Student News

UK student inspired to create compostable paper recycling program

Shaun Lavin
Shaun Lavin

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 8, 2023) — Inspired by ideas from a Symposium on Energy, University of Kentucky student and UK Recycling’s programmatic support intern, Shaun Lavin, started a pilot composting program for brown paper towels on campus.

The following is authored by Lavin about his experience.

Wash your hands, grab a paper towel, dry your hands, toss the paper towel and go on with your day.

No big deal, right?

The University of Kentucky’s 2018 Waste Audit found about 1,500 tons of brown paper towels (compostable paper) are sent to the landfill alone each year — this equals 15% of all of UK’s landfill waste. 

My interest in composting grew after attending the Symposium on Energy in the 21st Century at Syracuse University with the UK Energy Club in 2022. Syracuse University had composting containers beside every recycling and landfill container in the buildings we visited. This included the containers in the bathrooms which had signs indicating which containers were specifically meant to collect brown paper towels. 

Seeing how easily the same idea could be implemented at UK, I developed and piloted a new campus waste reduction initiative, focusing on reducing the amount of compostable paper going to the landfill, which would help UK Recycling reach their waste reduction goals.

Currently the program is piloting in the Taylor Education Building, Dickey Hall and the Peterson Service Building. So far we have collected and diverted 145 pounds of brown paper towels in January 2023, the first month of operation.

After the paper towels are collected, they are taken to UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s (CAFE) C. Oran Little Research Center in Woodford County, where they are combined with other organic waste from the farm and campus and turned into compost. Some of this compost is then brought back to campus and used by UK Grounds as soil amendment.

My passion for sustainability and recycling has only increased at UK, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I have been offered. As UK Recycling’s programmatic support intern through the Sustainability Internship Program, I have made a bigger difference on campus than I ever thought possible and I am excited to expand brown paper towel composting to as many buildings on campus as possible.

As for the future of the program, I hope that this project will continue even after I graduate. UK Recycling intends to expand this program to 10 buildings by the end of 2023, as part of their incremental plan to become a zero-waste campus by 2030.

To learn more about the brown paper towel composting program, click here. For more information about UK Recycling and the university’s waste reduction goals, click here or follow @UKYRecycles on all social media platforms.  

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.