Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to these most frequently asked questions should help guide your search for more information on Penn’s environmental sustainability efforts.

Have a question not addressed here? Email the Penn Sustainability Office at sustainability@upenn.edu.

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Minimizing Waste

Penn is dedicated to improving our waste stream through a host of efforts. Visit the Minimizing Waste page on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.

Download colorful signage for recycling, compost, and landfill (in PDF format) from the Waste Management page on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.

Students — Email sustainability@upenn.edu to find out about any bin giveaways. Bins may also be purchased through Penn Student Agencies.

Staff & Faculty — Contact your Building Administrator or your Sustainability Coordinator to request a recycling bin.

This off campus recycling guide, created by the Undergraduate Assembly, explains what can be recycled, how to obtain a bin, and what day recycling is picked up.

The Philadelphia Streets recycling page has more information about the city's recycling system.

Since September 2010, Penn has used a single-stream recycling system. This means that all recyclable materials (mixed paper, cardboard, glass, metals, and all plastics) can be placed together in the same container.

Some areas on campus may still have separate bins for “mixed paper” and “plastic/glass/aluminum,” but all recyclables can go in those bins.

Note: Styrofoam and plastic bags/wrap cannot be recycled, and should be placed in trash bins.

Penn recycles plastic containers (numbered or unnumbered), and utensils. Penn does not recycle Polystyrene (Styrofoam), packing materials such as bubble wrap and packing peanuts, or plastic wrap and bags.

The Fresh Grocer located at 40th & Walnut and the CVS stores located at 40th & Walnut and 34th & Walnut have collection bins for plastic bags.  Visit Green Philly for more information on where you can recycle plastic bags in the city.

All campus dining halls collect kitchen waste for composting. Hill College House, King’s Court College House, Class of 1920, and Houston Hall provide compost bins for diners to dispose of food waste. Joe’s Café in Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall and the Hillel dining hall also compost food waste.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center building has a worm bin for waste and leftovers from staff meals. Mayer Hall has a composting bin for residents’ food waste. The Law School composts leftover food from events and receptions. Koo Plaza (2nd Floor) of Huntsman Hall has a compost bin for food waste. An increasing number of schools and centers are holding green events that include a compost option.

In the spring of 2018, a composting pilot in the Harrison Community Garden (located on the pathway between Harrison College House and the LGBT Center) launched. The program is available to any Penn members interested in composting their food waste. Please visit the Bennett Compost website for a list of accepted items. For more information, please contact Eco-Reps Sam Friskey or Hannah Sanders.

Students — Most College Houses have a battery recycling bin in the lobby near the information desk. See more information on the Special Recycling and Reuse Collections page.

Staff & Faculty — Most Schools have battery recycling. See more information on the Special Recycling and Reuse Collections page.

Lab Staff — EHRS will collect used batteries for recycling only from University research laboratories. To request a pickup, fill out an online request.

Students — Most College Houses have a light bulb recycling bin in the lobby near the information desk. See more information on the Special Recycling and Reuse Collections page.

Staff & Faculty — Many Schools have recycling for small light bulbs. See more information here. For fluorescents and other larger bulbs, contact your Building Administrator.

Most Schools are participating in electronic waste recycling. See more information on the Special Recycling and Reuse Collections page. If your School is not currently participating, you can contact Elemental or E-Force directly to collect and dispose of these items. 

A Goodwill donation box is located on campus year-round at Rodin College House. Each May during PennMOVES, an organized collection takes place across campus under the direction of Business Services.

Clothing and accessories that are in good condition and are in style can be taken to Penn Closet, a student-run thrift store located in Williams Hall, or donated to other local consignment shops.

To find out where you can drop off items like eyeglasses, shoes, and writing utensils on campus, see the Special Recycling and Reuse Collections page.

For any other items, check out earth911.

Conserving Energy

Most of the larger buildings at Penn are heated and cooled through the use of an air handler. The basic function of an air handler is take in outside fresh air, condition it (heat or cool) and supply the fresh air to the building while exhaust air is discharged. Depending on the required temperature of the conditioned air, the fresh air is either heated by a heating coil, or cooled by a cooling coil. During the cooling season. there is the additional need to reduce the humidity in the fresh outside air. This is accomplished by cooling the air down to 55F which causes the moisture in the air to condense on the cooling coils, so it can be removed. The cooled air is too cold to discharge directly, so it then passes through a heating coil called a reheat. The reheat warms the air back up to a temperature that is comfortable for the building occupants. To conserve energy, the systems are set to a supply air temperature of 68-72F. This minimizes the amount of reheat energy needed. Increasing thermostat settings calls for the air handler to increase the amount of reheat, which uses more energy. Hence, a cooler set point for a building with an air handler actually conserves energy.

Learn more about Penn’s energy conservation practices on our Conserving Energy page or the Energy Management page on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.

Penn continues to be one of the largest purchasers of Green Power among institutions of higher education, and regularly recognized by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program. In 2013, the University signed a five-year contract to purchase over 200M kWh of wind Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) annually. According to the EPA’s accounting of voluntary REC purchases, over 50% of Penn's total electrical consumption is carbon-free.

