Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does USC Recycle?

Yes. In partnership with RecycleLA, the Los Angeles municipal waste franchise initiative, USC has contracted with Republic Services to divert and dispose of our waste. The following systems are in effect:

  1. USC Housing: On-campus residents, including the USC Village, sort their waste into blue recycling bins, green compost bins, and black mixed-waste bins in their rooms. Bins are taken to separate trash chutes and transferred to dedicated dumpsters in each residential facility’s trash enclosure. Off-campus residents separate recycling and trash. Starting January 2019, multi-family dwellings (which the City of Los Angeles classifies as off-campus) will be required to compost if residents dispose of more than 4 cubic yards of trash on a weekly basis.
  2. USC Administrative Offices: All USC office occupants sort their waste into blue recycling bins, black mixed-waste bins, and various e-waste receptacles. Blue and black bins are emptied daily, and the waste is deposited in the appropriate container at each office building’s external waste enclosure.
  3. Classrooms: As part of the USC Sustainability 2020 Plan, multi-stream separation bins are being installed in every University Park Campus building. Installation is in four phases and projected to be completed by December 2018.
  4. Outdoor spaces: USC Facilities Management (FMS) is expanding outdoor recycling bin placements in the 2018-2019 academic year.  Exact scope and schedule TBD.
  5. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: USC has won the Pac 12’s Zero Waste Competition the last two years. The Coliseum diverts more than 90 percent of the USC Trojans and Los Angeles Rams home game-day waste from local landfills through recycling and composting.
  6. Removal: Republic Services hauls USC’s waste to its Material Recovery Facility (MRF), a composting facility and landfill.
  7. Surplus Sales Quick Reference Guide: Proper procedures for donating, disposing, or selling obsolete items (Policy Guide)

Q: If my area does not have a recycling bin, how do I request one?

Send a request by email to Gina Whisenant at USC Facilities Management Services,

Q: How do I recycle electronics?

USC Environmental Health & Safety collects e-waste at no cost. Fill out the Universal Waste Pickup Request Form to arrange service. For more information, send email to or call (323) 442-2200.

Q: Does USC compost?

Yes. Composting bins are located in all kitchen waste bin collection enclosures. Workers separate waste streams in kitchens, and transport compostable (food waste) material to the appropriate bins.

Q: Why is the Coliseum zero waste, but not the campus?

The Coliseum is a large but controlled environment in terms of time and space that allows for optimizing waste diversion and achieving a “Zero Waste” (above 90%) diversion rate.

Here’s how it works:

Upstream in the waste process, we work with 200+ food and beverage concessionaires on a weekly basis to ensure that containers, wrappers and serviceware are compostable, and that very little foil, plastic or non-recyclable/compostable products contaminate the waste stream.

Midstream, we partner with the Coliseum’s custodial services provider to facilitate an efficient waste separation process that operates back-of-house during football games.

Downstream, the Coliseum’s waste hauler ensures that our waste separation is maintained throughout their pickup, re-sort, recycling / composting / disposal, and metrics reporting processes.

However, the most important element in the process is the patience, persistence, and dedication of the Coliseum operations management “green team.” Their commitment to on-site, hands-on management is critical for such a complex and labor-intensive operation.

Because of the waste diversion management lessons we have all learned at the Coliseum, USC Hospitality now is working to achieve zero waste in Residential Dining by 2020, and USC Athletics is studying the feasibility of going zero waste in Heritage Hall and the Galen Center.

Q: Does USC use solar power?

USC operates small-scale solar installations off-campus at the Cardinal & Gold Sustainability Residence apartment building and at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island. The Wrigley lab’s solar power installation provides 20 percent of that lab building’s energy needs. Because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) prohibits large-scale solar power purchase agreements (PPAs), USC’s energy portfolio does not include large-scale solar power at this time.

Q: Can USC install solar power equipment without a PPA from LADWP?

