Greening academia: Developing sustainable waste management at Higher Education Institutions

ArticleinWaste Management 31(7):1606-16 · March 2011with32 Reads
Impact Factor: 3.22 · DOI: 10.1016/j.wasman.2011.03.006 · Source: PubMed


    Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are often the size of small municipalities. Worldwide, the higher education (HE) sector has expanded phenomenally; for example, since the 1960s, the United Kingdom (UK) HE system has expanded sixfold to >2.4 million students. As a consequence, the overall production of waste at HEIs throughout the world is very large and presents significant challenges as the associated legislative, economic and environmental pressures can be difficult to control and manage. This paper critically reviews why sustainable waste management has become a key issue for the worldwide HE sector to address and describes some of the benefits, barriers, practical and logistical problems. As a practical illustration of some of the issues and problems, the four-phase waste management strategy developed over 15 years by one of the largest universities in Southern England--the University of Southampton (UoS)--is outlined as a case study. The UoS is committed to protecting the environment by developing practices that are safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly and has developed a practical, staged approach to manage waste in an increasingly sustainable fashion. At each stage, the approach taken to the development of infrastructure (I), service provision (S) and behavior change (B) is explained, taking into account the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental (PESTLE) factors. Signposts to lessons learned, good practice and useful resources that other institutions--both nationally and internationally--can access are provided. As a result of the strategy developed at the UoS, from 2004 to 2008 waste costs fell by around £125k and a recycling rate of 72% was achieved. The holistic approach taken--recognizing the PESTLE factors and the importance of a concerted ISB approach--provides a realistic, successful and practical example for other institutions wishing to effectively and sustainably manage their waste.