Friday, August 4, 2017

Is This Recyclable?

 Have you ever wondered why a certain product or material is recyclable in one city but not another? Oftentimes, what you can and cannot recycle depends on your location and the kind of facility processing the recyclables in that area. Recycling facilities are responsible for sorting through waste, baling the material, and selling it to vendors for reuse. Recycling facilities determine what is and isn’t recyclable based on the market for their recyclables and the availability of vendors.

The University of Michigan collaborates with the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority to provide single stream recycling to the University community. Most of the plastic, paper, cardboard, and metal you use can easily be recycled here on campus, but there are some exceptions...

Starting January 2016, U-M suspended its glass recycling program and asked the U-M community to not place glass in the mixed recycling bins on campus. While glass is an easily recyclable material, the market for selling recycled glass has diminished in recent years. In response, the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority suspended its glass recycling program when the only option  for glass was to send it to a landfill.

Wax Coated Cardboard
Wax coated cardboard is typically used for shipping food, because the wax coating repels water and prevents contamination and infestation. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove the wax from the cardboard. When this material is recycled, it produces a lower quality paper that is prone to breaking. While there are some municipalities that provide outlet for recycled wax coated cardboard, it is not provided at U-M.

Tip: Unsure if a box is wax coated? Try scratching the material, and if you feel the wax, then it's coated, if not, then the material is most likely shiny paperboard, which can be recycled!

Frozen Food Containers In Direct Contact With Frozen Food
Similar to wax coated cardboard, frozen food containers are made from cardboard coated in polyethylene, or a plastic coating. While this plastic coating helps with food storage by repelling water and preventing freezer burn, it cannot be removed from the cardboard to be recycled.

Tip: Ice cream containers and frozen spinach containers should go in the landfill bin.

Biodegradable Plastic
Biodegradable plastic is perhaps the most greenwashed product on the market. Products made from biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled because of structural incompatibilities with all other types of plastic. What’s more, biodegradable plastics cannot be composted either. The term biodegradable is misleading because it implies that the plastic will break down over time, similar to compostables. However, unlike compostable materials, there is no standardized time range for biodegradables to break down in nor is there regulation of product labeling.

Tip: If you’re at a U-M hosted Zero-Waste Event, there’s no need to worry about the quality of plastic. All materials used at these events can be composted!

Knowing which items cannot be recycled on campus can help us reduce recycling contamination. Recycling contamination is the portion of non recyclable materials found in recycling. Reducing contamination helps to prevent unsafe working conditions for sorters, maintain the quality of our recyclables, and prevent damage to machinery.

The new standardized recycling labels on campus are an effort to reduce contamination rates by showing the U-M community exactly what should go into the recycling bin. So if the product you’re trying to recycle is not on the sign, place it in the landfill bin or contact with your questions!

Find a complete list of recyclable materials and recycling outlets at

Thursday, July 6, 2017

2017 Annual Office Supply Reuse Day

This year marks the 5th annual Office Supply Reuse Day hosted by the Waste Reduction and Recycling (WRR) division of the Office of Campus Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

Each spring, WRR asks U-M departments to donate their gently used office supplies to this event. This year, 80 U-M departments donated a garage full of office supplies to be reused by other departments and over 25 non-profit organizations!  


U-M departments and local non-profit organizations are then invited to the Office Supplies Reuse Day, where they can pick up FREE, gently used (and often like-new) office supplies to be used at their workplace or school.

The Office Supply Reuse Day aims to give U-M departments an alternative to recycling or throwing away office supplies that could still be used. By reusing the office supplies the University already has, we can divert waste from landfills and save money, energy, and resources from buying and producing new supplies. This program also supports the University’s sustainability goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40% from 2006 levels by 2025.

In addition to promoting campus sustainability, WRR is dedicated to promoting sustainable practices in the Ann Arbor community. By opening up this event to local non-profits, these organizations can operate more sustainably and can avoid the burden of purchasing new office supplies at a cost to their organization. Much of the reused office supplies goes towards filling elementary school classrooms with binders, paper, and more!

While the WRR expects to continue offering the Office Supply Reuse Day, the hope is that the program will no longer be needed as U-M departments learn how to make their offices more sustainable by finding ways to reduce the amount of excess office supplies.

Check out for more sustainability programs offered by WRR!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

2017 Winter Semester Wrap Up: 1178 Tons Recycled!

From national recycling competitions, to Rufus’ Instagram debut, Waste Reduction and Recycling has had a busy Winter 2017 semester.

Waste profile
In total, U-M recycled 2,356,170 pounds throughout the winter semester. That’s equivalent to 1178 tons of paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal! We also composted 551,420 pounds (276 tons) of food waste and compostable material from the dining halls and select cafes on campus. 2,356,170 pounds (1857 tons) of waste were sent to landfills.

Bin Standardization
The Waste Reduction and Recycling division of the Office of Campus Sustainability is dedicated to lowering the amount of refuse sent to landfills. To improve campus recycling, Waste Reduction and Recycling is in the process of installing new recycling and landfill signs and bins in U-M buildings. The new signs use graphics to easily answer the question, “Can I recycle this?”

The following U-M buildings received new recycling and landfill labels, signs, bins or a combination of these since the start of the 2017 Winter semester:

  • Duderstadt Center
  • Michigan League
  • Michigan Union
  • Hutchins Hall
  • Haven Hall
  • Mason Hall
  • Shapiro Library
  • Hatcher Library
  • Fleming Administration Building
  • Golf Course Club House
  • Angell Hall
  • Tisch Hall
  • Bentley Historical Library


If you follow Planet Blue, the home of all things sustainability at U-M, on Facebook and Twitter, you’ve probably heard about the 10 week national recycling competition, Recyclemania. This year, U-M recycled 1,363,940 pounds, ranking us 3rd in the nation for total recycling among universities. Our competition recycling rate was 45.46%, placing us in the top third of universities.

Rufus in the spotlight

This April, the UMich Instagram story featured everyone’s favorite recycling mascot to promote waste reduction and recycling efforts on campus. Don’t worry if you missed the Insta’ action! Lucky for you we have the adorable and informative footage of Rufus the Recycler saved on YouTube.

Spring move-out
As a finale to another great semester of waste reduction and recycling efforts, U-M provided spring move-out Donation Stations to the Residence Halls. This program asked students moving out of the Residence Halls to donate their excess clothing, bedding, nonperishable foods and toiletries, and household items to charity. There were 10.48 tons of total donations collected this year!

What’s next?
The fifth annual Office Supply Reuse Day takes place this June. FREE office supplies collected from U-M departments will be made available for other U-M departments and local nonprofit organizations to take. Find out more information at

Monday, January 16, 2017

Waste Reduction New Year's Resolutions (part 2)

New Year’s Waste Reduction Resolutions (Part 2)

Happy New Year from the Recycling Office at the University of Michigan! The Recycling blog has released a new set of waste reduction resolutions for the environmentally conscious citizen in 2017! Check out last year’s resolutions for more ways to make 2017 greener.

Super Easy Resolutions


Pair every trash bin in your home with a recycling bin. Update your home for the New Year by making sure every trash can has a complementary recycling bin. These extra recycling bins can be small or large depending on the room. Place a large bin in shared spaces and use something small like a shoe box to fit under a personal desk. This New Year resolution will make recycling much more convenient! It may also encourage family members or roommates who are new to recycling.

Learn what’s recyclable on campus and tell a friend! The standardization of recycling, compost, and landfill bin signs across campus makes knowing what’s recyclable easier than ever! The University accepts almost all recyclables, though there are a few exceptions that you should pay attention to, such as disposable coffee cups, glass, and biodegradable plastics. Check out to get a full list of what can and cannot be recycled on campus. Let your friends know too!

Find out how to mend and properly care for clothing and other belongings. Dedicate some time in the new year to learning how to sew on a button or to stitch tears in clothing and backpacks. These skills will make your clothing last longer and they might even help you out in a last minute wardrobe malfunction. You can also make clothing last longer by hanging clothes to dry rather than using an electric dryer. This saves energy and reduces the amount of dryer sheets thrown away.

Bit-of-a-Challenge Resolutions


Audit your refrigerator. Everyone wastes some food, so join the effort to reduce food waste in 2017. Stick a note on your fridge and keep track of any food that goes from the fridge to the trash (or compost bin). Use that list to better plan your shopping trips!

Go vegetarian. For one or two days a week this year, prepare only vegetarian meals. Not only will this help out with your other resolutions to make 2017 a little healthier, it will also reduce the amount of packaging you throw out. Fresh fruits and veggies are often less packaged than meats and other foods in the grocery store. Take this waste reduction resolution to the next level by bringing reusable bags when grocery shopping.

Commit to your thermos. Prepare to become inseparable with your reusable thermos or travel mug because 2017 is the year to eliminate disposable coffee cups from your life. Keep a reusable mug at work and a travel mug in your bag or backpack to make sure you stick with your resolution.

Full Fledged Commitment Resolutions

Recycle your electronics. Gather your old electronics and take them to your nearest e-waste (electronic waste) recycler. If your city doesn’t provide e-waste recycling, store them in a bin until this spring when U-M hosts its annual free e-Waste Recycling Event.
Stop using paper towels. Replace paper towels with reusable cloth towels. If you use paper towels for cleaning, then switch them with cut out rags made from old clothing.

Do a personal waste audit. Collect all your trash and recyclables for a day, but don’t hold on to food waste-- you can just keep note of the food that you do compost or throw out. Find out what you're throwing away most frequently and personalize your new year’s resolution to eliminate or reduce the use of those items over this year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tips for a Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is all about sharing tradition and food with friends and family. So what better a time is there to start some new traditions? Many of the current Turkey Day traditions, like the types of food we eat and the quantities, lead to a literal tons of waste. Nearly 204 million pounds of edible turkey meat are thrown away every Thanksgiving (approximately 35% of turkey meat produced). The EPA estimates that this holiday also marks the beginning of a season of increased waste production by about 25% that lasts through New Years. That’s a lot of waste.

We can show our thanks for the harvest by reducing our food waste and being mindful of the types of food we serve. Luckily, there are many easy (and yummy) ways to bring green traditions into your classic Thanksgiving celebration.

Here are 8 tips for a green Thanksgiving:

1. Plan your feast according to the number people attending your event. Only cook as much as your guests can eat for dinner. Leftovers are great, but if you’re throwing away more than kitchen scraps then you might want to calibrate the menu.

2. Coordinate with family members to find out what they actually want to eat. If there’s a casserole that always seems to go uneaten, replace it with something your guests will love.

3. Swap out canned or frozen veggies for freshly picked produce. Fresh produce will not only be better for your health, it’ll also mean less packaging and waste sent to landfills.

4. Start a new tradition of going to the farmers market to stock up on good fresh produce before the big day. This an incredibly easy way for you to buy locally grown and in-season foods. Local foods require less energy and produce fewer emissions than veggies that must be packaged, refrigerated, and shipped from out of town and often across the country.

5. Go vegetarian! The most energy costly foods are meats (looking at you turkey). So try out some new vegetarian recipes to replace that Thanksgiving staple. Check out these turkey alternatives here and here.

6. Use reusable plates, napkins, and silverware. Be sure to enlist your guests in loading the dishwasher after the meal for fast clean up!

7. Send guests home with leftovers and compost any remaining food waste.

8. Recycle! If you can’t avoid the odd canned food item or decide to wrap leftovers in foil, remember to throw those materials in the recycle bin.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Eat Ugly Food, Reduce Food Waste

Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
How do you decide which fresh foods end up in your grocery cart? If you’re like most people, you go by how they look.

The moment we walk into the grocery store, we are met with a colorful variety of produce. What’s interesting is that we shoppers expect every individual fruit or veggie to look perfect. We often think that how the produce looks will determine its quality. However, that is decidedly false. Smaller produce, slightly misshapen produce, and blemished produce are just as nutritious and taste equally as yummy, if not better, than their perfectly formed counterparts.

Why should we care that “ugly food” gets a bad rap? Consumers have power, and when we use our eyes to pick produce, we send a message to farmers and grocery stores that we only want perfect looking foods. This means that a shocking amount of ugly food--food that does not meet grocery store’s aesthetic standards--is wasted before it even gets to the grocery store.

Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
The EPA estimates that 31% (133 billion pounds) of food is wasted each year. This large amount of food waste sent to landfills contributes to 18% of total U.S. methane emissions. Much of wasted food is nutritious and safe to eat, but has been thrown away because it fails to meet aesthetic standards, portion sizes are too large, use by labels are misread, and for many other reasons.

Fruits and vegetables very rarely grow in the ideal shape, size, and color commonly sold in grocery stores across the country. In fact, it takes many extra resources, like water, fertilizer, and pesticides, in order to produce those magazine ready fruits and veggies.

What can we do help reduce food waste?
Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg
Buy ugly food at the grocery store!
Try to find produce retailers near you that sell “ugly food”
Shop at your local farmer’s market
Make a list and only buy what you need from the store
Eat left overs first before you make a new meal

What is U-M doing to reduce food waste?
The University of Michigan composts pre and post-consumer food waste at its dining halls. This fall also welcomes a new pilot post consumer composting program at the Fields Cafe!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hard-to-Recycle Waste and How to Recycle It

Between Recycling at the University of Michigan and Recycle Ann Arbor, students living on and off campus can recycle most of their waste. Paper, plastic containers, metal, and cardboard are all easily recycled with only a few exceptions. Find the full list of items accepted for recycling at U-M here.

However, there are items that are too difficult to be recycled when placed into a single stream recycling system. Small plastic items, binders, and plastic cleaning product caps and pumps are just some of the items that can’t be thrown into a normal recycling bin.

Luckily, TerraCycle makes it possible for individuals and organizations to recycle their hard-to-recycle waste. This company offers free recycling programs that lets you ship in your hard-to-recycle items.

Take the extra step to recycle those tricky products by taking advantage of these programs offered by the University of Michigan, Recycle Ann Arbor, and TerraCycle! You might even discover some odd items that can be recycled through these programs.
Photo retrieved from TerraCycle

Credit Cards and ID Cards
Send in plastic ID cards and credit cards via campus mail to be recycled the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office at the address below!

Plastic Card Recycling
109 E Madison, 2943

Bottle Caps
Send us your plastic or metal bottle caps to be recycled if you’re on the Ann Arbor campus. Learn how to here.

Plastic Pencils and Pens
Through the Recycle Write program, you can recycle your plastic writing utensils (no wooden pencils please) by setting up your own collection box on campus! Attach this informational poster to your recycling box. This program, made in conjunction with TerraCycle, will also produce $0.02 in donations for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for every item recycled!

Email when the box is full and we will send you a prepaid shipping label to send the box off for recycling.

U-M now offers binder recycling, a program made possible by teaming up with TerraCycle! Contact to find out how to get those old binders recycled.

If you’re on your way to shop for new school supplies, you may just want to take your old binders with you. At certain store locations, OfficeMax and Office Depot collect binders for recycling for free! You will also receive $2 in savings when you hand over your old or broken binders.

Water Filters
Did your Brita or PUR water pitcher break when you moved out of the dorms? Or is it just time to replace the water filters? You can ship dry Brita and PUR products to TerraCycle to be recycled for free!
Photo retrieved from TerraCycle

Cleaning Product Packaging
TerraCycle accepts pumps, caps, and triggers from spray bottles and disinfecting wipes packaging. Ship them in for free!

Personal Care and Beauty Product Packaging
If you’ve ever lived with roommates, you know just how quickly dozens of plastic containers from shampoo and soap can fill up a dorm room or apartment! Collect that empty packaging and ship them to be recycled by TerraCycle for free! You can also send in tooth brushes and empty toothpaste packaging if they are Colgate Brand.

Recycle Ann Arbor Drop Off Station
If you’re a dedicated recycler, hold on to vegetable oil and glass containers and take them the Recycle Ann Arbor Drop Off Station.

U-M has suspended its recycling of glass, but did you know that the U-M dining halls collect cooking oil to be recycled?

Still curious about what can be recycled at U-M? Visit