Recycling FAQ


Recycling right can not only save money, it can also save energy and natural resources. When materials are properly recycled, they can be made in new products and let raw materials have to be extracted from the earth and processed into feedstock for new products.

Mixed Recycling (sometimes referred to as single stream recycling) means that plastic, glass, metal, paper and cardboard recyclables can be put in the same recycling container - making the choice to recycle even easier. The recycling is then hauled to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it is sorted by commodity, bailed and shipped to market.

MRF stands for Materials Recovery Facility. It is a facility that receives mixed recycled materials and then, through a combination of equipment and manual labor, separates and densifies the materials in preparation for shipment to downstream recyclers of the particular materials recovered.

RIT's contracted waste hauler, Casella, transports RIT's recycling to the Monroe County Recycling Center MRF. From there it is sorted, processed into bales, and shipped out to manufacturers to make new products.

Differences exist between locations and collection company guidelines due to the MRF operators’ access to markets, sorting technology, and composition of the waste stream in a given area.

Clean means no liquid, food, or product residue remaining. Containers that held liquids should be rinsed before recycling when possible. Containers that held food or other products should be rinsed and scraped so that there is no residue remaining. If you do not have access to clean a dirty recyclable, then it should be put in the trash so that is does not contaminate other clean recyclables. One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch when it comes to food and liquid contamination of recyclables.

The rule is when in doubt, throw it out. “Wish-cycling” is the practice of including an item in the recycle bin even though you are unsure if it is acceptable because you really want it to be recycled. Not only does this add to the time and cost of processing recyclables, but it can be harmful to the equipment and employees at the recycling center. Recycling right does not just mean putting the right items in the recycling bin. It is equally important to keep the wrong items out of the recycling bin and putting items in the landfill bin.

Products and packing are constantly evolving and it is not feasible to collect, process, and make every material into new products at this time. Recycling is important to natural resource conservation, but it also requires financial and environmental resources (transportation, energy etc.) Waste reduction and reuse are the Environmental Protection Agency’s most environmentally preferred methods (before recycling) for sustainable materials management. Waste reduction means not generating waste and recyclables in the first place.

Rather than asking why can’t this be recycled, our first questions should be: Do I really need this item? Is there is an alternative that would make less waste? Can I bring my own reusable item instead? Is there an alternative that is minimally packaged or packaged in recyclable containers? And consider the EPA Material management hierarchy

waste hierarchy

Located near the airport, the Ecopark serves as a “one stop drop off” facility for residential recycling. It accepts a host of materials including: bulky plastics, film plastics, foam packaging, clothing for donation, electronic waste (fees may apply), household hazardous waste (appointment required), pharmaceuticals and pill bottles, etc. For a full list of accepted items, associated fees and necessary appointments, visit

Goodbye, Goodbuy! is a student-run move-out program where RIT students donate their unwanted items upon moving out in the spring. Items collected are appropriately sorted to be donated to local non-profits or to be stored over the summer for the fall sale. This keeps thousands of pounds of usable items out of landfills.

  • Avoid purchasing items with a lot of packaging, and when possible, buy products made out of recycled content. Purchasing second hand items, renting, or sharing items is also a great to reduce waste and save money!
  • Donate your unwanted items to Goodbye, Goodbuy! at the end of Spring Semester when you're moving out. Collection sites can be found in every dorm and all on-campus Apartment complexes.
  • Donate surplus food to RIT FoodShare (located in Riverknoll, but there are collection points all throughout campus dorms and apartments). FoodShare is a great resource for the campus community!
  • Buy reusable and say no to disposables! Bring your own thermos or mug for coffee and tea, grocery bags, water bottle, lunch box, bring your own silverware, and use OZZY containers at campus dining halls!
  • Educate yourself. The most important part of reducing our waste understanding where it is coming from so you can work to reduce it through your personal choices.

Check with consignment shop or thrift stores around the area to see if they will pick it up. If you can fit it in your car, you can also drop it off at one of the many second hand stores just down the street from campus. Sites like Craigslist and RIT Free and For Sale work too!

Email RIT’s recycling coordinator: with any other questions you have.


