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Zero Waste

Swarthmore has committed to becoming a Zero Waste campus in our efforts to reduce environmental harm and promote just and sustainable systems.

Since 2016, we have undertaken a substantial effort to reduce the waste that we generate and to divert waste away from incineration in Chester, PA and into compost or recycling. We have also built a fully campus-wide, “post-consumer” compost system that offers compost bins in every campus building, managed by our Environmental Services team and the student Green Advisors. Read on below and in the linked pages for more information about our baseline metrics, quantifiable goals, and community practices.

Managing Your Waste

Each of us contributes to waste that is generated on Swarthmore’s campus, and we can all play a role in being better neighbors and environmental stewards. 

If you have questions about whether to place an item in compost, recycling, or trash, please refer to our Waste Disposal Guide or the waste signs posted at waste bins throughout campus.

If you are a student looking to obtain or donate res hall supplies, check out information about the Worthmore Free Store, which provides access to room furnishings and other supplies for free during the academic year. 

If you are planning an event and would like to explore best practice guidelines for reduction and diversion, check out the Green Events Guide created by our Events Management office.

Zero Waste Plans

The College’s Zero Waste Working Group leads the College’s operational and educational efforts to achieve our waste targets. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the Zero Waste Working Group commissioned an initial report to summarize the status of campus integrated waste management.

A secondary plan is expected to be released that will establish robust targets and metrics for reduction, diversion, and the social justice components of our work.

Waste Characterization Studies
student sorting waste

A compost bag being sorted for contamination during a Waste Characterization Study. 


Each fall, the Zero Waste Working Group hosts a campus event, the Annual Waste Characterization Study, to sample waste data from buildings across campus. Bags of compost, recycling, and trash are collected from around a half-dozen buildings. First we track, by weight, how much was placed in each of those waste streams. Then we resort materials in each stream to determine if they were placed in the correct category (e.g., were there compostables in the trash stream?). By collecting these data and comparing across years, we can approximately determine our progress in diverting material away from trash incineration. 

Members of the Zero Waste Working Group, Green Advisors, and other Office of Sustainability interns also regularly conduct waste characterization studies for individual buildings at their request.

Waste Characterization Studies are designed to track diversion metrics, but are not conducive to tracking reduction. The Zero Waste Working Group is working with various haulers and processing facilities for our compost, recycling, and trash in order to improve tracking of our total waste amounts over time.

You can read the report on 2016-2019 Waste Characterization Studies here

Contact Our Zero Waste Team

Have more questions? Please feel free to email the Zero Waste Working Group at or to fill out a Google Form here.