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Waste Management

Cal Poly operates an integrated waste management program that includes source use reduction, recycling, composting of food waste, greenwaste, and manure, resale of scrap metal and surplus equipment, and zero waste event catering.  Cal Poly contracts with San Luis Garbage for collection of solid waste and recycling.  Recycling containers are provided to faculty, staff, and students by Facility Managment and Development, and collection is performed by Custodial Services and the campus Recycling Coordinator. 

Composting and Recycling at Cal Poly


Cal Poly Agriculture Operations performs onsite composting of greenwaste from landscape trimmings and agriculture operations, as well as animal waste from the various livestock units.  The high quality compost is used on the student run Organic Farm, campus landscaping, and Cal Poly crops for soil amendment, reducing the need for chemical fertilizer. On an annual basis, CAFES animal operations produce approximately seven million pounds of manure. The manure along with approximately 2,500 cubic yards of green waste generated from campus landscaping maintenance is combined to produce 3,500 cubic yards of finished compost. To find out more about Cal Poly Compost or place an order, call Ag Operations at 805-756-2548.


 In addition to the animal and green waste composted on campus, Campus Dining and Facilities Management and Development partner with Engle and Gray, a licensed facility in Santa Maria, to compost pre-consumer and post-consumer compostable items. Nearly 300 tons of food waste from Campus Dining is composted annually. To view raw waste tracking data, download the linked XLS file.


At Cal Poly our recycling stream is "co-mingled," meaning all recycling can be tossed in the blue bins. The recycling collected by Facilities staff across campus is sent to the Cold Canyon Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The MRF located in San Luis Obispo and accepts recycleables such as; glass, aluminum (cans and foil), and paper products (i.e. cardboard, pizza boxes, magazines, and office paper), and all plastics labeled with numbers 1 through 7, with the exception of 6, polystyrene plastics (i.e. Styrofoam and ubiquitous red cups) that are harder to recycle.

What goes in each bin?

Educating our community on which type of waste should go where is critical to becoming Zero Waste at Cal Poly. Here is an easy to follow thought process when you are making the decision to throw something away:

First, ask yourself is it reusable?

Oftentimes, many items can be reused or repurposed instead of being thrown away. For example: refill your drink cup next time you are thirsty or save that subway bag for the next time you get a sandwich!

Then, if you must throw it away, ask yourself:

  • Cardboard
  • Left over food
  • Paper napkins
  • Paper towels
  • Paper based soda cups
  • Paper based coffee cups
  • BPI labeled plastic cups
  • Most paper based to-go boxes
  • BPI labeled plastic to-go boxes
  • Metal scraps
  • Aluminium cans
  • Plastic Containers
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Print and Copy Paper
  • Newspaper and Magazines
  • Glass and Plastic Bottles
  • Styrofoam
  • Chip Bags
  • Plastic Bags
  • Plastic Bags
  • Candy Wrappers
  • Thin Film Plastics

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Journey to Zero Waste

Cal Poly recognizes that a comprehensive Zero Waste program is fundamental to advancing campus sustainability. Waste reduction is an area of significant opportunity for student engagement and cultural change. The core messages of campus cultural value and personal responsibility are captured in the program's logo and motto: "Cal Poly Zero Waste, It's in your Hands!"

Throughout the years, Cal Poly has excelled in managing waste streams that are under Facilities' direct control. Facilities Management has implemented numerous successful programs to manage the diverse waste streams generated on our campus including animal waste, green waste, pre-consumer food waste, furniture and surplus equipment, construction and demolition waste, and others. These programs have consistently diverted over 50% of waste from landfill.


