Sustainability Tips

Sustainability Tip 

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

Current Tip 

Reusable Mug Program

Cornell dining is excited to reinstate the Cornell Dining Reusable Mug Program. Cornell Dining sells reusable stainless steel coffee mugs in coffee houses and cafés. The initial purchase also includes the first beverage.Mug of coffee with Cornell logo

Grab your favorite clean cup, mug or tumbler and save 10% on all self-serve hot or iced coffee, tea, and fountain beverages. Available at select Cornell Dining Cafés and retail units: 

  • Amit Bhatia Libe Cafe
  • Atrium Café
  • Bear Necessities
  • Big Red Barn
  • Bus Stop Bagels
  • Café Jennie
  • Dairy Bar
  • Goldie's Cafe
  • Green Dragon
  • Jansen’s Market
  • Mann Café
  • Martha’s Café
  • Mattin’s
  • Rusty’s
  • Straight from the Market
  • Trillium

Reduce Package Deliveries

Ship smarter to reduce fuel and packaging waste

Cornell's Service Centers and delivery services, such as USPS, UPS, and Fedex have become inundated with excessive packages. Whether you live, work on campus, or work from home, we encourage you to rethink how you are shopping for and shipping items. Simple changes can make a big impact, and help reduce packaging waste, carbon emissions, and headaches, like long wait times when picking up packages on campus.

Check if essential items are available locally. Many stores and pharmacies offer same-day delivery services, in-store and curbside pickups, or are conveniently located on TCAT bus routes. 

  • Hit pause. Do I really need this?
    Use what you already have, repair and share items, get thrifty in Ithaca with dozens of reuse stores, or use the new Swapp app to share and use items with other Cornell community members. Consider using online apps like ThredUp and Poshmark to find gently used clothes and other home goods. And consider keeping a list somewhere for big trips to local stores or shopping areas, where you can look for local goods that are not urgently needed by online delivery.

  • Do I need it now?
    Before purchasing, leave items in your shopping cart for at least 24hrs.  Sometimes the "happy feeling" from an online purchase will fade quickly leaving us to realize we may not really need an item. Or, we can wait to bundle more items into a single package delivery if we delay the expectation of every item arriving within a day or two.

    Student help with package delivery to campus
    Shipping and Storage, helps move boxes of student belongings into Clara Dickson Hall, Thursday, Aug. 13
  • Choose to group shipments together to reduce the number of packages you receive.
    You can often consolidate package shipments with one click and still receive them within the same week.  This cuts down on cardboard packaging and reduces fuel used in single-item shipments, such as transit to and from the factory and to your campus location or home.

  • Properly recycle (or reuse) cardboard boxes and packaging materials.
    Cardboard boxes should always be flattened and recycled on campus, ideally within your residential community's loading dock, trash room, or recycling dumpster. For both at work and home, see Cornell's Recycling Rules guide for what materials go into the landfill, recycling, and compost in Tompkins County. Recycling cannot be dirty, so if you have a cardboard box or other paper material that is wet, greasy, or otherwise "dirty", please put it in the landfill.  Remember, "wishful recycling" can lead to an entire bin of otherwise useful materials being sent to the landfill.  When in doubt, throw it out. 

Use an Office Mini Bins to Reduce Waste

Mini-bins are rolling out across offices on campus - small landfill bins are attached to larger recycling bins in office and personal workspaces.  In the new waste initaitive, staff must empty their own recycling and waste bins into central kitchen or shared office waste collection.  Why are mini-bins here on campus, and how do they help us reduce waste and improve recycling?

In Cornell's mini bin pilot in 2016, overall waste - both landfill and recycling - was reduced by 39%. This number is especially important, as it indicates staff chose to make decisions about purchasing and printing that ultimately led to less waste overall.  Mini-bins help us reduce waste in several ways.  First, by reducing the number of plastic bin liners in individual trash bins across campus.  Second, by encouraging more mindful waste disposal.  The smaller landfill bin makes it much harder to mindlessly "throw it in the trash" given their smaller size.  

Why use the Cornell Mini-Bins?

  • mini bin
    The small waste bins, featured at right, are part of a campus commitment to reducing landfill waste through education and engagement with the campus community. | Photo: Cornell Photography

    Reduces overall waste and improves recycling rates 

  • Frees up space in your space (one less bin)

  • Creates a culture of accountability and mindfulness

  • Get exercise and visit a colleague on your way to empty your bin

  • Enables building care able to concentrate on disinfecting high touch point areas

  • Reduces waste by eliminating bin liners for office landfill receptacles

Frequently Asked Questions/Concerns

  • Am I putting my building care person out of a job?
    No, quite the opposite. Mini-bins provide an additional benefit to building care staff - reducing points of contact where germs or contaminated materials might live. 

