Learning from Litter: Northwestern State University Performs Litter Survey and Waste Audit

Northwestern State University is one of the three universities going through the process of becoming a Keep Louisiana Beautiful University Affiliate this academic year.  University Affiliates educate, influence, engage, and inspire the next generation of community leaders to become change agents for environmental issues such as waste reduction, litter prevention, and marine debris.


One of the requirements for becoming an Affiliate is performing a litter survey and waste audit on campus. During the litter survey, University Affiliates in formation use a litter app developed by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to collect qualitative and quantitative data on litter conditions on campus. This process allows the university to establish a litter baseline to assist with developing a plan of action for reducing litter and littering behavior.


Northwestern State University students performing a waste audit.


During the waste audit, faculty, staff, and students take the time to examine and analyze the amounts and types of waste found in campus receptacles. This process helps the universities to better understand their current situation so they can implement tactics to reduce waste like single-use plastics, cardboard, and other recyclable or compostable materials. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent waste from entering landfills or becoming litter and harming the Gulf of Mexico and the surrounding environment.


We got a chance to interview Jennifer A. Kelly, Executive Director of University Affairs at Northwestern State University, about her university’s experience so far with the Affiliate formation process.

  1. What drew Northwestern State University to the University Affiliate program?
    NSU has a beautiful campus and we wanted to become an Affiliate to promote our campus and Louisiana!
  2. What are some of the University’s waste reduction goals for this academic year and the next?
    Our biggest goal will be education for our campus community.  We do not have a recycling location in our parish, therefore the reduction in the use of plastic bottles will also be a goal. We have placed bottle refill stations strategically around campus and hope to continue this program to reduce single-use plastics.
  3. Who helped with your litter survey and waste audit? How did it go?
    We had representatives from our science faculty, students from different campus organizations, staff from our Physical Plant, Grounds and Environmental Health and Safety Office, as well as my University Affairs Office. The audit was very informational and educational to all of us.
  4. What were some of the key findings from your audit?
    In our opinion, there was a considerable amount of food and beverage waste.  Our largest volume was paper, mainly due to the receptacle from the Wellness and Recreational Building.
  5. How will the survey and audit help inform your strategic plans for waste reduction on campus?
    We will look for other innovative ways to recycle plastics and waste. With funding from a Keep Louisiana Beautiful Healthy Communities Grant, our art department has secured a recycling fabrication machine that allows them to melt plastic bottles and reuse them for student projects. They currently recycle aluminum cans for art projects. As mentioned, we will continue to place water refill stations throughout campus to eliminate the use of single-use containers.


Northwestern State University students sorting types of waste.

In addition to Northwestern State University, in the process of joining the University Affiliate network are Loyola University New Orleans and University Louisiana Monroe. Current University Affiliates include Grambling State University, Louisiana State University, Nicholls State University, Tulane University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana.


History of the Program

The University Affiliate program was developed in 2021 in response to a growing interest in sustainability, waste reduction, and litter prevention at the university level. University of Louisiana at Lafayette, with Keep Louisiana Beautiful as a sub-recipient, secured a $500,000 five-year EPA Gulf of Mexico Trash-Free Waters Grant to create and launch the program, develop a litter assessment app, develop educational training videos for campus communities, and fund grant opportunities for University Affiliates. Learn more about the University Affiliate program here.