Recycling, Composting, and Zero-Waste


UMBC's recycling sign


  • Glass, plastic, metal, paper, and cardboard are all recyclable on campus.  Look for the blue bags & stickers!
  • Recycling should be clean and dry. No plastic bags or plastic film (cling wrap, shrink wrap, etc.) in blue recycling bins.
  • Plastic Bags & Films are recyclable on campus at any of the 35 yellow bins on campus!




UMBC's Compost Sign


  • All Food Waste: All leftover food, no oil or liquids.
  • Soiled Paper Products: used napkins, paper cups, paper plates, etc.
  • Plant-based Packaging (see the full list)



  • Composting allows food and plants to decompose into fertile soil
  • Waste decomposing in a landfill without oxygen creates methane – a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
  • Learn more about composting at!


Zero-Waste Disclaimer 

We want to start this conversation around zero-waste by saying that no one is perfect. Sometimes just the term zero-waste can deter people from taking on the challenge of reducing their own waste. Zero-waste is ideal, but not a reality. Waste less would be a more accurate term to describe zero-waste.

If you are thinking about starting a journey of producing less waste, be patient with yourself and celebrate your victories rather than your shortcomings.

Zero-Waste Defined

In the past few years, you have probably been hearing the word zero-waste being thrown around. It is a movement that is starting to really pick up momentum and we are here to explain what it exactly means to be ‘zero-waste’.

Simply put a zero-waste lifestyle is one that aims to send nothing to the landfill. However, let us be clear everyone should be viewing recycling as part of the waste stream as well, especially when it comes to plastics. However, zero-waste is much larger than that previous definition. It is an attempt to change the whole entire system. This systems approach is important to recognize because most of the world’s waste is created upstream and out of consumer’s purview.

“For every 1 can of waste we create, there are 87 cans worth of waste materials that come from the extraction industries—such as timber, agricultural, mining, and petroleum—that manufacture natural resources into finished products.” (World Resource Institute)

So when looking at the 5 R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, or recycle/rot – it is always better to refuse or reduce over anything else. Zero-waste looks at the whole life cycle of a product, instead of just focusing on end-of-life.


When zero-waste internet bloggers are talking about the elusive ‘system’, they mean the linear economy.  Our current economic system is designed to create waste – taken from the earth and sent as waste to the dump. Zero-waste moves away from the linear model and envisions a circular economy that mirrors natural systems.

Why is Personal Action Important?

Let’s be real, it is impossible to be completely zero-waste. The way our economy is set up currently it just is. However, don’t let that fact lead to apathy. The best part about the idea behind zero-waste is that it is a personal journey that is imperfect but has a clear and defined picture of what a better society looks like.

As consumers we have a lot more power then we understand. By moving towards more zero-waste alternatives it is a signal to public and private institutions of what citizens expect from their organizations. 

What Zero-Waste is Not?

  • 100% diversion rate (recycling & composting): Again zero-waste looks at the whole life cycle of a product, so looking at just diversion does not take into account reduction efforts.
  • ‘Zero-waste to Landfill’: Many organizations, most notably Sweden, tout their achievement of sending no waste to landfills. However, this incentivizes waste-energy or incineration of waste. Baltimore is home to one of the largest trash incinerators in the US. This incinerator is the 3rd largest polluter in the city and the negative health impacts are disproportionately harming the Black community of Curtis Bay.
  • Waste management: Zero-waste inherently means that nothing should be viewed as waste. There needs to be a restructuring of the way we view things. Instead of waste management, it should be considered resource management. Taking the view that all things can be repurposed.

Go Zero-Waste at Your Next Event!

  • Request portable compost bins for events through work control!
  • Choose compostable dishware and flatware for your next event
  • Student groups can request a portable compost & recycling bin and pick up service through events services  
  • The  SGA Green Paws fund allows student organizations to acquire plant-based compostable materials at no additional cost.