Recipe #18:Recycling Rules!

Cornell Waste is in Your Hands...

Sustainability LIfe Graphic with a whisk

What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community?

We’ve done the research and these steps in the areas of local food, building energy, waste reduction and transportation are a great place to start. The Sustainability Life Recipes series will focus on ways to save money, go green, and learn about resources to support your journey. Have an idea? Send us a note at


Cornell's Waste is in Your Hands graphic

Fall 2018

Major recycling restrictions went into effect on July 1st across the country. We need your help to ensure continues to capture and reuse our recyclable materials properly.

  • Recycled materials must be clean– no visible food debris, oil, or other remnants
  • Only plastic #1, #2, and #5 can be recycled (used to be #1-7)
  • Contamination could significantly lower recycling rates on campus – don’t be a “wishful” recycler.
  • Remember, no Styrofoam in the recycling (even if labeled with a recycling number), and all compostable service-ware such as forks and plate must go in the trash (they just don’t break down in the compost!)

Why are these changes happening?

  • For decades, China purchased a large percentage of the world’s recyclable materials (including from the United States). China often received highly contaminated loads of recyclables rendering them unusable. In response, China recently changed their policy and will heavily restrict the recycled materials they accept from foreign states.
  • Most communities in the US are not equipped to recycle the same variety as the US shipped overseas, and many US plants need materials to be cleaner than before.

How can you help?

  • When in doubt, throw it out.

Contaminating just one recycling bin has a big impact. All campus recycling (from residential and academic buildings) is picked up by the same recycling truck. If there is a truck full of clean recyclables but one building has contaminated bags, the entire truckload of recyclables will be thrown in the landfill.

  • Wipe it out!

Instead of using water to clean items, use a napkin or paper towel to wipe out containers with oil or food debris. Then, compost the napkin / paper towel! Bottom line: We must clean our recyclables before we recycle them.

The good news is our campus and community are working to reduce overall waste – and you can help.

  • Cornell University and Tompkins County will continue single stream recycling, so all paper, cardboard, plastics (#1,2,5), metal, and glass can be recycled in any blue recycling bin
  • Our biggest goal is to reduce all waste, including recycling. In addition to sorting waste properly into recycling, compost, and landfill, we encourage everyone to consider new ways to minimize your purchasing and reduce the waste you produce.
  • Buy items with recycled content. This drives the demand for recycled materials and improves the recycling market.
  • Take a reusable mug and water bottle with you, remember your reusable straw and spork, and don’t forget to bring a take-out container when you head to a restaurant.

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