Penn is committed to keeping its campus safe, and lighting is one of the best deterrents for crime. Thus, in addition to internal lighting required by fire safety code in Penn building corridors, staircases, and office spaces, many lights at building perimeters remain lit throughout the night to help illuminate walkways and sidewalks to ensure the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other members of the Penn community. To conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Penn has upgraded the lamps in all outdoor pedestrian lights (the familiar “acorn” lampposts) to LED, reducing electricity consumption as well as the need for frequent bulb replacement.  General campus flood lighting, such as that used at Shoemaker Green, College Green, and the 38th Street Bridge, use high efficiency LED or conventional lamps. 

Initiate a Service Request on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website. You can also contact your Building Administrator to investigate the issue.

Sustainable Transportation

Penn has updated its Bike Policy. View this article for more information.

View a map of bike lanes and more on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.

The campus map on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website shows bike racks and more!

Penn’s compact urban campus is well served by a variety of alternative transportation modes suitable for reducing the amount of single automobile commutes to and from the University. Learn more about Penn Rides, the Walking Escort Service, LUCY, SEPTA, New Jersey Transit, regional rail, and bicycling programs on our Reducing Emissions webpage and the Penn Transit website.

Purchasing Practices

Penn is pleased to purchase the greenest products available. Many of the electronics in offices around campus are ENERGY STAR certified and all offices are stocked with 30% post-consumer content paper. Visit the Green Purchasing website for more information.

Getting Involved

Beginning in 2018, Harnwell has been home to Eco-House, Penn's first upperclassmen STEM residential program. Residents of the Eco-House work together to reduce their environmental impact and to engage the campus and broader community on sustainability issues through personal choices, projects, and events. Students interested in living in the Eco House must complete a short application, including a personal statement outlining their interest in this unique living environment. The Eco-House would be well suited for students who are considering to major in environmental science, environmental studies, biology, geology, or other natural science related fields; however, no experience with sustainability is required; residents must merely have an interest in learning more about sustainability and sustainable living habits.

Penn students, faculty, and staff interested in implementing sustainability projects on campus can apply to the Eco-Reps program.

A complete list of student sustainability groups can be found on our Student Groups page.

Incoming freshman can register for the PennGreen pre-orientation program to learn more about campus and city sustainability efforts.

Students living in a College House or an off-campus residence may apply for Green Living Certification.

Campus offices and departments may apply for Green Office Certification.

Students, faculty or staff can apply for funding for environmentally sustainable projects through the Green Fund program.

Penn holds campus-wide competitions and campaigns such as the Power Down Challenge and ReThink Your Footprint  that encourage participation from the entire University community.

Eco-Reps is an environmental leadership program that focuses on raising awareness of environmental issues and impacting the behavior of individuals across the Penn campus. Following an application process, Student or Staff/Faculty Eco-Reps work together with campus stakeholders and within their departments to develop educational events, activities, and campaigns aimed at supporting the University’s environmental goals and Climate Action Plan

To apply to the program, visit the Penn Eco-Reps webpage.

Those living in Penn’s College Houses are invited to apply for Green Living Certification. Earn points by minimizing waste, using less energy and water, and having other environmentally friendly habits. Get enough points and you will become Bronze, Silver, or Gold Certified and win prizes!

The Penn Sustainability Office recognizes the efforts of staff and faculty to green their daily activities by offering four levels of Green Office Certification.

The Penn Sustainability Office created the Green Labs @ Penn Guide to provide overall guidelines for lab greening and recognizes that some labs will be able to complete more actions than others.

Penn Computing’s Green I.T. website highlights best practices to make computing at your office more sustainable.

Check out our New Student Guide to find out everything you need to know before coming to Penn. Also refer to the Living Sustainably and How to Green Your Move-In pages.

Learn about sustainable catering companies and how to set up a green event by downloading the Green Events Guide.

Penn’s Green Fund is designed to seed sustainability projects created by students, faculty and staff.

Those involved in academia are encouraged to apply for a Ben Franklin Scholars Course Design Grant. They are awarded to faculty for exceptional proposals for the development of new BFS seminars, including those that develop innovative approaches to sustainability. Contact BFS Associate Director Linda Wiedmann, wiedmann@upenn.edu.

Subscribe to the Penn Sustainability Office e-newsletter, Red & Blue on College Green.

Like Penn Sustainability on Facebook.

Follow Penn Sustainability on Twitter (@GreenPenn).

Follow Penn Sustainability on Instagram (@pennsustainability)

Check out our News page.

Designing Green

New buildings on Penn’s campus target LEED Silver Certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. Visit our Designing Green webpage, or the Built Environment page on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website.

Using the Penn Plant Explorer, you can locate and learn about plants and other green features on campus. 

Learning Sustainability

Several academic programs and courses are listed on our Learning Sustainability page. The Penn Sustainability Office hopes this document will help students to identify sustainability-focused classes that fit into their particular curriculum or in order to increase their overall sustainability knowledge and literacy.

Undergraduate and graduate programs are also available through the Department of Earth and Environmental Science.

Local Foods

Enjoy local produce and meals in Penn dining halls and cafes managed by Bon Appétit. You can also purchase a variety of organic food items with your Dining Dollars at Gourmet Grocer in 1920 Commons.

Various farmers’ markets throughout the city provide fresh, local produce and baked goods - you can view a listing of markets here. On campus, the University Square Farmers’ Market is held on Wednesdays in front of the Penn Bookstore at 36thand Market Streets. For questions related to the University Square Farmers Market, please contact Jon Glyn.