Waste Diversion


As part of the Sustainability 2020 Plan, USC adopted the goal of diverting 75 percent of waste from local landfill to move closer towards alignment with the City of Los Angeles’s mandate of 90 percent waste diversion by 2025.

USC’s waste diversion practices have changed significantly since 2018 due to RecycLA, the City of Los Angeles’s new waste franchise agreement. Through RecycLA, USC has contracted with Republic Services to manage the majority of our campus waste. We are now required to separate landfill and recycling waste on campus, rather than having our waste haulers sort our waste off-site. Additionally, compostable materials other than food waste were not accepted at our waste hauler’s composting facility until summer 2019, and construction and demolition waste is no longer included in USC’s waste diversion calculations. These changes have resulted in a dramatic decrease in our university-wide waste diversion rate, from 54% in 2015 to 27% in 2019.

USC and Republic are employing proven waste diversion tools such as recycling, composting, and metrics analysis to help reduce waste sent to landfill and bring us closer toward 75% waste diversion. An emphasis on zero waste campus events, installation of multi-stream waste bins, water bottle refill stations, and increased composting across the university are leading USC’s efforts to divert campus waste from landfills.


Waste Diversion Rates

For the period of August 2018 to May 2019, USC’s overall waste diversion rate was 27%. This does not include waste diverted through the USC Surplus Store, the Coliseum, construction and demolition, or paper shredding. Waste diversion by location was as follows:

    1. University Park Campus – 36%
    2. Health Sciences Campus – 19%
    3. University Village – 45%
    4. USC Housing (off -campus) – 22%
    5. CAL building (off campus) – 47%
    6. Coliseum (football season) — 91%


General Waste Information


Waste in landfills produces greenhouse gas emissions, so waste diversion efforts reduce USC’s greenhouse gas footprint. It’s estimated that a 1% increase in recycling could provide an annual net savings equivalent to 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Sending waste to landfills is also expensive. Since 2001, average landfill rates in LA have almost doubled from $34 per ton to $54 per ton. By diverting our campus waste from landfill, USC saves money.

Reduce > Reuse > Recycle

The most effective way to minimize landfill is to stop trash before it starts. An easy way to do this is by eliminating single-use disposable items such as plastic water bottles, paper and plastic bags, plastic utensils, paper hand towels, and straws. Also, minimize use of plastics whenever possible.

Investing in reusable products is a great way to cut down on your waste footprint. Even if a product is recyclable or compostable, it takes energy to transport, break down, and then re-purpose. Many products — like water bottles, grocery bags, utensil sets, and more — now have convenient reusable alternatives.

Recycle Right: Separate, Don’t Contaminate

“Wish-cycling” – putting non-recyclable items in the recycling bin – can be worse than not recycling at all. Items like greasy pizza boxes, foil wrappers, and left-over food can “contaminate” a recycling bin; just a few wrong items may result in the entire bin going to landfill. A good rule of thumb: when in doubt, throw it out.


Waste Diversion Initiatives

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

The Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans football program, runs one of the most successful sports arena waste diversion programs in the nation. The Coliseum is a controlled environment that allows for optimal waste diversion practices, including a robust vendor compliance program and several rounds of waste sorting to ensure minimal landfill waste. The stadium successfully diverts more than 90 percent of Trojans and Rams football game-day waste from local landfills, making it a model for other venues trying to go zero waste. Here’s how it works:

  1. Upstream in the waste process, 200+ food and beverage concessionaires have committed to using compostable containers, wrappers and serviceware, which means very little foil, plastic or non-recyclable/compostable products contaminate the waste stream.
  2. Midstream, the Coliseum’s custodial services provider facilitates an efficient waste separation process that operates back-of-house during football games and events.
  3. Downstream, the Coliseum’s waste hauler, Republic Services, ensures that waste separation is maintained throughout pickup, delivery, re-sort, and recycling or composting disposal. Republic tracks and reports waste metrics back to the Coliseum staff and the Office of Sustainability.

The Coliseum has won the Pac-12’s Zero Waste Bowl in 2016 and 2017, and consistently ranks among the top Pac-12 schools in waste diversion. 241 tons of waste were diverted from Rams and Trojans games during the 2019 football season, and since 2015, the Coliseum has diverted over 1,000 total tons of waste from the landfill.

See below for some examples of how the USC community has supported the Coliseum waste diversion program and results from the past few seasons:

For more information about the program, visit the Coliseum website.

