The Quad System

quad system


The Quad system is a recycling concept and program developed by the University of Minnesota Recycling Program. The system is composed of four containers: Newspaper Plus, Office Paper, Cans & Bottles, and Trash. Each recycling container is characterized by a gray base with a maroon recycling emblem while the trash has a gray base with a "Trash Only" label. In addition, each category of recyclables has its own lid color: Cans & Bottles is maroon, Newspaper Plus is gold, Office Paper is gray, and Trash does not have a lid. To better educate the UMN community and increase recycling habits, labels with information on what is acceptable is placed on the inside flap of each lid. 

Currently, we are in the process of adding organics containers to the system in order to recover compostable material like food waste, tissues/napkins, and soiled cardboard. The organics containers will have the same recycling base but they will be identified with a green lid. 


SMART, which is an acronym for Self Managed Activities for Recyclables and Trash, was a completely revolutionizing concept by which individuals disposed of their own waste and recyclables. Responsibility and accountability were emphasized at the individual level; making waste management the responsibility of those who create waste.

What were the results of such a waste revolution? A dramatic and successful increase in the capture rate for recyclable materials, from 60 to 90%. Imagine, nine-tenths of all recyclable materials were captured and recycled as opposed to remaining in the waste stream! This dramatically reduced the amount of garbage sent to the incinerators and landfills.


The underlying premise of the SMART system (Quad system as it is referred to now) allows individuals to consider the disposal of trash and recyclable materials to be equally important and convenient. Each time a person disposes of their waste, they're presented with an opportunity to recycle.


With over 20,000 containers, a Quad system can easily be located in any building. Though most buildings have Quad systems, a few locations may have two of the four containers because some areas generate less of a specific waste. For example, the Recreation and Wellness Center has a higher amount of bottle and can waste than it does office paper so Trash and Cans & Bottles are usually paired together in workout areas to increase efficiency. 

Cardboard is collected by flattening boxes and placing them along side the containers for custodial staff to remove at the end of the day.

Pilot Studies

Originally, the Quad system evolved the outdoor recycling containers. The results of the pilot study showed that 95% of recyclable materials were placed in the correct compartment. Due to the success of this study, the concept was implemented indoors.


Recovery levels increased dramatically for each recyclable material. Approximately two months after implementation, surveys were distributed to monitor the reactions of the University's employees to the Quad system. Nearly all respondents believed recycling to be an important endeavor, with over half believing that with the Quad system, they were recycling more; and overall, 93% felt positively towards recycling with the Quad system.

Program Costs

Originally, 5,000 sets of containers, a total number of twenty-thousand 23-gallon containers were purchased. The expected cost of the containers was approximately $250,000, but the payback period for the expenditure was estimated at 2.8 years. Within three years, the money saved because of an increase in revenue, avoided disposal fees, and reduction in custodial labor to manage the system would have paid for the containers.


The initiation of this program encountered some limitations, especially in the laboratory areas of the campus. Due to the high number of individuals who work in common lab areas, waste cannot be "owned" by anyone and therefore is not disposed by any one person. As a result, custodians continued to service trash containers. There is a perception that waste is a custodial responsibility rather than a personal issue for those who generate it. 


The Quad system does not mandate behavior change, rather, it facilitates it. The concept is that the very act of waste disposal is an opportunity to recycle. Furthermore, the Quad system encourages waste reduction at the source; the individuals. Finally, University employees believe they are more aware of the amount of waste produced and become more interested in methods of waste reduction.

Contact Information

Administrative Offices
Como Recycling Facility
3009 Como Ave S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Recycling Hotline: 612-625-8084