Olmsted County educational institution recycling and waste reduction program

Type of project

Waste reduction and recycling.

Organization description

  • Organization: Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC)
  • Number of staff: 600 staff and faculty; 4,200 full-year students
  • Communities/areas served: Rochester, MN and surrounding communities

Project purpose/goals

Olmsted County Educational Institution recycling binTo capture more mixed paper for the single-stream collection on campus, the team cut a paper-shaped slot in each hallway recycling bin. Olmsted County staff worked with Rochester Community and Technical College during the 2010-2011 school year to reduce total garbage volume, increase recycling rates, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Materials targeted

White office paper, mixed paper, aluminum, plastic bottles.

Accomplishments and measurable results

Program improvements and staff/student education decreased recycling contamination in the trash from 49 percent to 23 percent by weight; decreased municipal solid waste collection from 99.8 to 98.3 tons; increased recycling collection from 26.7 to 32.8 tons; and reduced GHG emissions by 30.5 MTCO₂E.

Project team

  • Waste Abatement Specialist from Olmsted County—Coordinated project and provided technical expertise.
  • Building Services Supervisor from RCTC—Served as liaison to facilities staff and helped purchase materials.
  • Facilities staff from RCTC—Collected material from the campus for the spring 2011 waste sort.
  • Vice President of Finance and Facilities from RCTC—Communicated changes of recycling and waste collection to staff and students.
  • Environmental Biology Professor from RCTC—Used the waste sort as a learning opportunity for students.


Olmsted County
Rochester Community and Technical College
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency


The project started with a waste sort in May 2010 and a campus walk-through that provided baseline data and identified opportunities for improvement. A plan for improvement was created by Olmsted County and included the following elements:

  • White office paper collection: During the 2010-2011 school year, RCTC enrolled in Olmsted County’s revenue share program for white office paper. This gave RCTC a financial incentive to properly manage recycling and improve collection. To capture used white paper, RCTC increased the number of “white paper only” bins in the computer labs, media centers and library. They also added white paper collection bins in staff areas and at each staff person’s desk.
  • Mixed paper collection: To capture more mixed paper for the single-stream collection on campus, the team installed a paper-shaped slot in each hallway recycling bin (they only had a round slot for cans and bottles). This increased paper recycling opportunities in the hallways and general study areas.
  • Additional bins and improved locations: RCTC added hallway recycling bins in each building on campus. Olmsted County Staff provided the Building Facilities Supervisor with a map outlining proper bin location, including pairing each recycling bin with a trash bin and placing them in higher traffic areas. A list of classrooms and lecture halls missing a recycling bin was also provided to RCTC staff.
  • New bin labels: Olmsted County Staff designed detailed recycling signs with images of accepted materials and instructions for proper disposal. An accompanying recycling guide was created and provided to all staff members and distributed to students at various events.
  • Limited printing for staff and students: RCTC implemented a print-tracking system on campus in January 2011. The program allotted a certain number of pages for each student and faculty member to print each semester. Additional credits can be purchased.

After implementing changes, a spring 2011 waste sort measured improvements and allowed Olmsted County to make final recommendations to the school about its waste contract.

Project timeline

  • May 2010 Baseline waste sort
  • July 2010 Olmsted County hired one-year waste abatement specialist. Project begins.
  • April 2011 Second waste sort
  • June 2011 Grant completed
  • July 2011 Continued low-level assistance to RCTC from Olmsted County staff


A $9,999 grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was used to pay for Olmsted County’s Waste Abatement Specialist. RCTC also purchased some new recycling containers (cost unknown). The college will purchase additional recycling bins with revenue earned through Olmsted County’s revenue share program for recycling white office paper.

RCTC currently spends about $57,000 on trash and recycling hauling fees annually. In analysis done by the Waste Abatement Specialist at Olmsted County, making the proper adjustments to RCTC’s current waste management plan (dumpster, compactor, and recycling pick plan) and capturing the 23 percent of recyclable material in the garbage could potentially save RCTC $12,500 in recycling and trash hauling fees annually.

Lessons learned

While RCTC has significantly improved its program since the initial waste sort was completed in May 2010, there is still room for expanding the current recycling program to capture more recyclable material. Capturing more recyclable material and adjusting the waste management contract could save RCTC up to $12,500 (see cost/budget section). Changes take time and continued support is needed to maintain program improvements.

Further information

See the PDF icon RCTC Waste & Recycling Composition Study (p-ea2-01)
Questions: Contact Sharon Schreiver, Special Projects Coordinator at Olmsted County, 507-328-7070.