Hypothetically, yes. However, the university has chosen not to do so for the following reasons:

  1. Without the ability to take advantage of the federal tax credit written into a typical PPA, installations could be 30% more expensive.
  2. This region of Los Angeles is zoned for density, meaning that our buildings are tall and narrow, leaving just enough roof space for each building’s infrastructure (e.g., vents, HVAC units, cell towers, etc.). Beyond determining if there is enough space for a solar system, factors such as roof age and type can dramatically increase installation costs.
  3. If, hypothetically, we could install solar power equipment on the entire roof of any of our tall and narrow buildings, it would only provide roughly 10% of that building’s total energy needs.
  4. By accepting a utility incentive for the solar system, all Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) go to LADWP which in turn may count 100% of the renewable energy and associated renewable attributes generated by the PV system.
  5. Depending on the age of a building, a new solar power installation can “un-grandfather” old building code requirements, thus requiring numerous, unrelated building system upgrades (e.g., fire, ADA, etc.).
  6. Depending on the age of a building, a building’s infrastructure (e.g., electrical) may not be able to support a solar installation, thus requiring an upgrade, which may also trigger other code-required upgrades.
  7. Parking structures are built to support the weight of the building and the vehicles parked within. Unless a solar power installation is included as part of the original building scope, a post-construction solar power equipment installation can require additional building reinforcement.

In summary and in general, under current conditions with LADWP, on-site solar power is one of the least cost-effective or energy-efficient green power solutions available to the university at this time.

Q: Does USC use clean power sources?

Currently, more than 29% of the electricity purchased by USC from LADWP is generated from renewable sources.  LADWP expects that by 2020, 36% of the energy will be supplied by renewable sources*.  In order for USC to purchase 100% of its electrical usage as renewable energy, LADWP would charge an additional $0.03/kwh for green power. The surcharge would increase USC’s annual electric costs by almost 15%.

* 2017-2018 Briefing Book

Q: What is the environmental impact of USC’s fountains?

The University Park Campus has 39 fountains. Fountain water use represents less than 2 percent of the university’s total annual water consumption. Each fountain runs on a schedule that is adjusted seasonally and for special events. Pumps recirculate the water, reducing the need to refill fountains regularly. All fountains are shut down over winter recess. At this time, fountains do not use recycled water as the UPC campus does not have access to recycled water from the City (recycled water = chemically treated waste water), and recycled water is not approved to be used in fountains (only irrigation and industrial water).


Q: What is USC doing to minimize sprinkler overspray in groundskeeping?

Sprinklers are monitored regularly for repairs or overspray. If you see a broken sprinkler or a significant over-sprayed area, please report it to FMS at 213-740-6833.

Q: What plans are in place to reduce lawns in USC Landscaping?

About 25 percent of the University Park Campus is covered by turf. Half of that is dedicated to parks and play space. The balance is gradually being eliminated or replaced with drought-tolerant plants similar to the ones bordering many building perimeters and sidewalks on campus.

Q: Does USC have plans to introduce native plants in landscaping?

FMS uses native and drought-tolerant plants wherever building design and the landscape environment can support them. However, maintaining a diverse mix of shrubs and trees helps prevent the spread of plant diseases and insect problems.

Q: How does the USC Village support the university’s sustainability efforts?

