Confessions of a confused recycler

I thought I was doing the the right thing by dutifully throwing my empty Starbucks coffee cups into the recycling bin. But thanks to WashU’s Recycling Geniuses, I have seen the error of my ways.

recycling genius close upAbbie and Hanusia (pictured above), Recycling Geniuses from the Office of Sustainability, shared their wisdom near a recycling bin in Bauer Hall before semester break. I felt terribly guilty when I learned that I have been contaminating the recycling process, but they assured me I was not alone. In fact, a lot of people on campus have been confused by the multiple options for discarding waste, according to our resident Geniuses.

recycle binUnfortunately, the confusion has lead to heavy contamination of campus waste – so much so that the hauling company has rejected our trash on a regular basis. And that leads to expensive fees and undermines our waste diversion efforts.

compost bin

As much as half of our sorted recycling and compost is being routed to the landfill due to high contamination!


landfill binTo clear up the confusion and clean up our recycling habits, the Office of Sustainability has created new, easy to decipher signs and recycling guidelines.  You can also find downloadable signs that can be posted in offices and other areas at this link.


One simple rule: Recycling bins should be filled with clean, dry waste. That means no products containing food, liquid or ice. Paper-based soda cups, coffee cups or plastic utensils also cannot be recycled.

Some of the big changes you will notice are that paper to-go cups and boxes are NOT recyclable and should be put in landfill (although to-go boxes should be composted, if composting is available). As a reminder, food and liquids are the primary contaminant in the recycling loads, so always make sure your containers are empty before recycling them.

It’s a new year – let’s all try to follow the new recycling guidelines and develop new habits during “Recyclemania,” – the nationwide challenge where hundreds of universities vie to recycle the largest percent of school waste. Recyclemania kicks off Feb. 5 and runs for eight weeks.





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