Plastic bottles, jugs, jars and tubs are the main types of containers accepted for recycling. Acceptable plastic containers are frequently found in kitchens and bathrooms.

Bottles: are defined with a neck or mouth smaller than the base. Drink bottles are the most common, but even squeeze bottles (like ketchup or dish soap) and pump or spray bottles (like hand soap and cleaning products) are acceptable.


Jugs: are plastic containers with a neck smaller than the base, and have handle. Milk, vinegar, laundry detergent, and windshield fluid are examples of acceptable jugs.


Jars: are wide mouth containers that typically close with a screw cap. Peanut butter, mayonnaise, and sauce are examples of acceptable plastic jars.


Tubs: are containers with a mouth the same size or larger than the base and generally have a separate snap-on lid. Dairy products such as butter, margarine, and sour cream are examples of acceptable plastic tubs. Single-serve yogurt containers are also acceptable.


Even though more and more types of packaging are now made from plastic, not everything is recyclable. Size, shape, and the type of plastic all play a role in recyclability. Recycle plastics by shape, not by number. If it is a plastic bottle, jug, jar or tub then:

  • Make sure it is clean, dry, and empty.
  • Reattach caps, lids, and pumps.
  • Put it in the mixed recycling bin.

Plastics that are not a bottle, jug, jar or tub are generally not accepted for Mixed Recycling. This includes plastic bags/film/wraps, single-use plastics, pill bottles, plastic drink cups, loose caps and lids, all types of foam (commonly known by brand name Styrofoam™), plastic flower pots, CD/DVD cases, pouches, blister packaging, clamshells or to-go containers, microwavable trays, pool covers/liners, and plastic tarps.

not recyclable

Plastic bags CANNOT be put in the Mixed Recycling containers because they can damage recycling equipment at the MRF, which has been engineered to process paper and rigid containers, not flexible films. Plastic bags wrap around the rotating gears at MRFs, requiring employees to stop equipment at least once a day to cut bags out of the equipment. This reduces the efficiency of the recycling process and increases labor and equipment costs. Also, it is extremely important that bags and wraps are clean and dry, and collecting them in curbside bins with bottles and containers generally leaves them too dirty and wet to be recycled.

Instead, plastic bags and film can be recycled on campus in collection bins near both post offices. They can also be returned to stores or taken to the Ecopark. After bags and plastic films are returned to stores, they are sent to a processing facility specifically designed to recycle flexible plastic wrap.

plastic bags discs

Due to their small size and diversity of plastic resin types, these materials cannot be properly sorted at the recycling plant. These items should always be disposed of in the trash if you have them. Better yet choose reusable items and avoid waste.

These items contaminate otherwise good recyclables. If a load of recycling contains non-recyclables – even by just a fraction – that entire load risks not being recycled. In many cases, single-use plastics are improperly sorted into the glass stream at the recycling center due to their small size. This photo shows the sorted glass at the MRF. You can see caps, lids, straws, pill bottles, and a variety of small plastic pieces. The presence of these materials makes it very difficult to reuse and recycle glass


Pill bottles should not be recycled primarily for public safety reasons. Inadvertently, pills may be left in bottles and put in recycle bins, which creates the risk of medicine falling into the wrong hands or being improperly disposed. Second, the small size of pill bottles means that they typically fall through the sorting equipment at the recycling center and contaminate the glass stream. The best option is to bring empty pill bottles to the Ecopark or another pharmaceutical drop off location for energy recovery. Both prescription and over the counter medicine bottles are accepted.

