BU’s Waste Diversion During COVID-19

COVID-19 has caused a shift in behavior surrounding waste that inevitably altered our data on waste diversion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.  

Last year at BU, the volume of singleuse items increased in response to COVID-19. Takeaway containers from the dining hall and other food venues on campus were essential for maintaining social distancing and limiting the spread of the virus. While necessary, such practices increased the amount of waste sent to landfills or incinerators (facilities that burn trash). 

Key data points  

  • In FY 2021 BU diverted 31% of waste from landfills and incinerators compared to a 42% diversion rate in pre-pandemic FY 2019. This is a direct reflection of pandemic-related waste.  
  • The amount of overall waste produced at the university was 25% lower in FY 2021 compared to FY 2019. A substantial portion of the student body, faculty, and staff remaining at home explains this reduction.  

In other words, while our overall waste generation went down, more of it ended up in landfills or incinerators.  

The current situation 

Now that the university is back to full capacity, we expect the amount of waste we produce to go up this year compared to last year. 

As knowledge has increased about how the virus is spread, the use of disposable materials has decreased significantly on campus. The dining halls are now open and fully functional, reducing the need for single-use takeaway food containers.  

A path to Zero Waste 

The implementation of BU’s Zero Waste Plan, which aims to divert 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2030, began in the summer of 2021. The plan sets forth a path for increasing BU’s diversion rate to 70% by 2026, less than five years from now. 

The success of the plan relies on the BU community to contribute through everyday actions, so how will you help? 

  • Address your own individual impact by rethinking what you buy and how you use products.  
  • Learn how to sort your waste properly to make sure our recycling and food waste follow the standards of our waste haulers. 
  • Participate in BU programs that support Zero Waste. From our Goodwill not Landfill program to becoming a Sustainability Ambassador (students) or Liaisons (faculty/staff), there are many ways to get involved. 
  • Change our culture by getting involved (Sustainability Innovation Seed Grant, Campus Climate Lab) and talking to others (peers, faculty, Resident Sustainability Leaders, etc.) 
  • For more information, get to know the Zero Waste Plan at bu.edu/zerowasteplan  


Written by Lysie Jones (CAS’22)