Recycling and Waste Management FAQ
According to Mason’s 2010 Climate Action Plan, our first waste reduction goal was to increase our campus recycling rate to 25%. In 2015, Mason joined 317 other colleges and universities in signing the American Campuses Act on Climate (ACAC) Pledge. As a signatory of the ACAC, Mason committed to accelerating its transition to clean energy and aimed to further reduce its environmental impact by increasing its recycling rate to 50% by 2018.
Although Mason’s zero waste initiatives have strategically grown, like our dining hall composting program and our annual Patriot Pack Out, in fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018) Mason did not achieve its 50% recycling rate goal and posted a recycling rate of only 16.4%. Given Mason’s tremendous annual growth (both in enrollment and campus size per square foot), the management of recycling and waste is a constant challenge. Although we did not achieve our goal, we recognize that there is a lot of work left to do as a campus community and we remain committed to advancing Mason towards a more sustainable future. As the urgency of our climate crisis becomes more evident with each passing day, we are aggressively pursuing end-of-stream diversion efforts, active/passive behavior change campaigns, the elimination of single-use plastics, and overall waste reduction efforts by encouraging folks to purchase less and to only purchase Climate Neutral Certified and sustainable goods. Our strategic efforts will continue to advance Mason towards its sustainability goals for a more sustainable future for people and the planet.
Mason’s diversion rate measures the percentage of material waste that is composted, recycled, reused, donated, or otherwise not disposed of in landfills or burnt in incinerators. Recycled materials include co-mingled plastics, metal, white paper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, electronics, as well as mattresses, furniture, and other durable goods. Items donated from Patriot Pack Out and our Zero Waste ‘Green Game’ demonstrate Mason’s efforts to educate others about appropriate behaviors with waste while diverting as much as possible away from the trash. You might be familiar with the phrase “REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.” We are working with Mason’s purchasers to invest in Climate Neutral Certified goods while decreasing the quantity of items purchased. Acquiring sustainably made and durable goods can be more impactful in reducing environmental impact than end-of-stream diversion.
Mason’s diversion rate for fiscal years (FY) 2017, 2018, and 2019 is included below:
- FY 2017 (7/1/16–6/30/17): generated 4,000 tons of waste; of which diverted 847 tons (21%).
- FY 2018 (7/1/17–6/30/18): generated 4,609 tons of waste; of which diverted 755 tons (16.4%).
- FY 2019 (7/1/17–6/30/19): generated 4,195 tons of waste; of which diverted 712 tons (17%).
Most areas on the Fairfax campus have recycling containers/recycling centers that accept multiple recycling streams including white paper, mixed paper, and comingled recycling (glass, aluminum, and plastic). For a complete explanation of our recycling streams, please consult the Acceptable Materials page under the Office of Sustainability’s Zero Waste web page.
Although Fairfax County now requires residential members to separate glass from recycling bins, this requirement does not currently extend to large commercial entities like Mason. For this reason, Mason maintains comingled recycling bins that accept glass along with aluminum and plastic. At this time, Fairfax County collects all glass as part of our campus’ comingled recycling stream (once contamination is hand-sorted by Facilities staff) and reuses it within concrete mix/asphalt applications. See our glass recycling update here!
Mason Facilities transformed a cardboard bailer (a device that flattens corrugated cardboard for recycling) area on the Facilities Lot into an Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) approved Universal Waste & Recycling Center (UWRC). This center accepts materials deemed “universal waste”, or hard-to-dispose-of items that are nonhazardous/contain low-levels of hazardous metals. Some accepted items include fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs, automobile antifreeze, aerosol cans, paint and solvents, pesticides, automobile batteries, printer cartridges, and asphalt among others (electronic waste or university property should be brought elsewhere, see below). The materials delivered to the UWRC are collected by the hauler CleanEarth. The UWRC is open from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday, dumping is not permitted during or outside operational hours.
In addition to these recycling streams, Mason also diverts the following materials from our landfills:
- Small, electronic waste (also known as “e-waste”), including items like small batteries, ink cartridges, cell phones, and chargers. Items like these can be recycled in either the electronic recycling collection box at the Johnson Center (located near the Information Center) or the electronic recycling collection box located in the Facilities Warehouse. If e-waste items are university property, Fiscal Services should be contacted for disposal at University Surplus Property at the Facilities Warehouse. Here’s a quick link to Fiscal Services’ “Dispose of Equipment” page.
- Large, e-waste, including items like personal appliances, toasters, lamps, computers, and printers (in residence halls). Large, e-waste/appliances should be set aside inside individual waste rooms for Housing and Residence Life to collect the item(s); the item(s) will be recycled or declared through a Facilities service request on a case-by-case basis. Please do not place appliances inside or around dumpsters and compactors on campus. For questions, please contact your Resident Assistant (RA).
- University furniture/equipment, e-waste, durable office supplies, and other property can be disposed of at University Surplus Property at the Facilities Warehouse. Musical instruments can be donated through the Instruments in the Attic program.
- Paints, solvents, and aerosol cans can be brought to the Universal Waste & Recycling Center (UWRC) between the hours of 7:00 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday (no dumping). Please contact Facilities Customer Service (703-993-2525) for more information.
- Hazardous waste, including biohazardous waste, paints, metals, and any other chemicals, should be declared and disposed of through Mason’s Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) department. For student questions regarding medical waste, please contact Student Health Services (SHS). For needle disposal, SHS works with EHS to accept student containers, replaces them, and disposes of waste.
