee grounds and corn-based cups with a local farmer.



Hazardous Waste Recycling

Hazardous waste disposal is an important part of the University’s waste minimization plan and is facilitated by the Department of Environment, Health and Safety.

Coal ash, a by-product of power and steam production at UNC’s cogeneration facility, constitutes the largest waste stream on campus. It is not included in overall recycling and municipal solid waste totals due to its extreme size. Full Circle Solutions diverts 100 percent of UNC’s coal ash from the landfill by using it as structural fill in construction projects and as an agricultural and horticultural soil amendment.


Construction and Demolition Waste

Construction and demolition waste recycling increased from 5 percent in FY 2005 to 11 percent in FY 2013. Items such as clean wood waste and pallets, scrap metal, carpet, ceiling tiles, and concrete/block are separated and recycled.

At UNC, any contractor working on either a renovation project or a new building must submit a Solid Waste Management Plan, as well as monthly reports that track recycled, salvaged, and landfilled items. Cardboard, clean wood, crates, scrap metal, and pallets are banned from Orange County landfills.

In 2008, Venable Hall, a chemistry building constructed in 1925, was demolished. Many items from the hall were reused around campus. The concrete tiles from the roof, for example, were reused to improve muddy sections of the running trail in the Carolina North Forest. Maintenance shops salvaged pumps and electrical panels.  Overall, contractors were able to recycle or salvage 1,100 tons of material, which was 61 percent of the total waste. A goal of 95 percent waste diversion was established for the Education Center at the Botanical Garden.



Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling