Deeper Dive Into Zero Waste

Credential and certification programs are available to universities and businesses to guide initiatives and achieve a minimum of 90 percent diversion.

Sarah Stanley
BioCycle  July 2017, Vol. 58, No. 6, p. 21

Zero Waste training at Arizona State University includes sorts of the trash, recycling and organics bins to identify and eliminate challenging materials. Sorting contents of front-of-house bins, directed by Stephanie Barger of GBCI’s Zero Waste program (on right in front), shown above.

Zero Waste training at Arizona State University includes sorts of the trash, recycling and organics bins to identify and eliminate challenging materials. Sorting contents of front-of-house bins, directed by Stephanie Barger of GBCI’s Zero Waste program (on right in front), shown above. Photo courtesy of Sodexo

At Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, a pilot project at Sun Devil Stadium is transforming operations across the campus and engaging students, employees and the community in the process. The school started focusing on Zero Waste as part of its sustainability plans a few years ago and its college sports stadium emerged as an opportunity to turn Zero Waste principles into action.

“Many of our green initiatives started at the stadium,” notes Alana Levine, associate director for ASU’s Zero Waste department. “The stadium has become the front porch for our sustainability efforts. It is our testing ground for where programs like Zero Waste come to life.”

Sun Devil Stadium has been home to the Pac-12 football team since 1958 and can hold up to 75,000 fans. It is undergoing a $268 million renovation to accommodate its growing fan base and the needs of ASU’s athletics department. As it continues to look at new ways to strengthen the relationship between its college athletics and the community, sustainability is a key focus.

During the last home game of 2016, a 93 percent waste diversion rate was achieved. A key piece of this success is the stadium’s partnership with Sodexo, its food service provider, who was eager to support ASU’s Zero Waste programs. The next step in the pilot project involved an in-depth workshop to help office and field teams dig deeper into what it means to be Zero Waste.

“Our teams [stadium and Sodexo] are operational and food service experts who are enthusiastic about incorporating sustainable practices into their work,” explains Ted Monk, vice president, sustainability and corporate responsibility at Sodexo North America. “They’re asked to do a tremendous amount and it’s imperative that we provide them with the support, the foundational principles of why this is important and the impact it has, and the resources available to help them be successful.”

ZW Credential

Sodexo and ASU enlisted another partner, the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) Zero Waste program, headed by Stephanie Barger. Barger and her team assisted with introducing Sodexo employees to the program’s Zero Waste practices. Sodexo had been running tactical manager trainings for its employees with Barger in the past resulting in several employees pursuing and receiving GBCI’s Zero Waste professional credential (see sidebar). The credential, administered through GBCI, trains professionals on Zero Waste certification.

Sodexo’s own training includes sorts of the trash, recycling and organics bins to identify and eliminate challenging materials. “Education and training is vital to helping teams work towards Zero Waste,” explains Barger. “This is a behavior shift and it’s important to take the time to help employees understand the system and impact of what they are being asked to achieve.”

Education around Zero Waste at Sun Devil Stadium was a major factor in pushing strategies and plans forward. ASU embarked on a rigorous review and training that focused on every aspect of waste at the stadium from the front of the house to the back. “We looked at ways to lean down what’s coming into the kitchen, from buying more in bulk to diverting waste to organics and recycling bins,” notes Levine. “Last season, we numbered each of the trash bags to see if there was contamination and if so, we could track it back to where it was coming from. Then we came together as a team to discuss how we could correct it. The whole process has really strengthened relationships between the stadium staff and our partners.”

Advancing The Movement

To encourage adoption of Zero Waste certification, a group of facility and operations members from colleges and universities came together to establish the Zero Waste College and University Technical Committee, run by the GBCI Zero Waste program. Given the unique functionality of campuses, the group develops tools and resources that support Zero Waste campus-wide. The committee runs workshops throughout the year and recently hosted one at the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference. Representatives on the committee include Orange Coast College, University of California at Berkeley, University of Oregon, Michigan State University, University of Colorado, Boulder and University of Texas at Austin.

“College and university football and basketball games are the best way to engage fans about Zero Waste goals,” explains Lin Kin of University of California, Berkeley and chair of the Technical Committee. “These highly visible and large sporting venues provide an excellent opportunity to educate and outreach to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and most importantly, our community. The Committee provides networking and information sharing on Zero Waste best practices around the country to help them achieve their goals.”

Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles views its Jesuit mission — making tomorrow a better place to be for all — as a driving force in its decision to adopt a Zero Waste strategy. LMU’s Recycling Program was started over 25 years ago, and the campus facilities team has developed waste reduction operating strategies to manage food waste on site. Technologies include food waste dehydrators and a liquefier, and starting in the fall, a campus-wide composting program utilizing the Big Hanna in-vessel composting units. The campus also implemented a reusable mug program, and uses locally sourced food. “It’s important to create a culture that seeks to identify and reduce waste throughout areas of the food service process on campus,” notes Bill Stonecypher, manager, solid waste management and university recycling program at LMU.

LMU is pursuing Zero Waste certification through GBCI. The certification is based on a peer-reviewed definition and lends credibility to projects through a rigorous review process. Participating campuses and businesses are encouraged to divert all solid waste from the landfill, incineration and the environment (e.g., reducing litter and toxins from products and packaging that might impact humans), while achieving a minimum of 90 percent diversion. GBCI’s technical experts and consultants, who specialize in architecture, engineering and building management, regularly review and release updated versions of its certifications to keep pace with industry changes and the marketplace.

The Zero Waste certification focuses on powerful upstream policies and practices such as reducing, reusing, environmentally preferred purchasing and mutually beneficial Zero Waste contracts with haulers. This both increases diversion and significantly benefits the bottom line. Facilities need to be at 90 percent diversion from landfill, incineration (waste-to-energy) and the environment for at least 12 months to qualify for the Zero Waste certification. The certification adopts the peer-reviewed, internationally accepted definition of Zero Waste developed by the Zero Waste International Alliance (

Sarah Stanley is Media and Communications Manager at Green Business Certification Inc. Information on the Zero Waste certification and professional credential is available at

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