Since 2014, Washington University in St. Louis has pursued zero waste receptions throughout the Commencement celebration. Typically, receptions achieve 98% waste diversion through recycling and composting. Some of our practices include:

  • 100% recyclable or compostable serviceware at each commencement reception.
  • Waste collection stations with trained volunteers and staff to help attendees correctly sort waste.
  • Recycling collection is available across campus and along pedestrian pathways.
  • Providing boxed water (instead of plastic bottled water) for guest comfort.
  • Unopened ponchos are collected for reuse. If clean and dry, open ponchos are collected for soft plastic recycling.
  • Paper programs are collected for recycling.
  • Signage is reused from year to year where possible.
  • All leftover food is donated if possible or composted.
What can you do?

Guests can support the WashU zero waste effort through the following actions:

  • Boxed water is provided on every chair within the commencement area. No need to grab one on the way in!
  • After you finish your boxed water, please recycle (empty and leave the lid on).
  • All commencement receptions are designed for zero waste – please visit a nearby sorting station to dispose of your waste – look for the blue sustainability tents.
  • Please note that coffee cups are not recyclable. If you picked up a coffee cup from a retail location, please put empty cups in the landfill container. Cups from the complementary coffee stations are compostable at a waste station!
Why boxed water?

Boxed water aligns with our campus-wide initiative that bans the sale of bottled water.  For over10 years, the WashU campus has refrained from bottled water sales, creating a culture of reusable, refillable water bottle use. On an average day, most students, staff and faculty carry their own water bottle around and use convenient filling stations for free, low impact hydration.

However, big events like Commencement pose a challenge. Graduates are carrying as little as possible and their guests may not have thought to bring their own water bottle. Families sit in the sun, saving a seat and anticipating their graduate’s special moment. Having a refreshing drink makes a stressful day a bit more manageable.

So, we researched alternatives to plastic and landed on boxed water. Drink up and please recycle your empty box when you are finished!

Learn more about the advantages of boxed water….


Zero Waste Commencement is a small but important part of a robust, year-round effort to weave sustainability values into the cultural fabric of the WashU community. We would like to recognize and thank the dynamic team of people who go the extra mile to ensure that as little waste as possible goes to the landfill after one of the biggest and most important celebrations of the year:

  • Commencement Office
  • WFF staff and Waste Station volunteers
  • Facilities Department
  • Dining Services & Bon Appetit
  • Office of Sustainability