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Waste Reduction

With more than 28 million visitors, 6,000 employees, and 2,700 animals making SI facilities a temporary (or permanent) destination over the course of a year, an unfortunate by-product of our popularity is a whole lot of human and animal waste. Sustainably processing waste such as food scraps, paper, plastics, and manure is the type of dirty work where SF excels. 


In 2010, the Smithsonian diverted about 17% of solid waste from landfill disposal. Ten years later, that number has almost tripled, with a 47% diversion rate achieved in 2019. Much of the success of the recycling program is due to the efforts of SF’s Recycling Task Force (RTF). The RTF is a collaborative group with representatives from across the Smithsonian. The RTF’s mission is to improve our shared natural environment through the reduction first then diversion of solid-waste materials generated by the Smithsonian. This mission is realized through providing education, training, and analysis of Smithsonian waste streams.


In May 2017, the Smithsonian installed it’s first in-vessel composter as part of a pilot program to explore the benefits of in-house composting. Animals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo produce more than 1100 cubic yards of compostable manure each year. In 2015 the Smithsonian Recycling Task Force sought to find ways to maximize the value of this free and abundantly available natural resource in a more sustainable way.  Since installing the in-vessel composter, the Smithsonian has produced more than 1,000 cubic yards of compost, and saved more than $24,000 in transportation costs. Given the success of the pilot program, the Smithsonian is working to expand in-house composting efforts. 

Plastic Reduction

The One Smithsonian Plastics Reduction Initiative (OSPRI) was launched in 2018 to commit the Smithsonian to reduce single-use plastics institution-wide. The goal is to eliminate the use of things like plastic water bottles, cutlery, and drinking straws. The OSPRI team, co-chaired by SF and National Zoo leadership, has made great strides in meeting this goal while working within a complex retail and food service environment. While existing contracts with vendors have required some plastics to remain, the goal is to have Smithsonian campuses free of single-use plastics by the end of 2020. The accomplishments cited below show the Institution’s commitment to make this a reality:

  • The elimination of single-use plastic bottles and bags from the National Museum of Natural History. 
  • All Smithsonian-operated venues are offering paper bags and will eliminate plastic bags when the supply is used.  
  • Green Teams are being formed in all museums and operations to eliminate plastic where possible and to recycle when elimination is not possible. 
  • Dish rooms have been constructed at the National Museum of Natural History cafes to eliminate the use of plastic utensils.
  • More than 65 water bottle filling stations have been installed on Smithsonian properties, along with increased offerings of reusable water bottles, to reduce the use of single-use plastic water bottles.
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