Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Improving Recycling Behaviours in a University Food Court
Year Submitted 2019
Awarded National prize - Environmental Sustainability
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Ed Kane Assistant Vice-President (University Services)
Chad McKenzie Manager, Residence Maintenance and Custodial Services
Sandra Nelson Director, Strategic Procurement
Name of Institution Carleton University
Office Address 1125 Colonel By Drive
Room 609 Robertson Hall
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6
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Telephone: 613-520-2600
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Tim Sullivan on behalf of Michel Piche
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President (Finance and Administration)
Office Address 503 Tory Building
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6
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Telephone: 613-520-3804
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

In 10 short months, Dining Services improved diversion rates in our food court facility from a dismal 12% in March 2017 to an astounding 90% in December 2017, reaching an achievement of “zero waste” status. (“Zero waste” means 10% or less of waste going to landfill.) Through the implementation of our new, unique recycling stations, realignment of consumer packaging, training of dining services staff and our Recycling Ambassadors, and a continual measurement process, we have sent a clear message to all stakeholders within the community that “zero waste” is achievable, and recycling behaviours truly make a real difference.

The initiative, which began with a workshop on behavioral insights with the University Services leadership team, delivered lasting learnings for Dining and University Services staff, our dining contractor, Aramark Canada, and our environmental partner, MASS Environmental Services Ltd. Our students were not lazy, as we had assumed - they were confused not only on how to properly dispose recyclables and waste, but also whether the university even cared if they did. Our biggest learnings from the workshop were that our recycling program needed to be easy to understand, our waste and recycling stations needed to be comprehensive and consistent, and that we needed to send a clear message that the University cared about diversion practices. With the project has come a new, shared commitment to improving diversion practices. This commitment is strongly recognized across the department, and amongst the Dining Services staff, with a successful pilot demonstrating new possibilities to the University campus as a whole. Having a proven concept, the prototype has been rolled out across other dining locations, and will continue to be roll out across campus, with not only a unified message, but also proven practices to reach “zero waste” on campus by 2022.

Since the implementation of the program in that one location, the University has seen a reduction in waste removal costs of over $5,000 a month, has diverted approximately 258,000 pounds of recycling, and has prevented the generation of over 958,365 pounds of methane gas.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Our solution has been the coalescing of ideas seen at many other institutions and organizations who similarly struggle to improve their diversion rates, combined with a strong commitment and deep understanding of our particular behaviors on campus. This program, or any part thereof, can be implemented at any dining location, on any campus, and can serve as a benchmark for other institutions who have already made great strides in this area, and for those who are eager to begin.  Our research, including a framework for leveraging behavioural insights is easily shared with other organizations.  We have also made the design specifications for the stations available to institutions seeking to implement similar solutions.  This year, our team is developing a webinar to share our insights and solutions with those who are interested.  Our partners in this process are also willing to engage as experts, or to provide additional information as requested.

Quality Impact

Our only expectation of qualitative outcomes for this project was to show that Carleton cares about sustainable practices on our campus. The unveiling of the Recycling Stations in the Fall of 2017 showed our commitment to improving our environmental footprint, with a strong message of ‘We Recycle. You can make the Difference.’ The presence of the stations drew attention from many campus stakeholders and student groups. This attention was captured in the community media, helping us to spread our message faster throughout campus.  In January 2018, a University press release announced our zero waste status, thereby drawing attention from other universities and associations who have been amazed to hear of our results. Knowing that food courts face a particular challenge when it comes to waste diversion, we are proud to be among the first to reach this achievement. We openly invite other institutions to visit our campus so that we can share our ideas, practices and learnings. Shortly after the announcement, we initiated a pilot in one of our residence buildings by introducing similar recycling stations in two locations on the top floor, and closed down the garbage chute.  The audit results of the pilot demonstrated a 45% improvement in waste diversion practices on that one floor, and an overall improvement which cascaded throughout the building.  Additionally, a new partnership has formed with facilities management on campus to unite the recycling efforts under one brand. Our plans include rebranding the entire University Centre building to complete the recycling program in that location (the Food Court resides on the second floor of that building) as well as adjacent buildings. We will continue to monitor progress of this initiative with implementations of new stations and continued audit practices as we work through each building on campus.

Productivity Impact

As the diversion rate improved from 12% to 90%, overall savings impact of this sustainability-focused program has also been positive, thus providing a strong demonstration of the cost-benefits to waste diversion programs. In March 2017, prior to the installation of the system, the monthly waste cost was $18,809.12. In January 2018, following installation of the system, the monthly waste cost is $13,766.65, resulting in a $5,042.57 monthly savings. As of the December 2017 audit, the Food Court was diverting approximately 82,679 pounds of food waste per year through the new system. The David Suzuki Foundation estimates that food-waste creates approximately 6 times its weight in methane gas when sent to landfill, therefore identifying that Carleton University is preventing the generation of 490,073 pounds of methane gas each year. Additionally, at that time, the Food Court was diverting approximately 132,000 pounds of recycling including: cardboard, boxboard, plastics, paper towels, metal (aluminum) etc. from landfill each year. This is a massive impact, contributing to the conservation of limited landfill space in the Province of Ontario. The most recent audit, conducted in October of 2018, showed that the diversion rate continues to be strong, with a measured result of 86%. All waste audits are completed by MASS Environmental Services Inc. to monitor the effectiveness of the program utilizing consistent practices.


Several elements of this solution are innovative put in the context of our experience in higher education. First, the initial workshop leveraging behavioural insights (a.k.a. “Nudge” theory) brought together a group of individuals to find a creative solution to a problem that was not necessarily theirs to solve. Second, unique to our program was the actual design of the new recycling station. To simplify the recycling process and to encourage students, staff and faculty to take the time to separate recycling and waste materials, the station emphasizes a 4-step recycling process. Step 1 is a one-of-a-kind “decanting” station, where users can pour out any remaining liquids from drink containers or rinse soiled containers, thereby minimizing cross-contamination. Third, our goal was not simply one of fixing the existing problem in one location. Our hope was that, through our example, we would demonstrate that this was a solvable problem. With the success of the pilot, we have been able to bring other stakeholders along on a journey to utilize our learnings and bring the entire campus into scope.

Supporting Documents