- Automobile parts and related items like tires, Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL), fluorescent bulbs, and antifreeze can be delivered to the Universal Waste & Recycling Center (UWRC) between the hours of 7:00 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday (no dumping, see description above). Please contact Facilities Customer Service (703-993-2525) for more information.
- Bicycles can be donated through the annual student move-out event, Patriot Pack Out, or by contacting Parking and Transportation Services via email: email@example.com or phone(703) 993-2828. Depending upon the condition, all abandoned bicycles (a bicycle is considered “abandoned” when it remains unclaimed for 120 days) are sold at auction or broken down and partially recycled with the proceeds used to fund Mason’s various bicycle programs.
- Individual food scraps or coffee grounds can be composted at the Innovation Food Forest compost piles or Potomac Heights Vegetable Garden. You can also rip up paper and cardboard to put on the piles as a source of carbon. Please read the guidelines for composting on campus before visiting the sites. Remember, DAIRY, MEAT, and POLYLACTIC ACID items (also known as “PLA”) CANNOT be composted at the Fairfax campus sites.
- Blaze Pizza Boxes (completely emptied of all food scraps/napkins) can be disposed of at the Johnson Center’s pizza box collection areas within the main dining area on the first floor.
For more information on proper disposal methods for recyclable materials and waste, please see the Acceptable Materials page under Zero Waste on our website.
Single stream, or commingled, recycling is a process of collecting recyclable goods (paper, plastics, glass, etc.) into a single container. In some remote, smaller campus locations (i.e. the Science and Technology campus), Mason follows that process. However, at the larger Mason campuses, Mason requires all students, faculty, and staff to sort white paper; colored paper; cardboard; and glass, cans, and plastics into separate containers. The university has a multi-stream recycling system for several reasons: the university receives revenue for clean recyclable materials where there is a market demand; it keeps contamination low; and it increases the overall environmental benefit of recycling. Mason reviews this practice on a regular basis to determine whether to change it based on environmental and market conditions.
Dedicated employees in Mason’s Housekeeping and Facilities departments collect trash and recycling throughout the Fairfax campus. Facilities staff members haul trash and recycling to Mason’s recycling yard to sort contaminated materials before it is transported off-campus.
Note: Sorting is a daily task our dedicated Facilities staff complete to capture recyclables inappropriately disposed of in the trash. Additionally, Facilities staff remove trash inappropriately disposed of in the recycling to decrease the overall contamination rate of Mason’s recycling for off-campus collection. This activity is extremely important, but it is one that can be greatly reduced (even eliminated) if individuals carefully dispose of items by using the correct bins, rinsing comingled recycling items before disposal, and ensuring paper is clean and dry. Decreasing contamination is essential; if a recycling truck’s load has a contamination rate higher than 1% then the entire truck may be rejected by the hauler and sent to the landfill!
On the Fairfax campus, Fairfax County collects trash and recycling and hauls it to the I-66 Transfer station located on West Ox Road. The trash is then taken to Covanta Fairfax, a waste-to-energy incinerator in Lorton, VA, while the recycling is hauled away to the Northeast Transfer Station in Washington, DC by Waste Management.
On the SciTech and Arlington campuses, Waste Management collects trash and recycling. Food waste from dining halls on the Fairfax campus is collected by Veteran Compost and taken to their facility in Clifton.
Mason generates revenue from certain recycled materials based on market conditions. For example, Mason received revenue from clean cardboard, white paper, glossy paper such as event programs, and metals at this time.
Through a partnership with Veteran Compost, Mason composts all pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste generated at Southside, Ike’s, and the Globe dining halls. Veteran Compost began collecting compost on Mason’s campus in June of 2019 and has collected 47 tons of compost from Mason’s dining facilities! The compost collected by Veteran Compost is transported to their facility on Whitehall Farms in nearby Clifton, VA (they operate a larger site in Aberdeen, Maryland as well). Mason is currently exploring strategies to expand its composting operations to include other Fairfax campus buildings as well as Mason’s campuses in Arlington, Sterling, Manassas, Lorton, Woodbridge, and Front Royal. We even hope to eventually extend composting to our campus in Incheon, South Korea!
Additionally, the student-run Potomac Heights Organic Vegetable Garden and Innovation Food Forest house on-campus sites for small-scale, composting (non-industrial composting occurs at the sites which means that meat, dairy, and polylactic acid (or PLA) items are not accepted). During the summer of 2019, the Office of Sustainability partnered with the Northern Neck Starbucks, the JC Starbucks, and the Merten Hall Einstein Bros. Bagels to launch a volunteer-based, coffee grounds composting initiative. Since the beginning of this initiative, student volunteers and Office of Sustainability staff have daily collected buckets of coffee grounds from these locations in addition to pizza boxes from the JC pizza box collection stations for composting at the Potomac Heights Organic Vegetable Garden and the Innovation Food Forest. Individuals within our campus community may utilize both composting sites for individual food waste, but please remember that dairy, meat, and polylactic acid (PLA) items are not accepted. *Due to COVID-19, all composting operations are temporarily suspended.
For more information on Mason’s current composting efforts, please view the Composting page under our Zero Waste web page.
I have ideas on increasing recycling efforts, including where to put more recycling bins, and other student, academic projects! Who do I contact?
Thank you for your interest! Currently there are recycling containers in most common area spaces, interior and exterior, on Mason’s campuses but we are trying to constantly add more. The recycling containers are strategically placed in common areas outside of the classrooms. Please send your idea along with any available details such as a design, funding in place, timeline, and/or maintenance plan to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who do I contact regarding trash and recycling overflow, and other matters that are of immediate concern?
Please contact Facilities customer service at 703-993-2525 if there are any immediate concerns regarding waste and recycling.