The Top Five Things to Know About Recycling

Global market changes have impacted local recycling rules on a nationwide scale. The United States has a long history of having highly contaminated recycling loads, which are loads containing significant amounts of non-recyclable items, like food waste and other garbage. Over the past few years 50% of the world’s paper and plastics have been sent to China for recycling. Last year China implemented a ban restricting the materials they would accept in an effort to receive a more marketable recycle stream. These changes have brought to light the importance of recycling correctly and effectively, and have changed what items are acceptable to recycle at the University.

Since so much has changed, it is now more important than ever to dispose of waste correctly. According to Sustainability Coordinator Amy Kadrie, the goal is zero percent contamination in University’s recycling loads. Here are the top five ways to achieve this goal and to ensure effective recycling:

  1. Recycle plastics by shape, not by number. Many single-use plastic items have a small recycling symbol with a number on the bottom. Many people misinterpret these symbols to mean that the item is recyclable. However, the numbers indicate the type of plastic the product is made of. Every municipality has its own rules on what types of plastics they accept. Monroe County focuses on collecting clean plastic containers in four shapes: bottles, jugs, jars, or tubs. This means plastic cups, trays, clamshells, and other shapes are not acceptable.
  2. Don’t contaminate—not only does contamination ruin the load, it is also costly. As of January 1, 2019, the University is now being charged for contaminated recycling loads. The zero percent contamination goal will avoid these unnecessary costs. The most significant form of contamination is food and liquid waste. All items placed in the recycle bin must be clean and empty. It is also very important to know the types of items that are recyclable. Putting items in the bin that are not recyclable, such as Styrofoam, is also contamination. Print these helpful signs to help minimize contamination and this posters as a guide of what can and cannot be recycled. When in doubt, throw it out!
  3. Separate plastic bags. Plastic bags cannot be recycled along with the rest of the regular load since they damage the equipment at recycling facilities, as shown in this video. However, plastic bags can be recycled if they are taken to a special collection such as containers offered in retail operations. The River Campus has collection boxes for plastic bags located in Hirst Lounge and outside of Hillside Market. Also, see this website to find a plastic bag recycling location near you.
  4. You cannot recycle paper serveware. Items like paper napkins, cups (cold beverage and coffee), boats, and plates break down differently than office paper. Additionally they are often contaminated with food waste. While these items are not recyclable, they are compostable. On Campus, all dining halls collect organic material from the back of the house to be composted and Danforth and Douglass Dining collect post-consumer food scraps as well.  With the changes in recycling, Dining Services is now looking into gradually collecting paper serveware products to be composted as a future goal.
  5. Recycling is more challenging in the Medical Center than in other University locations. Medical facilities have stricter sanitation regulations and fire codes that restrict the number of containers in open spaces. As a result there are fewer recycling stations at URMC than on the River Campus. While the limited number of recycle bins make it less convenient, it is still possible and encouraged to recycle at the Medical Center! All are welcome to bring their recyclable materials to the stainless steel stations located in the Flaum Atrium.

The difference in the types of materials recycled in the River Campus versus the Medical Center are apparent in the latest Annual Waste Diversion Report. In 2018 the Medical Center’s recycle stream was more than half fiber, with 34% being paper and cardboard and 27% confidential documents. In contrast, 20% of the River Campus’s stream was fiber and 52% was construction material.

For more information, see the 2018 Waste Diversion Report, and visit for full details on the recycling standards and signage you can download and print. Thank you for making an effort to avoid contamination!


Written by Isabel Lieberman, Class of 2021

Photo Attribution: Alpha Stock Images


2 Replies to “The Top Five Things to Know About Recycling”

  1. The University recycles rechargeable batteries in accordance with DEC regulations. Unfortunately alkaline batteries are not recyclable. I would recommend making a switch to rechargeable batteries instead of alkalines. The cost more upfront but you save money in the long-run. Plus, you can recycle them!! Thanks!!

  2. What about batteries, I have worked here 12 years, and never have we recycled aaa batteries that come out of our telemetry boxes. They still have some life in them, but we cannot use them.
    I have tried for years to figure this out. One idea was to bring to bring them to the Main Lobby, to use in pagers but they only can take only so many. We go through about 40 a day.
    Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

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