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Recycling in Atlanta: Increasing Recycling Capacity at Two Higher Education Institutions 

Across the country, colleges and universities are hubs for education, innovation, economic development, and employment. They nurture the next generation, encouraging fresh ideas, testing current boundaries, and envisioning what a better world could look like. Higher education institutions are both foundational in preparing students to be responsible participants in the community, as well as an important part of a community’s recycling ecosystem through its infrastructure and education. 

Access to recycling should be consistent across a community, no matter where you live, work, learn, or play. In Atlanta, Georgia, The Recycling Partnership worked closely with two higher education institutions to improve recycling programs within their sustainability plans, as part of its multi-year, $4 million-plus grant project funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation that also bolstered single-family curbside recycling and expanded multifamily recycling opportunities. 

Increasing Higher Education Recycling Capacity  

Recycling is a strong industry in Georgia. Data from the Georgia Recycling Coalition shows that more than 120 businesses in Georgia use recycled materials to make new products and collectively employ 23,000 people. The higher education sector provides an opportunity to bolster local recycling markets and improve the environment, reducing the amount of material landfilled as well as carbon emissions. 

Georgia State University (GSU) 

GSU is the largest university in Georgia, with its main campus in Atlanta, and one of the country’s most diverse public universities. The Recycling Partnership, in collaboration with Cascadia Consulting Group, worked with GSU to improve recycling on campus, as well as implement holistic upgrades and a more efficient materials management system through the following initiatives.  

  •  349 collection bins were installed for items like clothes, paper, plastic bottles, cardboard, and trash, among other materials 
  • Students and staff involved with campus civic engagement and sustainability efforts set up Residential Recycling Centers at three student housing locations 
  • Bins at the Residential Recycling Centers were labeled and brightly color-coded with clear pictures to explain what materials are collected where 
  • Centralized waste receptacles with specifically labeled recycling bins were placed in office areas 
  • A student-created app called EcGo was made available to students as a recycling educational tool  
  • Student dining invested in re-usable items like OZZI containers for on-the-go meals 
  • The University is exploring future plans to pursue on-campus composting 

Overall, the investments and initiatives have made a difference. From January to July 2022, this suite of tools and upgrades led to a 65% increase in recyclable materials compared to the same time period in 2021. 

Morehouse College 

The Partnership also had the opportunity to work with Morehouse College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), that like GSU has ambitious recycling goals. Following the GSU model, Morehouse College also pursued a comprehensive materials management plan in collaboration with The Partnership and working with Cascadia Consulting Group with the goal of implementing enhanced infrastructure and education. The Recycling Partnership worked with Morehouse College on the following initiatives: 

  • Identified the need for more than 100 campus-wide recycling stations which also included decreasing the number of necessary waste-only bin options 
  • Supported color-coded signage as well as indoor and outdoor collection bin installation 
  • Developed new signage to launch a campus-wide recycling campaign, utilizing The Partnership’s DIYSigns recycling signage tools and open-sourced templates 
  • Added digital interactive displays – known as “Innovation Stations” – throughout campus that describe the life of recyclable materials from the time it is dropped into a bin on campus through its journey to be recycled and reused 

Additionally, enhanced education and transparency is being planned for an educational installation on the topic of environmental justice and the power of recycling. With new infrastructure in place, the college will increase the amount of recyclable materials they collect by almost 3,500 pounds.  

Calling All Students and Education Leaders – Take the Next Step 

To help other higher education institutions take the next step with their recycling program, this project inspired the development of the Higher Education Recycling Guide to provide a playbook on how to design sustainable recycling programs on campus. Colleges and universities across the country, big or small, can learn from and replicate the work done in Atlanta on their own campuses.  

Higher education institutions have an essential role to play in a city or town’s overall recycling goals. They are think tanks for sustainability and environmental progress, providing a roadmap for the next generation to lead these efforts. Download the Higher Education Recycling Guide today to learn more, create a strategy, download resources, and see what may be possible in your community.  

This feature highlights recycling capacity enhancements in Atlanta higher education institutions, the second story of a three-part series outlining the recent success of the city’s recycling evolution aided by a multi-year $4 million+ grant from The Recycling Partnership with financial support from The Coca-Cola Foundation. From increasing participation and education in its curbside recycling program to furthering equity and access in university and multifamily recycling, explore how these initiatives can work in communities nationwide. 

Download Higher Education Recycling Guide