New Guidelines for Campus Recycling to Adapt to "Recycling Green Wall"

Campus Sustainability Office February 6, 2019

It has been a year since China’s “Green Wall” took effect and the country officially stopped accepting plastic waste from outside countries, including the U.S. For decades, many developed countries had used China as a dumping ground for their waste, and Chinese officials decided it was time for a change.

Rather than fear this latest sustainability challenge, Tompkins County and Cornell have embraced this change as an opportunity to grow and rethink our materials management practices. Cornell has always supported recycling as a last resort for materials management and waste minimization, but now with China’s ban on plastic imports, we have been able to reimagine our other “R’s”: Respect, Rethink, Reduce, and Reuse. All of this, however, depends on the community and each person’s responsibility to ensuring our daily habits are as sustainable as possible.Here are some rules to follow:

When recycling plastic:

  1. Only recycle #1, #2, and #5 plastics.

  2. Absolutely NO food contamination – that means cleaning containers thoroughly with water (and soap if that’s what it takes).

  3. If there’s no number, then it cannot be recycled.

  4. Caps must be completely attached to bottles. No loose caps!

  5. Only recycle clear plastic film. There cannot be any printing on it.

  6. No more feedbags!

  7. Take your plastic grocery bags back to the store you got them from and recycle them there.

When recycling paper and cardboard:

Recycling Symbol
China's "Green Wall" has changed the rules for recycling. Look for this recycling symbol across campus for guidance on where to dispose of your goods.
  1. No greasy pizza boxes in recycling. How about making your own pizza at home instead?

  2. Flatten, flatten, flatten! Don’t just throw that cereal box into the recycling as is. Take it apart so that it’s as flat as possible. It only takes a minute.

When recycling metal:

  1. Recycling metals is still a-ok, just make sure to clean them. Wondering about lids, labels, and neck rings? You can throw those into recycling, too.

Remember, China is trying to do right by its environment and should not be villainized. This is our chance to take responsibility for our actions. And if you still think recycling has become just too much of a hassle, there’s an easy solution for that: reuse, reduce, rethink, and respect.

Before making any kind of purchase, ask yourself if you really need it. If the answer is “no,” move on. You can also limit the number of things you purchase by investing in reusables. Bring a mug, plate, and spoon to class and work. Save money by packing a lunch from home.  

If you must buy something, make sure it’s recycled – no need to buy it new. Get creative. Repurpose old furniture, clothing, gadgets, etc. and make it your own. If faced with a material decision (glass, plastic, or metal?), go with metal.

Cornell is here for you and your sustainability journey. If you have any questions or concerns about the Green Wall or recycling changes, please contact

Learn more about our sustainable Materials Management initiatives on campus.