college students, arms around shoulders, walking away

As a generation of passionate planet-savers grows, students are demanding eco-friendly facilities, programs, and products. Universities are taking note. Schools are launching initiatives to reduce, reuse, and recycle on campus.

Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Washington, is a great example. Their “Zero Waste Western” program boasts a multitude of eco-friendly initiatives and programs. With informative waste sorting guides, a “move out madness” program to responsibly collect unwanted household materials at the end of each school year, and solar-powered waste stations, they’re well on their way to the Princeton Review’s list of America’s greenest universities (a great resource to discover eco-conscious schools).

Composting on Campus

The WWU Zero Waste Western program’s newest eco-endeavor is on-campus composting.

Zero Waste Coordinator Hope Peterson told Earth911 that composting programs are important for education’s sake. Environmental responsibility is a lesson students should learn at university, “especially as the effects of environmental issues become more prevalent,” she said.

Compost also converts would-be waste into a useful product while reducing greenhouse gases significantly. When organic material gets tossed in the trash, it ends up in the landfill where it produces methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas up to 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Peterson said about 10 percent of WWU’s waste headed for the landfill consists of coffee cups. She said it’s unfortunate because the cups are compostable. That data — gathered through a number of waste audits — shows the need for more on-campus composting opportunities. A group of green-minded students noticed.

WWU students Risa Askerooth, Jessica Loveland, and Abby Severns
Students Risa Askerooth, Jessica Loveland, and Abby Severns led the WWU residence hall composting project. Image: Western Washington University

A Student-Led Endeavor

Sustainability representatives at WWU are students living on campus who organize sustainability-focused events for residents. Mentors help them along the way as they plan events and work on a year-long project to improve sustainability at their school.

Three dedicated students in the program, Jessica Loveland, Risa Askerooth, and Abby Severns, realized the significant need for more on-campus composting. And they got to work. As a result, one of the nation’s first on-campus composting programs was born.

The program launched in fall 2018. Students living on campus receive personal compost bins and free biodegradable liners. When needed, students dump their personal compost outside in large compost bins situated near each hall. The large bins are connected to the city’s residential composting program. 

How You Can Follow Suit

Through planning, persistence, and a sense of responsibility, students nationwide can implement an on-campus composting program just like Loveland, Askerooth, and Severns did.

Peterson told Earth911 that time management plays a big role. “They were intending for the process to be a year long; however, it’s become a 2-plus year process. So if repeated, keep a time span in mind,” she said.

For students creating a sustainable on-campus program, she also emphasizes the power of evaluation. Plan to review your program regularly to allow for continuous improvement, and generate relevant data to demonstrate its value to stakeholders.

The process takes commitment, and the payoff is beyond worth it. Just think, what started as an eco-friendly idea thought up by a group of university students became a permanent program, diverting waste from landfills indefinitely.


By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.