Recycling has become second nature to the students, faculty and staff that occupy the 11 million square feet of space at University of Washington (UW). Since 1990, Gene Woodard, director of building services — which includes Custodial Services and Recycling & Solid Waste — has managed a formal program that includes the recycling of everything from packing peanuts, batteries and electronics to cardboards, plastics and compost.

"We work in an environment where people are accustomed to recycling and are aware of its benefits," says Woodard. "We also have a fantastic staff in the recycling office that is always looking at different ways to reduce waste and increase our recycling efforts."

Cue MiniMax, a program that minimizes office waste, reduces UW's contribution to landfills and maximizes recycling.

Simply put, the MiniMax program is similar to cooperative cleaning initiatives. In private offices, each desk has a 3-quart unlined waste receptacle and a 28-quart recycling container. The generator of the waste is responsible for transporting both to a centralized collection site where custodians are then responsible for waste and recycling removal from the site.

"We wanted to raise awareness of what people are disposing of and reduce what is going into the landfill by encouraging recycling," says Woodard. " And we found that people generate very little waste at their desk – normally wrappers, coffee cups and facial tissue."

Launching The Program

In 2008, the University was in the middle of a strong green campaign and recycling was in full swing. That year, UW also acquired an office building (later named UW Tower) that consisted of roughly 2,000 workstations, adding to the custodial workload. And like many facilities across the country, the recession had begun affecting UW custodial budgets.

With a focus on environmental stewardship, while faced with a growing workload and budget restrictions, Woodard and his team developed the MiniMax program in an effort to tackle all three initiatives. In 2008, they began piloting the program in the new UW Tower space.

"If we were responsible for collecting trash from every cubicle, the workload would be horrendous," says Woodard. "So we put larger waste containers in convenient locations on each floor and launched the pilot. Overall, it has been very successful."

Many building occupants were already accustomed to collecting and transporting desk-side recyclables into centralized bins, says Scott Spencer, assistant director. The MiniMax program was a logical extension of that existing program.

"Since their desk-side waste should be minimal, we provided them with smaller containers, which they are asked to carry when full to centralized bins," he says.

Following the success of MiniMax in the UW Tower, the program was expanded throughout campus on a voluntary basis. It is now successfully implemented in 4,000 offices in 30 different buildings throughout campus. Woodard expects that number to continue to grow until all 10,000 offices on campus feature the program.

Benefits of MiniMax

The environmental benefits of this program are well documented in UW recycling statistics, but what those numbers don't show are the financial benefits of MiniMax. The success of this program has helped control labor costs and spending, all the while contributing to UW sustainability goals.

"The payoff customers receive – besides being part of the University's sustainability efforts – is being able to redirect the time custodians save from tending to each desk to other more desirable work tasks," says Spencer.

The program reportedly saves an estimated 150 hours of employee time per day. According to Woodard, it opens up custodians to more critical cleaning tasks — disinfecting, dusting, vacuuming, etc. — instead of going into the 10,000 offices throughout campus to empty the waste receptacles that might not even be full.

Not only does the program save valuable labor dollars, it has also resulted in some purchasing cutbacks. With the MiniMax program, plastic can liners are no longer used. Instead, faculty and staff transport what little trash they have accumulated at their desk using the receptacle itself. Eliminating the liners has saved valuable budget dollars and helps the environment.

As a result of successes from this program, both financial and environmental, Woodard and his team are exploring areas where MiniMax can grow – specifically by adding composting. Beginning in areas where food is consumed, UW students, faculty and staff will see composting bins added to collection sites, along side current waste and recycling collection. Composting is currently being piloted in public areas and hallways throughout campus.

Overall, the custodial staff is excited about the growing program.

"It has been well received by my staff," he says. "It's a time saver and they are eager to get it into the buildings were they don't have MiniMax yet. My staff supports it 100 percent."

Recycling Statistics:

• By the end of 2010, the University of Washington achieved a 56 percent diversion rate. Assuming the program continues as is, UW officials expect to meet their goal of 60 percent diversion rate by the end of 2012.
• In 2010, UW saved more than $890,000 by recycling and composting, a savings of more than $96,000 from 2009.
• UW has experienced a net reduction of more than 11,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
• UW recycled 2,175 tons of paper products in 2010, which was then resold for a profit of $71,000.
• A total of 965 tons of food waste was composted in 2010, a 20 percent increase over 2009.