  1. Water
    1. Six dry wells for capturing storm water were installed under the USC Village. The 6-foot diameter, 45-65-foot deep receptacles can accommodate 100 percent of the storm water produced by an 85th Percentile 24-Hour Storm. Water from rooftops and rains flows into the wells and filters into the groundwater aquifer.
    2. “Purple Pipes” for recycled water were installed to the Village central plant for future connection. By 2025, LADWP’s Downtown Water Recycling Project is expected to connect the city’s recycled water feed to USC’s purple pipe infrastructure on the UPC campus.
    3. All USC Village buildings have their own water meters. Each retailer on the USC Village premises has a separate meter for water, gas, chilled water, and electricity to enable individual energy monitoring.
    4. To reduce heat island effect and minimize water usage, the USC Village is landscaped with drought-tolerant plants and trees in the five-building courtyards. Artificial turf is used throughout the facility’s nine courtyards and between granite cobblestones in the central plaza.
  2. Waste
    1. Green, blue, and black waste bins for composting, recycling, and landfill are installed in each USC Village residential unit, on each floor, and in breakout areas. Additional composting bins are located in all the waste collection enclosures where food prep occurs.
    2. To divert food waste from the landfill, the USC Village participates in California’s CalRecycle Food Scraps Management program. Surplus food from the USC Village dining facilities and retailers is donated to community groups serving the hungry.
  3. Energy
    1. The USC Village operates a central chilled-water and heating/hot water plant. A central plant is more energy efficient than using individual heating and cooling units for each building.
  4. Infrastructure
    1. USC Village buildings used pre-fabricated wall panels manufactured in Southern California with local, sustainable materials.
    2. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint was used in the building interiors.
    3. Sustainable carpet tiles are used throughout the USC Village. Replacing individual tiles creates less waste than replacing full-floor carpet.
    4. The USC Village is bike friendly. In addition to 224 spots on public parking racks, all five residential halls have secure bicycle parking for residents – providing a grand total of 1,260 bike spaces at the USC Village.

Q: Does USC have any LEED certified buildings?

Yes. The university currently owns four LEED-certified buildings: the Tutor Campus Center (Gold), the Broad CIRM Center on the Health Sciences Campus (Gold), the Engemann Student Health Center (Certified), Fertitta Hall (Gold).  In addition USC funded and managed the construction of the LAFD Fire Station #15 (Silver) as part of agreement with the City to replace the former Station #15 located on what is now the USC Village.

Buildings constructed by USC since those noted above meet stringent state and local regulations and Codes that coupled with campus wide voluntary and regulated programs including Energy Conservation, Transportation, Procurement, Waste Diversion and Water Conservation result in sustainability benefits that would meet or exceed the points required for building LEED Certification.   Consistent with a 2010 Campus Planning Committee of the Board of Trustees resolution, USC continues to take reasonable measures to minimize its operations on the environment. In addition, USC 2020 Sustainability sets and measures progress on achievable and practical goals across a diverse range of university operations and involvements.

Consistent with goals and guidelines noted above, and the significant pressures on the university to find ways to be financially efficient in all aspects of its operations, USC considers LEED certification on a project by project basis.  Occasionally project funding criteria is a consideration in support of formal LEED certification. Other times project funds can be more effectively used to enable long term reduction of the building operations on the environment through project investment in enhancements to building operations and/or in useable functional priorities benefiting its occupants in lieu of spending on formal LEED certification.

Q: What happens after the Sustainability 2020 Plan goals are met?

During the 2018-19 academic year, USC’s Office of Sustainability is working with campus partners to develop a proposal for our next long-range Sustainability Plan. A final draft will be submitted for approval by summer 2019.

Q: How large is USC’s sustainability program?

Compared to peer institutions on the Wall Street Journal Top 25 list, other Pac 12 schools and the University of California system, USC has one of the youngest (established in 2008) and smallest (1 full-time staff member) sustainability programs.

Q: Has USC signed on to any climate commitments?

Yes. In 2010, the Campus Planning Committee of the USC Board of Trustees cemented its commitment to sustainability with six resolutions addressing the issues of environmental degradation, energy conservation, water conservation, waste reduction, and building construction.

Q: Does USC provide EV chargers?

Yes. USC Transportation currently provides 116 EV charging stations, available in every parking structure on both campuses.

Q: Does USC use electric buses?

No. However, all USC Transportation buses run on alternative fuels: the fleet consists of 28 bio-fuel buses, 2 propane buses, and 1 compressed natural gas bus. Approximately 10 percent of the university’s other operational vehicles are electric.

Q: As a student, how can I get involved with USC sustainability efforts?

  1. Join a student group.
  2. Become a USC Office of Sustainability volunteer.
  3. Enroll in sustainability workshops and classes.
  4. Consider majoring or minoring in Environmental Studies.

Q: Who can answer additional questions concerning USC Sustainability?

You can reach us at