    As part of a campus-wide push to protect the health of staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mini-bins ensure Cornell's custodial teams have fewer points of interaction with potentially contaminated materials such as papers, kleenex, or food wrappers. 

  • How do I get a mini bin?
    Questions about mini bins? Contact Bob Pils, Director of Building Care, to learn more or request a mini-bin.

    Building care focus on disinfecting high touch point areas.
    Building care focus on disinfecting high touch point areas. (photo courtesy of ecommunity)

The new system replaced trash and recycling bins of equal size with a smaller landfill bin attached to the side of a recycling bin. The new program requires staff to empty their own recycling and trash into shared waste disposal areas. The results of the pilot clearly demonstrated a reduction in landfill waste and better recycling from staff.

Most staff in the pilot indicated they empty the bins once or twice a week. On average, landfill waste in the pilot was reduced by 36lbs per day. 

One of the goals besides reducing waste is to help create a campus culture of sustainable actions which significantly changes the bottom line for landfill waste.

For information about how to recycle correctly or support for waste and recycling on-campus visit Cornell R5 Operations.

Recognize a Sustainability Champion

Do you know a coworker who always brings a reusable mug to every event? Piloted a waste reduction program? Included climate change in an educational event? Any staff member, at any level, can be recognized as a champion for creating a more sustainable campus and culture with actions big and small. This program is supported by the Campus Sustainability Office.

Hand placing a dice with "sustainability" in a quadrant with other social justice words
How to Nominate
  • Enter a short nomination in the HR Appreciation Portal

  • Nominations will be reviewed monthly. Each month, one employee will be selected to receive 50 points in celebration of their sustainability contributions on campus, and their recognizer will receive 15 points for highlighting their colleague’s actions.  (Recognition portal points = cash and prizes!)

  • Any staff member can nominate a colleague from any division or department

  • Nominees will also be considered for the annual Cornell University Partners in Sustainability Awards

Questions? Contact us at

Shutdown Before You Leave for Break

When you take a few key steps to shutdown before you leave on winter break, spring break, or any other extended time away from campus, energy savings really add up. Our collective action saves a huge amount of energy on campus and reduces our university’s carbon emissions – critical to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035.

Here's how to shut down before you go:
  • Turn off power strips and unplug any electronics plugged directly into the wall.  Many devices use electricity even when turned off. 

  • Completely close fume hood sashes in labs. Fume hoods use 50% of energy use on campus.  It's critical to fully close fume hoods in all spaces.

  • Turn off the lights. Don't forget to check common spaces

  • Shut all windows tightly, then close blinds and curtains if available
    This keeps heating & cooling inside where it belongs - indoors!

  • Close all interior and exterior doors. 

  • Shutdown non-essential equipment (printers, freezers, growth chambers) in lab and office spaces. Create a checklist with your team to ensure the right equipment is shut down whenever possible. 

  • Check the thermostat, and if adjustable, turn down to 64F (but not off) for winter, or 75F for summer

  • Report facilities issues like leaky faucets, broken windows, and overly hot/cold rooms

  • Remind colleagues and students to take these actions. 
    Share these steps on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram 

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

Recycling Rules

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.

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.

Reduce Energy Use

Why Take Action? Save money, save energy, and lower your carbon footprint. 

How to Take Action

  • Plug it in, turn it off
    Many devices use electricity even when “turned off,” including TVs, printers, chargers, copiers, coffee makers, microwaves and space heaters. Save 3 kWh / day by plugging items into a power strip and turning it off before leaving / sleeping. No power strip? Simply unplug your electronics instead.

  • Set Room Temperature 1-2 Degrees Lower
    Save 1% of your home (or office) energy use for every 1 degree you lower your thermostat in the winter.

  • Use Shades
    Cool Room-Close shades during the day, open at night.
    Warm Room-Open shades during the day, close at night.

  • Replace Space Heaters
    Space heaters use a lot of energy. Consider investing in Cozy Toes and bundling up in a sweater. Purchase Cozy Toes through Amazon for business in e-SHOP for office use.

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.

Choose to Reuse

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.

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

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