UVA Wins Gold for Slashing Plastics

UVA Wins Gold for Slashing Plastics

Thanks to the commitment of a special UVA working group and the efforts of thousands of students, staff, faculty and vendors over the past year, UVA is a gold medal winner in the 2022 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Gold Award.  


Lela Garner with the Office for Sustainability and a leader in the working group accepted the award at a ceremony March 29 during the Environment Virginia Symposium.

The award is given annually for successful and innovative efforts that improve Virginia’s environment. UVA was recognized for its comprehensive education and outreach work to implement Executive Order 77, issued in March 2021 by then-Governor Ralph Northam to eliminate single-use plastics at all state entities.

Plastic is durable, which makes it a good choice for many products, but also makes it terrible for the environment. It’s estimated that, internationally, as much as 58 million tons a year could wind up in waterways and oceans by 2030 … even if current ambitious, globally coordinated efforts are implemented to reduce plastic. If not, we’re looking at up to 99 million tons a year.  

“For quite some time, UVA has been making progress on reducing all types of waste on Grounds, so we were really excited to ramp up our focus on single-use plastics – things like water bottles, cutlery and dining ware,” Garner says. “It was great to collaborate with representatives of all of UVA’s units to meet the challenge of implementing EO77 in a short time frame. We’ve got the momentum now to keep the effort growing.”

The sustainability office:
  • Conducted more than 25 “Zero Waste” workshops to help student groups avoid plastics during events.
  • Collected 3,000 pounds of compost during Fall's Green Game initiative and recruited 80 zero-waste volunteers from across Grounds.
  • Trained more than 3,000 staff and faculty who do purchasing for their departments and schools
  • Begun a Zero Waste Stadium pilot program at Palmer Park and is partnering with UVA Athletics on devising engagement initiatives for game attendees.

In April last year, UVA formed an EO77 Working Group led by the Office for Sustainability and comprised of 40+ representatives from across the University. The group met every two weeks from April to October to develop a single-use plastics reduction plan and related resources. Because UVA is a large and decentralized institution, an extensive communication approach has been critical to transition to reusable and compostable materials. Components of this communication have included broad messaging to the UVA community and targeted training sessions for community members, vendors and local caterers, ultimately reaching thousands of people affiliated with the University.

Examples of the EO77 awareness campaign include:

UVA Dine: Through tabling events, UVA Dine (Aramark) has promoted the residential reusable-to go program to encourage students to reuse rather than opt for disposables and brought awareness to our composting program and the transition to compostable products.


Zero Waste Ambassadors Program:  The program consists of about two dozen student-volunteers who monitor and sort through publicly accessible compost bins, currently available at the Amphitheater. The ambassadors also host regular tabling sessions next to compost bins to educate students about EO77 and sorting practices.  

Zero Waste Guide: This guide provides guidance to event planners and we have been actively promoting its use during EO77 training.

Other gold-medal Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award winners this year included: Catawba Hospital for Greening of Government; the City of Harrisonburg Department of Public Works for the Harrisonburg urban forestry program; Coastal Virginia Ecotourism Alliance for the Virginia Water Trail; Fauquier County for Upper Rappahannock River Water Trail; and George Mason University for Mason Sustainability Council’s Circular Economy & Zero Waste task force. Silver and bronze medals and honorable mentions were also recognized.


Banner photo by tanvi sharma on Unsplash

Zero Waste
Materials & Waste