Sustainability Recipe: Recycling Rules

Campus Sustainability Office August 23, 2018

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Major recycling restrictions went into effect on July 1, 2018, across the country. Cornell and our community have had to adapt new, stricter rules for recycling on campus and across the city. 

We need your help to ensure we continue to capture and reuse our recyclable materials properly. Learn the new rules!

Why are these changes happening? 

Here are the basic rules you need to know  

1. When in Doubt, Throw it Out

One of the most important things to know is that recycling must be clean in order to be properly recycled.  Be sure to wipe out containers, and put materials in the landfill bins when in doubt.  Yes — we know it hurts.  But if a recycling bin is contaminated with unclean or non-recyclable materials, the entire bin could be thrown away.  Worse, 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 could be thrown in the landfill.

Not sure how to dispose of something? Tompkins Recycling has a search tool to help resident get rid of any unwanted items.

2. Plastics 1, 2, and 5 - Keep Recycling Alive

Previously, Cornell and other locations across the county accepted many of the recycling #s found on containers.  The new changes limit our capacity to recycle plastic with only #1, #2, or #5 on campus. Check your container before you recycle it.  And don't be a wishful recycler.  See the note above — contamination can ruin an entire bin or truck!  When in doubt, throw it out! Only recycle materials that are allowed.

3. Keep it Clean, Wipe it Clean

Recyclable materials must be cleaned. Food residue will contaminate the system. 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.

4. Styrofoam and "Compostable" Serviceware go in the Trash

Styrofoam can never be recycled, even if there is a recycling # on the container (Some states accept styrofoam, but we do not have facilities that can process the material in close enough proximity — recycling these materials would take more resources than simply disposing of them). Compostable serviceware does not break down in the compost.  These materials must always go to the Landfill. 

Download these posters and hang them up in common areas, offices, and near the landfill and recycling bins to help your community learn the new rules.

Recycling Posters

The good news is that 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.


Cornell R5 Recycling