Waste Sorting Infrastructure

Most occupants of USC Administrative Offices sort waste into blue recycling bins, black mixed-waste bins, and various e-waste receptacles.  Waste is deposited in the appropriate container at each office building’s external waste enclosure.

In 2018-2019, USC installed 106 trash bins, 84 recycling bins, and 15 composting bins throughout academic/administrative buildings and outdoor spaces at UPC and USC Village. Bin signage provides “Trojans Recycle Right” instructions.

In 2019, Facilities Management Services placed 136 new multi-stream waste bins in UPC academic and administrative buildings, along with signage developed by the Office of Sustainability that illustrates proper landfill and recycling sorting. 49 multi-stream waste bins have been installed at HSC.

In November 2020, Facilities Management Services installed new exterior multi-stream waste bins across USC Village and HSC’s Pappas Quad. These new waste bins provide access to compost, additional recycling, and liquid pour stations to enable increased waste diversion and maintain clean waste streams.

USC is actively seeking to standardize waste sorting infrastructure where possible and provide the necessary resources — appropriate bins and signage — for Trojans to dispose of their waste correctly.

Zero Waste Events 

President Carol Folt set the precedent for zero waste events at USC through her inauguration ceremonies, which diverted an estimated 4,535 pounds of waste from local landfills and helped to educate the USC community on the importance of recycling and composting. USC holds roughly 10,000 events each year; in 2019, we worked with event hosts to divert waste through composting, recycling, and donating leftover food. The Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management Services (FMS) also worked with campus groups to pilot zero waste campus tailgates, diverting 8,394 pounds of waste during the 2019 football season.

In 2019, Zero Waste Events diverted 18,479 pounds of waste from landfills:

  • President’s Inaugural Events — 4,535 pounds
  • Campus Game-Day Tailgates — 8,394 pounds
  • Trojan Family Weekend — 3,600 pounds
  • President’s Staff Holiday Breakfast — 1,950 pounds

USC Housing

Most on-campus residents, including the USC Village, sort waste into blue recycling and black landfill bins in-room. Bins are emptied in separate trash chutes and transferred to dedicated dumpsters. Off- campus residents separate recycling and trash as well. USC Housing also recycles old furniture with IRN Surplus, and gives used carpets to a recycling vendor.

In spring 2019, USC Housing partnered with Undergraduate Student Government (USG) on a composting pilot at Cardinal Gardens Apartments and Nemirovsky Residential College. Over six weeks, eight students diverted over 50 pounds of compost from landfill.

In winter 2020, USC Housing introduced composting to 7 residential buildings: Parkside, Webb, New North, Trojan/Marks, Nemirovsky, Troy East/Troy Hall, and Cardinal ‘N Gold. Residents of these buildings can now dispose of food scraps and compostable items in bins located in their lobbies. Students can also request a compost pail for their rooms so they can collect waste and make fewer trips to the lobby compost bin. To learn more about how to participate, see the resources below:

Forty bins have already been installed with plans for 20 more in USC Housing facilities. (USC Photo/Ling Luo)

USC Hospitality

In 2018, Residential Restaurants began banning straws and composting food, with Parkside, EVK, and USC Village Residential Restaurants now committed to composting all pre- and post-consumer food waste. This diverts food waste from the landfill which minimizes our carbon footprint and detriment to the environment. An audit in October 2019 revealed that 1,100 pounds of post-consumer waste was being composted daily.

Hospitality has now eliminated 95% of single-use, personal consumption items—such as individually wrapped packets of sugar, butter, and condiments—to reduce waste.

Hospitality does not utilize trays in Residential Restaurants, which reduces food waste by discouraging plate overloading and reduces the number of items to be washed, lowering USC’s water usage.

Hospitality continues to separate recyclable items in all venues.


With the exception of the Coliseum and USC Housing, USC composts food on an ad hoc basis. Dining areas compost food in their enclosures, the School of Religion composts in its kitchen, and all University Village retail outlets have composting facilities with staff at each location being trained in appropriate practices.

A Spring 2020 campuses-wide waste characterization revealed that 50-65% of USC’s landfill trash is food waste that could be composted. As such, USC is actively working to increase compost infrastructure across the university to allow more waste to be diverted from landfill. See below for data on monthly composting averages in various areas as of Spring 2020:

  • UPC — 28.43 tons
  • HSC — 3.89 tons
  • USC Village — 31 tons
  • CAL/CDF — 4.61 tons

Hydration Stations

All Trojans are encouraged to utilize reusable beverage containers wherever possible in order to cut down on waste, especially single-use plastics. To promote this behavior, USC has installed 178 water bottle refill stations — 12 exterior stations and 166 interior stations — around the University Park Campus. USC has also installed 33 water bottle refill stations — 4 exterior stations and 29 interior stations — around the Health Sciences Campus.

