Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Waste and Recycling

Northwestern seeks to minimize its environmental footprint and comply with local, state and federal regulations. The Waste Management Guidelines were developed to support the University’s Solid Waste Management Policy, and to engage the campus community, its vendors, contractors, and visitors in proper waste handling.

The Waste Management Guidelines apply to recycling practices and generated wastes such as chemicals, municipal solid waste, light bulbs, batteries, mercury-containing equipment, and electronic materials.

Computer & Electronics Recycling

A computer and electronic recycling (“e-cycling”) program is provided by the University in compliance with the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act. All University-owned electronic items must be handled through this program.

The e-cycling program ensures that all data stored on the hard drive is destroyed and recycled in in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards. Additional information on handling electronic waste can be accessed at the Disposal of Northwestern University Computers site.

The Office for Research Safety (ORS) must approve laboratory equipment for disposal. Before disposing of university-owned laboratory equipment, visit the Office for Research Safety (ORS) website and complete the "Laboratory Equipment Disposal" form. ORS will then coordinate pick-up logistics with the requester.

Accounting Services for Research and Sponsored Programs (ASRSP) must approve recycling of any equipment acquired using federal funds. Read more about ASRSP disposal policies.

Report equipment with inventory tags (or cost exceeding $5,000) to Accounting Services by completing the online disposal form in the asset management self-service portal. For questions about the self-service portal or other Accounting Services policies on capital equipment disposal, please contact the Property Accountant at equipment-disposal@northwestern.edu.

Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste

Construction, demolition, renovation, and remodeling projects that take place at the University are required to divert a minimum of 75% of C&D debris from disposal in landfills. Achieve diversion through reuse, recycling, or composting of C&D materials, which may include concrete, asphalt, scrap metal, drywall, cardboard, and other construction materials. Before obtaining a building or demolition permit, the Project Manager must submit a Solid Waste Management and Recycling Plan to Northwestern’s sustainNU program. The Sustainability Director reviews and approves the plan. The plan can be submitted via email at recycling@northwestern.edu with the project identifier on the subject line.

The Contractor’s C&D Waste Diversion Reporting Form must be properly completed using the form(s) provided by sustainNU. Project Managers or Contractors must obtain sustainNU's approval before getting a Certificate of Occupancy or final inspection, as applicable. If a minimum of 75% diversion of C&D debris (measured in tons) is not feasible due to site conditions, resulting from the type of material generated, or other reasonable factors or conditions, the Project Manager or Contractor may request an exemption or modification to the minimum recycling rate from sustainNU's Director.

Before obtaining a building or demolition permit, the Project Manager or Contractor will submit a request for exemption or modification to the minimum recycling rate on the applicant’s letterhead, which clearly states the basis of the request. The request for exemption must include a properly completed Solid Resources Management Plan. (Refer to Waste Management Policy) sustainNU at its sole option, will either grant or modify the request for exemption or modification of the minimum recycling rate and return it to the applicant.

The Project Manager must coordinate hazardous and universal waste removal from demolition and construction or renovation projects with Northwestern’s onsite hazardous waste manager.

Food Waste Composting

A food waste composting program is part of all dining operations. Kitchen staff collects acceptable materials within the kitchen and dish room areas. Compostable materials get deposited into containers appropriate for the stations where collection occurred and removed from the kitchen daily.

Compostable materials are stored outside of the dining buildings, at the trash collection area, in 45 or 65-gallon totter carts lined with a certified compostable bag. These carts are to be cleaned by kitchen maintenance staff. A contracted hauler empties the bins on a designated route, delivering materials to a local composting facility. The sustainNU program supports the composting program, arranging for collection via contracted hauler.

Hazardous Waste 

Northwestern’s Hazardous Waste Management Program ensures that all departments understand their responsibilities for properly labeling, handling, storing, and disposing of their hazardous waste that is compliant with EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) standards. All University-generated hazardous waste must be labeled, handled, stored, and disposed of according to the Hazardous Waste Management Program Purple Guide.

Non-Regulated (Landfilled) Waste

Items that are not recyclable and not regulated must get disposed in trash bins. Facilities Management provides trash bins for common areas, and departments are responsible for purchasing trash bins for their spaces. Facilities Management Custodial Services handles waste removal; empty’s trash bins on regular rounds and takes materials to designated waste containers. Trash is generally stored in compactors, small dumpsters, or in toters for tighter spaces.

Trash and recycling storage areas are outside at loading docks or other accessible points near campus buildings. Buildings with a shared dock or collection area are designated as a shared trash collection site.

The University has contracted a licensed hauler to pick up non-recyclables in dedicated trucks and transported to a permitted landfill facility.

Recycling

Northwestern’s long-standing recycling program is fully integrated into our daily operations.

sustainNU supports recycling, provides recycling bins to employees, departments and campus residences, at no charge, and integrates collections with official custodial duties. The program targets single-stream or “mixed recycling.”

Users should place all acceptable recyclable items into recycling bins. Facilities Management Custodial Services handles the removal of recyclable materials, emptying recycling bins on regular rounds and taking materials to designated containers. Items that are not acceptable in the recycling program should not be placed in recycling bins as these will contaminate collections.

Recyclables are stored in small dumpsters, or in toters for tighter spaces. Recycling dumpsters are marked and have a padlock to avoid bin contamination. Recycling and trash storage areas are located outside near our loading docks or other accessible points adjacent to campus buildings. Buildings with a shared dock or collection area also share a recycling collection site.

The University has contracted a licensed hauler to pick up campus recyclables in dedicated trucks and transported to a local recycling processing facility.

Universal Waste

Universal and special wastes include batteries, lamps, and mercury-containing equipment. Northwestern’ s Universal Waste Program ensures that all employees handling universal waste must receive proper training in labeling, handling, storage and disposal of these materials according to federal and local Standards for Universal Waste Management.

Back to top