COA is the highest ranking campus assessed by the Post Landfill Action Network’s (PLAN) new Atlas Zero Waste™ Certification system. They are the only campus to reach silver-level certification, and the only campus to have their Scope 2 system qualify for a gold-level badge.
“Our work over the past decade to reimagine our relationship to waste was conceived as a grassroots effort by students and has blossomed into effective, progressive policies and practices that have helped us raise the bar for sustainable campus operations,” says COA President Darron Collins ’92. “PLAN has been a great partner to us in this work, and we are grateful to have our efforts recognized by them.”
COA redefines the traditional campus approach to waste management as discarded resources management, allowing them to see all materials on campus as resources that require effective management strategies to mitigate disposal. The discarded resources department incorporates significant student leadership roles to manage surplus property systems, plastic reduction strategies, compost collection and management, and more.
In addition to many well-established discarded resources strategies and initiatives, COA has a number of unique projects that make them stand out, including composting toilets inside residence halls and vending machines that contain re-packaged leftovers from meals in the dining halls for students to access sustainable midnight snacks.
In November 2019, COA became the first college in the country to sign PLAN’s Campus Pledge to Break Free From Plastics, committing to the elimination of all single-use disposable plastics by 2025.
Atlas Zero Waste Certification™ is a new campus rating system released in April, 2021 by the Post-Landfill Action Network—a national nonprofit organization that supports students and staff leading the zero waste movement on college campuses across the country. Atlas provides a high-level standard for a zero waste campus that pushes for continuous progress and innovation. It creates a standard benchmarking tool for campuses to set meaningful goals using a universal metric to measure and track progress towards zero waste.
Atlas is designed with a unique methodology to sustainable material management. Rather than assessing only the outputs of the system (the measurable waste), Atlas looks at the holistic system that manages material consumption—from purchasing to use, and the myriad material handling options including repair, repurpose, reuse, compost, recycle, and proper disposal. Campuses are assessed on their purchasing policies with an emphasis on those that eliminate disposables, material handling systems and infrastructure, the distribution and standardization of collection bins and signage, and the communication of expectations placed on the campus community to properly manage materials effectively within this system.
The Atlas Zero Waste Certification™ is a call to action, PLAN says, that asks campuses to step up and take responsibility for the materials they manage and the waste they produce.
“We are aware that competitions often don’t incentivize the types of system change we need to turn the tide on the ever-growing production of single-use disposable plastics and the demands that the latest IPCC report places on all of us to build systems that effectively reduce consumption at the systemic level,” PLAN says. “We believe that PLAN’s new assessment framework focuses on systemic impacts.”
This assessment sets a high bar to achieve even a bronze certification. The top-scoring campus has only scored a 73.5%, and the average campus score so far has been in the low fifties. For more information about the rankings, visit postlandfill.org/top-10-campuses.