Cardboard Recycling

FMS collects, sorts and recycles cardboard from all buildings on both campuses.

Styrofoam Recycling

FMS runs a Styrofoam recycling program at the Health Sciences campus, running Styrofoam through a densifier to minimize storage and provide a higher value commodity.


Waste Resources

Universal and E-Waste Materials

Universal Waste including E-waste, that is not damaged should always be reused/recycled.  EH&S offers free-of-charge Universal Waste Pick-up service for electronics and other Universal Waste items that can be requested by filling out the Universal Waste Pickup Request Form. For certain qualifying, good working order items, Universal Waste can also be re-sold at USC’s Surplus Store. University departments may use any university-approved IT recycling vendor. Many of USC’s larger university departments use human I-T. For more information related to IT recycling, please visit the FAQ page. For details about Universal Waste pickup, please view the Universal Waste Management Fact Sheet, or contact hazmat@usc.edu or (323) 442-2200.

Request a Recycling Bin 

Email Gina Whisenant at USC Facilities Management Services, gwhisena@usc.edu. Or for any additional questions regarding recycling, and the removal of large or unusual trash items (i.e., lumber, bricks, glass, etc.), please contact the Customer Resource Center (CRC) for your campus:

University Park Campus – (213) 740-6833 
Health Sciences Campus – (323) 224-7001

Or visit the FMS Service Request Page.

Battery Recycling/Disposal 

USC Environmental Health & Safety distributes, pre-labeled battery recycling containers that can be found across UPC and HSC campuses. For more information and to find a container near you, view the EH&S Battery Recycling Locations Fact Sheet and Map.  

For batteries larger than D-size please request a hazmat pick-up online by filling out the  Universal Waste Pickup Request Form , or for more information contact hazmat@usc.edu.

Toner/Ink Cartridge Recycling 

USC Business Services has partnered with WeCare, Inc., to offer a convenient option for recycling used ink and toner cartridges by simply packaging and dropping in your department’s outgoing mail, using the provided labels. For further information on procedures, and for a list of excluded items please visit Mailing and Materials Management Services or see link below.

Note excluded items include:

  • Toner bottles, tubes and tanks
  • Printer ribbons or Dye cartridge
  • Liquid ink tubes, bottles or jugs

For additional information please contact mail7777@usc.edu or call (213) 821-1200

Additional resource: USC Sustainability Office Waste Disposal Guide


State and Local Waste Regulations

CalRecycle and RecycLA are great sources of information about waste diversion regulations and programs in Los Angeles. Pertinent regulations that shape USC’s efforts include:

  • SB 1383 – Short-lived Climate Pollutants, Methane Emissions, and Landfill Organic Waste Reduction (2016)
    • January 1, 2018: State Air Resource Board to implement a strategy to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants to achieve a reduction in methane by 40%, hydrofluorocarbon gases by 40%, and anthropogenic black carbon by 50% below 2013 levels by 2030. Also established specified targets for reducing organic waste in landfills.
    • Read SB 1383
  • AB 341 – Mandatory Commercial Recycling (2012)
    • A business that generates four cubic yards or more of commercial solid
      waste per week or is a multifamily residential dwelling of five units or more
      shall arrange for recycling services.
    • Read AB 341
  • AB 1826 – Mandatory Organics Recycling (2014)
    • The mandatory organics recycling law requires a business that meets the waste generation threshold to engage in organic recycling activities.
    • January 1, 2019: Businesses that generate 4 cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week shall arrange for organic waste recycling services.
    • Summer/Fall 2021: CalRecycle may expand to cover businesses that generate 2 cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week.
    • Read AB 1826


Planning for Sustainability 2028

As the university begins developing our Sustainability 2028 Plan, we are exploring the feasibility of achieving net zero waste in partnership with all partners in our campus waste management ecosystem. Vendors, custodial teams, the City-mandated waste hauler, and end-users are all crucial stakeholders. Options currently under consideration include:

  • Adopting a ban single-use plastics
  • Implementation of an Integrated Waste Management Plan
  • A comprehensive recycling program on HSC campus
  • Zero waste programs in Heritage Hall and the Galen Center
  • Centralized paper shredding to increase recycling uptake
  • Pilot food composting initiatives in areas with heavy food prep and consumption

See below for notes from the Sustainability Steering Committee’s 2028 Planning waste meetings: