Sustainability Tips for Work

Make change happen where you work.  From reducing energy waste to purchasing more sustainable and environmentally friendly products, individual employees can make a difference.  The Sustainability Tips provide easy ways to take action in your Cornell workplace that advance our sustainable campus and culture. Have a tip?  Share it with us.

Current Tip of the Month

Recycling Rules

When in doubt THROW IT OUT

Why Take Action? If a recycling bin is contaminated with unclean or non-recyclable materials, the entire bin could be thrown away. All campus recycling (from residential and academic buildings) is picked up by the same recycling truck. If truck is full of clean recyclables but one building has contaminated bags, the entire truckload could be thrown in the landfill.

Collage of  landfall, recyclable, compostable items
Confused on what can be recycled? You're not alone. Mixed materials like the ones seen in this image have recycling rules that can change quickly. Cornell R5 Recycling

What Can You Do? 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 when in doubt, put materials in the landfill bins. 

How to Take Action

  • When in Doubt, Throw it Out
    Contamination can ruin an entire bin, or truck! When in doubt, throw it out - only recycle materials that are allowed. 

  • Plastics 1, 2, and 5 - Keep Recycling Alive
    At Cornell and Tompkins County you can only recycle plastic with only #1, #2, or #5 on campus so check the bottom of your container before you recycle it.  And don't be a wishful recycler.  

  • Keep it Clean, Wipe it Clean
    Recyclable materials must be clean - food residue will contaminate the system. Here's a tip for making sure you reduce waste when following this rule. 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.

  • Styrofoam and "Compostable" Serviceware go in the Trash
    Styrofoam can never be recycled - even if there is a recycling # on the container.   Compostable serviceware does not break down in the compost.  These materials must always go to the Landfill. 

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

*work tip excerpted from Sustainability Recipe: Recycling Rules*


Cornell R5 Recycling
New Recycling Signage

Explore Sustainability Life Recipes for more practical tips to go green and save green. Each recipe features strategies that save money while protecting the environment and contributing to good jobs for people in our community. 
Read more Sustainability Life Recipes

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All Tips

Choose to Reuse

Reduce our environmental impact by choosing to re-use materials before buying new

Why Take Action? As we enter a new phase of work where many staff have flexible work, remote work, or hoteling work locations that may require new or upgraded physical spaces, many of us are considering how to properly outfit our home office or new locations. We can significantly reduce landfill waste and resource waste if we look to reuse materials before purchasing new.

The most sustainable product is the one we never build. With so many products already in circulation, consider finding office supplies, including desks, chairs, and other necessary electronic items from one of the many Reuse stores in our surrounding communities.

What Can You Do? Cornell University and Tompkins County have reuse and exchange programs. By choosing to reuse, we can eliminate waste and reduce our environmental footprint from producing new materials.

Dump and Run
Cornell's Dump & Run program collects items from students leaving campus in May, and resells them to students moving in each August. In addition to diverting tons of reusable items from the waste stream, the annual Dump & Run sale raises more than $60,000 a year for local charitable organizations.

How to Take Action

Power strip with separate on-off switch
Belkin's smart strips come with a "power on/off" switch, eliminating the need to bend down under or behind a desk to turn off the power strip. | Photo: Belkin

Purchase a Smart Power Strip

Protect your electronics and reduce energy waste at your workstation

Why Take Action? Plugging electronics such as computers, monitors, and printers into a power strip, or "surge protector" prevents power surges from ruining expensive equipment.  But traditional strips draw energy even when electronics are turned off.  This is called the phantom load. Studies show it can add up to 10% to an annual electricity bill. Cornell has a goal of reaching campus carbon neutrality by 2035, and our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from our energy use (and energy waste).  Turning off electronics can really add up on a big campus.

What Can You Do? Switching to an Energy Smart Power Strip will still protect your electronics while giving you the option to completely power down and prevent phantom load.  We prefer the kind that has an easily accessible "switch" so you don't have to bend down under your desk to power down.

How to Take Action

  • Purchase an Energy Smart Power Strip for every workstation in your office through Cornell e-SHOP. Here are the products we recommend: 

    • Belkin Conserve Switch Green Surge Suppressor (2315949)
      4ft cord MFG#: F7C01008Q 
      Price as of 2021: $25.98 via CDW vendor 

    • Tripp Lite Eco Green Surge Protector (2544319)
      Switched 7 outlet MFG# TLP76MSG
      Price as of 2021: $25.98 via CDW vendor

  • Login to eSHOP and search for these products

  • For the fastest method, select CDW, then select PunchOut.  In the Search Bar, enter 2544319 for Tripp or 2315949 for Belkin to quickly find the recommended products