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A gentle reminder – and guidelines – from Stanford Recycling

As part of a collaborative effort by several campus departments, Stanford offers many ways for the campus community to minimize the amount of material sent to the landfill through its programs for reducing, reusing and recycling waste materials, including two new programs for deskside recycling and composting.

L.A. Cicero Non-recyclable coffee cup

Coffee cups like these aren't recyclable and end up in Stanford's trash cans by the thousands every day.

With more than 5,000 recycling bins scattered around campus – in dining halls, academic buildings, and cafes and restaurants – Stanford makes it easy to recycle.

"The university is continually improving and expanding its recycling and composting collection activities, identifying new markets for waste materials and recyclables and raising awareness so that 'reduce, reuse, recycle and compost' becomes an ingrained set of behaviors," said Mike Rohrs, operations business manager in Land, Buildings & Real Estate.

Stanford's waste reduction, recycling and composting programs are a collaborative effort of PSSI/Stanford Recycling, the Buildings & Grounds Maintenance Department in Land, Buildings & Real Estate, and Sustainable Stanford.

While some recycling decisions are simple – magazines and newspapers go into the paper-recycling bin – others may require some thought. Here are some tips:

  • Put all paper that tears, cardboard packaging (except corrugated cardboard), plastic bags and bubble wrap in the Paper Recycling bin.
  • Put all plastic containers – except those made with Plastic #6 – in bins marked "Plastics, Metals & Glass." (These are the only bins that Stanford sorts before sending the different materials to recycling plants.)
  • In addition to food waste, put compostable coffee cups, plates, take-out containers and utensils, as well as napkins, paper towels, pizza boxes and doughnut boxes in the Compostables bin.
  • Put clean and dry corrugated cardboard into the Corrugated Cardboard bin after it has been emptied of its protective packaging materials and flattened.
  • Place items that cannot be recycled in the trash, including products made with Plastic #6; human or animal waste; ceramic or non-recyclable glass; and non-recyclable packaging materials such as potato chip bags and laminate pouches.

"Many people think that someone sorts through the trash to pull out recyclables, but we don't," said Julie Muir, who works for Peninsula Sanitary Service Inc. (PSSI), Stanford's recycling and garbage company. "Items placed in a trash can eventually end up in a landfill."

When in doubt about what goes where, read the posters attached to recycling bins that explain what you can put in that particular bin.

The university also has created a colorful chart of its waste reduction, recycling and composting guidelines, "Zero Waste Stanford," which can be downloaded from the PSSI/Stanford Recycling website.

Consider using travel mugs for coffee

In most cases, paper coffee cups, which have petroleum-based plastic linings, cannot be recycled. Since they are not "clean and dry," which is the rule for items dropped in the paper-recycling bin, they must go into trash cans.

Most coffee cup lids are made of Plastic #6, and cannot be recycled. Like the cups, they must go into trash cans.

Which may help explain why, every day at Stanford, people toss 30,000 paper coffee cups into campus trash cans. That mountain of paper cups ends up in the landfill.

It's a startling image that just might encourage people to bring their own cups or travel mugs to campus cafes and restaurants, Muir said.

Some campus cafes, including Starbuck's and the cafe at the Bookstore, offer discounts to customers who use their own cups or travel mugs.

Muir said putting paper products "contaminated" with liquid or food into paper recycling bins could ruin the batch. Stanford does not sort through its paper recycling bins to separate clean, dry paper from paper soiled by food and liquids.

"If our paper recycler determines that the load of paper is too contaminated with paper products that contain food residue, they will reject the load," she said.

Desk-side recycling and composting

Stanford recently launched a new program – the Deskside Recycling and Mini Trash Can Program – to encourage people to minimize the number of items they put in the trash at their desks and to maximize the number of items they recycle.

Each participant receives a small bright blue recycling bin, with a "mini" black trash bin that hangs on its side. Custodians empty both bins every week.

"Seventeen percent of what we throw in the landfill is paper, which is why we are implementing the desk-side recycling and mini trash can program," Muir said.

Individuals can sign up for the program through the Building Level Sustainability Program, which offers building occupants an opportunity to take action and become a leader in workplace sustainability.

Rohrs said the university also is expanding its composting program.

"We started collecting food scraps and compostable materials in 2003 in the dining halls and have since expanded the program to cafes, events, preschool and elementary schools, housing areas and some offices," he said.

"We are working on plans to expand the program to all break rooms on campus. For now, people on campus can participate in the Voluntary Compost Program to get their food scraps into the compost stream."

Rohrs said waste audits at campus buildings revealed that 30 percent of the trash Stanford sends to the landfill is actually organic material. In the landfill, anaerobic decay of food waste releases methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Composting greatly reduces those emissions.

Stanford is a leader in recycling and sustainability in higher education.

Its programs serve all academic and athletic areas, student housing and dining, faculty and staff housing, Stanford University Medical Center, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and construction sites.

In the 2014 RecycleMania Tournament, Stanford ranked 20th out of 332 colleges and universities in the "Per Capita Classic" category, with 28 pounds of recyclables collected per person. In addition, Stanford placed sixth in the "Gorilla" category for the size of its program, which recycled 895,640 total pounds of paper, cardboard, bottles and cans last year.

Stanford increased its recycling rate to 64 percent in 2013, compared with 30 percent in 1994. The 2013 total includes paper, plastics, metal, glass, yard trimmings, food scraps, compostable materials and construction waste, and is comparable to the recycling rate of surrounding cities.

To find out more, attend a Sustainable Stanford Waste Reduction Class and earn a BeWell Berry, or invite Julie Muir, who works for Peninsula Sanitary Service Inc., Stanford's recycling and garbage company, to a staff meeting to talk about waste reduction, recycling and composting in your department. Or visit the website of Buildings & Grounds Maintenance.