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Sustainability At a glance

The Wisconsin Union Dining Services Division cares about preserving our planet for future generations, and is committed to implementing sustainable practices that reduce the environmental impact of short and long term business plans. In recent years, the Wisconsin Union has shifted practices to create a more favorable environmental impact. This includes the transition from styrofoam to-go boxes to a biodegradable sugarcane-based box, and use of bioplastic disposable silverware. The Wisconsin Union will continue to grow campus and community partnerships and consistently evaluate operations, implementing new programs and practices along the way. 

Please take a moment to explore the sustainable practices that the Wisconsin Union has initiated, and what's next on the radar. 

UW-Madison Campus

The University of Wisconsin-Madison takes a great deal of pride in it's sustainable practices. In all campus facilities, students, staff, and visitors will find a variety of resources available to make smarter choices that positively impact our planet. 

The UW-Madison campus is home to it's own recycling facility, which collects nearly 5,000 tons of waste and nearly 4,000 tons of recycling annually. Special bins in campus buildings allow easy sorting of trash, recyclables and compostable material, in turn creating a lower level of contamination and lower processing costs. Across campus, there are several specialty item recycling bins for items such as laptops, glasses, batteries and styrofoam. Please see this map for drop off locations and additional information. 


Wisconsin Union Initiatives

  • Skip the Straw: In 2018, the Wisconsin Union began a program aimed at reducing the amount of plastic waste. In many of our dining units, straws and plastic lids are now available by request only. Reusable metal straws are available for purchase at most markets and cafes. 
  • Composting: Compost bins are being adapted at locations throughout Wisconsin Union restaurants, markets & cafes. The University produces about 4 tons of compost each week that is used for fertilizer and landscaping projects on campus.
  • Smarter To-Go Items  : To-go containers are now made from biodegradable sugar-cane bagasse products, transitioning away from styrofoam. To-go silverware is made from a bioplastic, and stainless steel utensils are offered for dine-in at some locations. 
  • Receipt Reduction Program: Receipts are only printed for necessary transactions (merchandise and credit card sales or by request), reducing receipt printing by 93% in dining units alone! Learn more about the program here
  • Local Food Options: Many dining units use locally sourced bread, baked goods and cheeses. Fresh produce from local farmers is used seasonally. 
  • Reusable Mug Discounts: The Wisconsin Union believes in rewarding customers for making earth-friendly choices. All markets and cafes offer a discounted price on coffee and soda for bringing a reusable mug. Don't have a reusable? Pick one up at any Badger Market! 
  • Filtered Water Bottle Refill Stations: Filtered water bottle refill stations are located at many drinking fountains throughout Memorial Union, Union South and campus buildings. 
  • Campus Farmer's Market: Every Thursday from late August to mid October, Union South is home to the Campus Farmer's Market. Visitors can enjoy a variety of local vendors and sample a weekly recipe that uses fresh, seasonal produce. As an incentive for reducing waste, customers receive a discount on the weekly Farm to Table bag for bringing a reusable bag! For more information about the Campus Farmer's Market and Farm to Table Bags, visit the event page here. 
  • Devoted People & Important Partnerships: A Wisconsin Union Food Committee focuses on sustainability and constantly analyzes current dining operations and researches ways to become more sustainable. Additionally, the Wisconsin Union has partnered with the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability on a number of projects that aim to educate students and visitors on sustainable practices. 


Ways to Help

  • Save a Cup from the Landfill: Did you know that 58 billion coffee cups are discarded annually in the United States? Unfortunately, most paper coffee cups cannot be recycled due to the plastic liner (lids are safe for recycling) therefore ending up in a landfill. There, they will take hundreds of years to breakdown. By bringing your own mug, you'll save a cup from the landfill and earn a discount on coffee or soda! 
  • Know What to Toss: Receptacles on campus are intended for self-sorting. Improper disposal of certain items can contaminate entire batches of waste, so it's important to know how to toss like a pro! Become an expert on which items can be discarded into what receptacles, and share the information with friends and visitors. To learn more about composting on campus, visit the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability's information page
  • Skip the Straw: According to the National Parks Service, Americans use a total of 500 million drinking straws each day. That's enough to wrap the world - two and a half times! When ordering your drink, ask to go straw-free. 
  • Bring Your Own Silverware: Each year, 6 million tons of plastic cutlery, cups and trash bags are discarded. Eliminate the need for plastic to-go silverware by packing your own for dining out.



Campus Sustainability Resources 

UW Office of Sustainabilty | Styrofoam Recycling (Boxable Program) | UW Physical Plant | Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies