Recycling for Students in Dorms

Recycle More! 

We've made recycling at Brown even easier - you can now recycle all plastic containers, boxes, paper, aluminum and glass! You can now put all your recyclables in the white bucket in your room and then transfer them to the blue bins in your dorm’s recycling center. We still ask you to sort in public areas around campus. When you see these bins use the Mixed Containers bin for plastic containers, glass containers, aluminum and foil.  Use the Mixed Paper bin for cardboard, paper, and cartons.

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Recycling FAQs: 

What's Changed?

You can now recycle more plastics!
In fact, all plastic containers up to 2 gallons are now recyclable. Don’t worry about the numbers or the little triangle. Is it a plastic container? Is it 2 gallons or smaller? If so, recycle it! This means  you can now recycle plastic jars, tubs, cups, yogurt containers, egg cartons and take out containers too.  Just make sure you dump your food waste into the trash before recycling.

  • bottles – e.g. soda, shampoo, water
  • jugs – milk, juice, detergent
  • jars – mayo, peanut butter, jelly  
  • tubs – butter, ice cream, margarine  
  • plastic take out containers  
  • iced coffee cups  
  • yogurt containers 
  • plastic egg cartons 

It’s now OK to mix your recyclables together in your dorm! Around campus we still ask you to sort. But in your dorm, it’s one bin to rule them all!

What shouldn’t I recycle? Why?

It’s actually a pretty short list. But there are some key items that can’t be recycled, these include:

  • Plastic bags - Plastic bags are made of such low quality plastic our recycling brokers can’t use them.  You can take them back to the store.  CVS on Thayer will recycle them, or better yet, bring your own reusable bag!

  • Hot/coffee cups - these cups are coated or treated with a chemical that prevents them from breaking down when wet – precisely what recyclers need it to do! For this reason, hot cups are not accepted for recycling.

  • Styrofoam - the market for recycling Styrofoam is very small because it is hard to reuse.  Try to avoid it by bringing your own mug or container when eating out.  If you can't reduce your Styrofoam use, check out the RIRRC Recyclopedia for local recycling options.  

  • K‐cups, oatmeal and chip canisters (Hybrid packaging i.e. metal/paper/plastic mix) – The general rule of thumb is this: The more materials used to make a single package, the harder it is to both sort it and to find a recycling market for it.

  • Refrigerated and frozen food boxes – e.g. butter, pizza, soda, TV dinner - these boxes are coated or treated with a chemical that prevents them from breaking down when wet – precisely what recyclers need it to do! For this reason, refrigerated and frozen food boxes are not accepted for recycling.

  • Greasy pizza boxes - The grease from the pizza is the problem. Paper mills use water to mush down your cardboard back into pulp, and oil and water don’t mix! For this reason, greasy cardboard is a contaminant to our paper buyers and is not accepted for recycling. If the top of the box is entirely clean, please do rip it off and place it in your recycling bin, throwing the greasy part in the trash.

  • Chip bags and candy wrappers - these are most often hybrid materials (see above) and there is only a very small niche market for them.  If you are a hard-core recycler you can check out TerraCycle to see how to start your own collection for these materials.  

    If you find yourself frequently purchasing an item that is not recyclable for any of these reasons, contact the company directly and let them know you’d appreciate seeing packaging for their product in a single material that is more easily recycled.  

What about “compostable” or “biodegradable” containers? Can I recycle those?

No. Plant-based compostable and biodegradable containers, like the to-go cups and boxes you get at the Ratty or Blue State Coffee, are designed to break down in natural environments.  Please throw them in the trashcan; because they have a different chemical composition they can’t be recycled with normal petroleum based plastics.  

Not sure if your container is “compostable” or “biodegradable”?  Check the bottom! It should be written there.  

How is this different from what I do at home?

Many states, including Rhode Island, have different recycling systems for the residential and commercial sectors.  Since Brown is a private non-profit, we are responsible for collecting and recycling our own waste.  Recycling rules also vary from state to state. Learn more about what and how you can recycle at home by researching your municipality's recycling rules.  

Why do I have to sort my recyclables?

Sorting helps to maintain the high quality of our recyclables. At Brown, we set the goal of saving resources by using recycled material to make new things. Separating fibers (mixed paper and cardboard) from containers keeps both streams of materials in better shape.  This makes our recyclables more attractive to the companies that purchase these materials. This way Brown saves more money and more of the things you put in the recycling bin actually get reused.  

Why recycle? Does my one bottle really matter? 

Yes! Every can and bottle counts.  Extracting the natural resources needed to make paper, plastic and aluminum uses a lot of energy.  Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to power your laptop for 5 hours! Check out this EPA widget to calculate your saving power. 

Where does our trash and recycling go?

At Brown, our waste is collected by a local company called Waste Haulers. They truck our recyclables to their transfer station in Pawtucket, RI where they are sorted, processed and packaged to be sold to industries that use recycled materials. Our trash is incinerated at a waste-to-energy facility in Massachusetts.

What should I do if I don’t have a recycling bin or I see a place on campus that needs one?

Call the Service Response line at (401) 863 -7800 and let them know what you need. If you want, you can forward the e-mail confirmation you receive after the call to recycle@brown.edu so we can help you follow up.

What should I do if my dorm's recycling center, kitchen or lounge needs new signage? 

Please e-mail Recycle@Brown.edu.  Your Area EcoRep can put up new signage, rearrange bins, contact your custodial supervisor and answer any questions you might have about recycling in your dorm.  

How much stuff does Brown recycle each year?

Last year, Brown University diverted 43% or 1,508 tons of solid waste from the landfill by recycling construction debris, bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, electronics, food scraps, yard trimmings, and miscellaneous items such as clothing, furniture and bedding

What are the biggest problems with recycling at Brown?

We lose a lot of our recyclables to the incinerator because our recycling bins are contaminated with trash and food waste. If a bag of recyclables has more than 5% food waste contamination, it’s too messy to recycle. The whole bag gets thrown in the incinerator. You can help by making sure you NEVER throw food in a recycling bin!

What can I do to help?

You already have! By reading this fact sheet you have made yourself a recycling expert ready to help reduce waste at Brown. Knowledge is Power! Use what you’ve learned and share it with your friends! If you want to get even more involved, check out the environmental student groups page.  

Still have questions? E-mail recycle@brown.edu

Adapted from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation's Recycle Together page.  Images courtesy of  RIRRC.