Circular Economy and Zero Waste Task Force

Promoting, supporting, and implementing carbon sinks and waste diversion – emphasizing closed-loop systems – to achieve “zero waste,” a 90% or greater diversion rate away from incineration or trash.

In response to Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order Seventy-Seven (EO 77) “Virginia Leading by Example to Reduce Plastic Pollution and Solid Waste,” the Mason Sustainability Council (MSC) launched the Circular Economy and Zero Waste (CEZW) Task Force in the spring of 2021. EO 77 mandates solid waste reduction and the elimination of single-use plastics and polystyrene at all state executive branch state agencies, which includes Mason.

Through the efforts of the CEZW Task Force and the tireless work of countless stakeholders, including institutional partners and vendors, Mason will eliminate single-use plastics and polystyrene on the following timeline, ensuring institutional compliance with EO 77.

Mason’s Single-Use Plastics and Polystyrene Elimination Timeline

  • Bags:
    • Shopping and small (e.g., sandwich) bags were eliminated in July 2021
    • Small bin liners by December 2022 (extension requested – 100% elimination by December 2022, pending regulatory approval)
    • Large bin liners by 2025 (health and safety extension requested, pending regulatory approval)
  • Straws:
    • All single-use plastic straws were eliminated in July 2021 (compostable alternatives are available upon request)
  • Bottles:
    • Single-use plastic water bottles were eliminated in July 2021
    • The purchase of other single-use plastic bottles for other beverages (soda, tea, etc.) is transitioning as quickly as possible to aluminium or glass alternatives.
    • All single-use plastic bottles will be eliminated by 2025, with very limited potential exemptions or extensions for lines not able to be offered in aluminum cans or alternative means (e.g., fountain or other refill options, glass, boxes, etc.), pending regulatory approval.
  • Food Service Items (silverware, cups, etc.):
    • All food service items were eliminated in July 2021
  • Other Plastics and Polystyrene (balloons, glitter, coffee pods, packing material, etc.):
    • All other plastics and polystyrene by 2025 on a phase-out timeline, which includes percentage benchmarks each year

The CEZW Task Force is working to identify, create, and pilot partnerships to support the adoption of better alternatives to single-use plastics and, wherever possible, replacing single-use items with durable reusables, which are the best alternatives to single-use items.

Achievements

The CEZW Task Force is rapidly advancing Mason towards a zero-waste future. Here are a few key achievements.

  • July 2021: Along with free options from the tap, water fountains, and refill stations, single-use water bottles for sale are now only available in aluminum cans at George Mason University as of July 2021. Mason worked with Coca-Cola to confirm the elimination of all plastic bottles by 2025, with very limited potential exemptions or extensions for lines that cannot be offered in aluminum cans or alternative means (e.g., fountain or other refill options, glass, boxes, etc.), pending regulatory approval.
  • July 2021: Plastic shopping bags were eliminated in July 2021 and industrially compostable foodservice items replaced all single-use plastic and polystyrene items as of July 2021. All items are compostable with Mason’s industrial compost partner, Freestate Farms.
  • July 2021: All single-use plastic and polystyrene food containers, straws and cutlery, and water bottles were successfully eliminated from Mason’s operations in compliance with EO 77’s July 21, 2021, “Cessation of Use” deadline.
  • September 2021: The CEZW Task Force submitted Mason’s Plastic Pollution and Solid Waste Reduction Plan in September 2021. This plan includes three components: Cessation of Use, Plastic Phase-Out Plan, and Waste Diversion. The first, Cessation of Use, provides an overview of Mason’s work to meet the July 21, 2021, “Cessation of Use” deadline, which eliminated all single-use plastic and polystyrene food containers, straws and cutlery, and water bottles. The second, Plastic Phase-Out Plan, details Mason’s efforts to reduce by 25% its purchase, use, and distribution of single-use plastic items by December 31, 2022, the first of the multi-year phase-out deadlines. The third and last section, Waste Diversion, identifies all areas of solid waste generation for the university and details priorities for reduction and diversion.

Resources for the Mason Community

Office Hours

The CEZW Task Force is hosting open office hours to engage the Mason community about its efforts to advance the university to a zero-waste future.

Join the open office hours to ask questions, receive guidance and support, and review useful resources.

You are encouraged to register and attend as many of the sessions as you would like. All times are Eastern Daylight Time or Eastern Standard Time.

Elimination Timeline

View the PDF online here.

Guidance for Mason Stakeholders

Better Alternatives: CEZW’s One-Page Summary

EO 77 Reference List

Need Support?

The CEZW Task Force is committed to supporting the Mason community to ensure institutional compliance with EO 77. If you have questions about EO 77 or need guidance, please contact the CEZW Task Force at masonsc@gmu.edu.


The Circular Economies and Zero Waste Task Force is jointly led by Amber Saxton, Office of Sustainability, and Pascal Petter, Business Services. If you’re passionate about circular economies and zero waste, or interested in conducting research on these topics, please contact masonsc@gmu.edu.