The consumer waste stream - the waste placed in trash or recycle bins by individual faculty, staff, and students on a daily basis - has proven to be much more challenging to improve. For decades, Cal Poly has had a basic consumer waste recycling program which has focused on making recycling bins and collection service available across campus. Unfortunately, this generally passive program has resulted in approximately 80% of consumer waste going to landfill. To view raw waste tracking data, download the linked XLS file.

consumer percapitaState mandates, CSU policy, and increased awareness by the campus community leadership have driven a need to develop a comprehensive Zero Waste program with a commitment to flipping the consumer waste diversion rate from 80% landfill to 80% diversion by 2020. In early 2015, operations staff from Facilities, University Housing, ASI, Campus Dining, the Green Campus Program, and Zero Waste Club came together and formed a Zero Waste Collaborative to tackle the problem, pursuing two initial strategies:

  • A Zero Waste pilot program was designed to quickly implement Zero Waste collection at several different locations, representing a major cross section of the campus including six freshman dorms, Kennedy Library, the University Union, and The Avenue central dining commons. The pilot focused on design and testing of triple-stream collection infrastructure (compost, recycle and landfill), safe materials handling methods, descriptive signage, and educational messaging.
  • The Collaborative also focused on waste produced in "special streams" from large events such as commencement and summer new student orientation programs, engineering labs and architecture studios, housing move-in and move-out, and sporting events. Twice in the last year, senior level Environmental Engineering students in a Pollution Prevention class have evaluated these special streams and designed solutions for the campus to implement.

To view raw waste tracking data, download the linked XLS file.

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Join the Movement!

The Zero Waste Club and Green Campus team are hosting educational outreach activities for peer to peer cultural behavior change. Over the past year, club members worked closely with Facilities and Campus Dining, performing regular waste audits at The Avenue to identify the effectiveness of improved 3D signage created and installed by the Zero Waste Club, as well as tabling at events across campus to educate students. Future initiatives include a Material Reuse Depot on campus and a drive to eliminate single use bottled water and plastic bags from all campus locations. There are many ways that you can participate and support this effort:

Go Zero Waste in your day-to-day activities:

  • Always ask yourself… does this need to go to the landfill?
  • When in doubt…Recycle!
  • Get a reusable water bottle and bring it with you everywhere you go!
  • Say "No, thanks!" to plastic bags
  • Bring a set of utensils in your backpack and avoid the plastic ones!
  • Bring your food in Tupperware, not plastic bags
  • Avoid products that use unnecessary packaging or containers
  • Buy products in bulk!

To make an event zero waste:

  • Request the Zero Waste option from Campus Catering
  • Use all reusable or compostable utensils, dishes, and cups
  • Use no individually packaged products (chips, candy bars, sugar, butter, condiments)
  • Collect all waste in recycling or composting bins provided by Cal Poly event staff

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Hazardous Waste

For hazardous waste and materials that require special handling for recycling or disposal, please use the following guidelines.

  • Batteries may be recycled by placing in an envelope and mailed to the State Warehouse.
  • Fluorescent Tubes contain mercury and should be delivered to the State Warehouse for proper disposal.
  • Compact Fluorescent Lamps contain mercury and should be delivered to the State Warehouse for proper disposal.
  • Used Toner Cartridges are recycled by Distribution Services. Please place the used cartridge back in the packaging your new cartridge came in (sealed manila envelopes are also OK), and place next to your mail pickup location.  Please do not drop them in the campus mail.
  • Asbestos and Lead may only be handled by trained and certified personnel. If you believe asbestos or lead containing materials have been damaged or disturbed, please contact the work control center at 805-756-5555, or contact Environmental Health and Safety at 805-756-6662.
  • Chemical Waste is handled by the Environmental Health and Safety office.

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Surplus Program

To further reduce the quantity of waste deposited in land fill, Cal Poly operates an on line surplus equipment sale program.  The Public Surplus auction site is used to resell surplus equipment such as computers, furniture, lab equipment, light fixtures, tools, vehicles, audio/video equipment, and unclaimed lost and found items.  The program generates approximately $10,000 per month in revenue, which is reinvested in recycling and other sustainability efforts at Cal Poly. Click here to read the Cal Poly Surplus policy.

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