School of Medicine Waste

Recycling Behind the Scenes at WUSM

The Sustainability Champions are a group of Washington University School of Medicine custodians dedicated to sustainability. They ensure that your recycling makes the journey from your desk or lab to the dumpster for transport.

Our custodians are committed to keeping our campus clean and safe. We would like to give a special thank you to all of the custodians working incredibly hard to keep our campus safe with enhanced cleaning and attention to detail during the current health crisis. These front-line workers are actively preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our community and we are all grateful.

Step 1: collecting and hauling materials from campus spaces

Each team member works within the unique spaces in their work areas to address the needs of our community members. In some areas, the custodians must go to each desk to remove trash and recycling. In other areas, especially Green Offices where office members have eliminated desk-side bins to consolidate landfill waste in communal bins, the custodians empty the large communal cans instead.

In labs and some offices, the recycling cans do not have liners or the liners don’t need to be changed because there is no food or liquids present, so the custodian empties the small cans directly into their can to consolidate and reduce the use of plastic liners.

Some custodians combine trash bags and recycling bags in the same tilt cart for transport down to the docks, others take their individual roll carts down to the dock.

Step 2: sorting the waste before the dumpsters

When the custodian arrives at the dock, they then separate out the landfill waste and the recycling waste; each gets placed in their respective dumpster or compactor and picked up by our waste hauler, Waste Connections. If the recycling load is heavily contaminated, our waste hauler will reject the entire load from the dumpster or compactor and take it to the landfill instead. Our custodians have the ability to throw a bag of recycling into the landfill can if they see a lot of contamination, in an attempt to avoid having the entire dumpster rejected.

Custodian Sustainability Champions streamline the process

Founded in 2019, the Sustainability Champions are a group of custodians dedicated to sustainability. A custodial technician from each zone of campus participates in the committee and all group members are trained Recycling Geniuses. The group meets regularly, in partnership with leadership, to discuss sustainability on our campus. The group works together to identify specific issues and challenges on campus and they use their first-hand experience to find solutions.

One of their most impactful initiatives was to eliminate the use of recycling can liners in laboratories across campus. Labs do not have the common contaminants that cause problems in our single-stream recycling, food and liquids. Because researchers don’t have food or drinks in their labs, the recycling stream and the waste cans remain clean. Eliminating liners in labs dramatically reduces the use of plastic trashbags that are eventually sent to the landfill.

For more information on the meaningful work taking place within the custodial department at WUSM, read our recent article Custodial Reduces Plastic Throughout WUSM Operations.