The recycling system sorts items by shape and size and items, like cups, that get flattened during collection are improperly sorted. Plastic cups and drink lids get flattened during collection in compaction trucks and end up at the recycling center as two dimensional materials, following the path of those items in the system. Because the recycling center is designed to sort two dimensional items into the paper stream, plastic cups end up contaminating recyclable paper. Plastic drink cups, whether they are colored cups or clear plastic, are not acceptable for recycling and should be put in the landfill bin. Single-serve yogurt containers are accepted for curbside recycling locally. They are typically rigid enough to maintain their three dimensional shape and be sorted correctly. As long as they are rinsed and clean, you can put yogurt cups in the mixed recycling bins

Foam (commonly known by trade name Styrofoam™) cannot be placed in recycling bins. There are no cost effective outlets for used foam food containers. Check with local farmers’ market vendors to see if they can reuse foam egg cartons or contact the manufacturer to inquire about mail back recycling programs. Foam meat trays, coffee cups, takeout containers or other post-consumer items have no local recycling option and should be placed in the landfill bin. The Ecopark will accept clean, white, block packing foam only. It DOES NOT accept any food related foam or packing peanuts

Caps and lids are recyclable if they are reattached to containers. Loose caps fall through the sorting equipment at the recycling center due to their small size.

The recycle symbol with a number in the center, called a Resin Identification Code, was created by the plastics industry for plastic manufacturers and was never intended to indicate recyclability to consumers. Shape is a better guideline for plastics recycling. Recycle plastic bottles, jugs, jars and tubs. If the item is not one of those shapes, it is best to leave it out of your recycle bin.

Paper and Cardboard

Clean pizza boxes can be recycled. First, remove any wax paper lining and dispose in trash. If the bottom of the box is covered in grease and food residue, tear it off and dispose of that portion in the trash (or compost where accepted) and only recycle the clean lid.

Food and beverage cartons and drink boxes such as milk, juice, soup broth, water, and wine (refrigerated and shelf-stable items) can all be recycled. Make sure to empty cartons and reattach caps before recycling.


First, these items are usually wet or dirty, which makes them trash since recyclables need to be clean and dry. Second, these products are already made from recycled paper. Each time paper is recycled, the fibers become shorter and shorter, until they cannot be recycled again. Paper towels and napkins can often be composted. Choose reusable dish towels and napkins to reduce waste.

Paper cups are typically lined with a thin layer of plastic to make them waterproof and able to handle hot and cold temperatures. This multi-layer mixed material cannot be effectively separated by recycling processors. The best option is to avoid single-use cups and bring a reusable mug to reduce waste. Drink cup lids are also not accepted for Mixed Recycling. Loose caps and lids are too small and flat to be effectively sorted at the recycling center and must be reattached to their container to be recycled. Since cups are not recyclable, their lids cannot be recycled either. The best choice is to use your own cup. All RIT coffee shops offer a discount if you use your own mug, most off campus coffee shops do too!

Envelopes with plastic windows are accepted for Mixed Recycling. This small amount of plastic is sorted out at the processing plant.

Padded envelopes are not accepted for Mixed Recycling. This is a multi‐layer mixed material product that cannot be effectively separated by recycling processors.

Shredded paper should be put in a paper bag and folded over or stapled shut before putting it in the mixed recycling bins so that is doesn’t become loose and contaminate other recyclables. DO NOT put shredded paper in plastic bags for recycling.

Cardboard boxes should be emptied (remove any plastic wrap, foam, packing materials etc.) and flattened. If they are too big to fit in the mixed recycling bin, places them against the wall behind the bin so they do not create a tripping hazard in the hallways.

Catalog Choice allows you to opt out of junk mail and catalogs you do not wish to receive either at home or at work. You can also opt out of receiving phone books by registering at the National Yellow Pages consumer choice website. Both opt out solutions are free to use.

Yes these items can go in the mixed recycling bins. But if you think someone else might like to read them, you can also put them on the book and magazine sharing shelves located in the basement of the library, in the Goodbye, Goodbuy! collection bins during move out, or donate them to a thrift store.

Hardcover books CANNOT be put in the Mixed Recycling Bins. Consider donation or another reuse option first, such as the book and magazine sharing shelves located in the basement of the library, in the Goodbye Goodbuy collection bins during move out, or donating them to a thrift store. If the books are out of date or cannot be reused, the pages need to be cut and separated from the binding to recycle the paper.


Aluminum foil must be clean and dry for recycling. Ball it up so that it is about the size of a baseball or larger to make sure that it is effectively sorted at the recycling center. Clean aluminum pans and trays are also acceptable for Mixed Recycling.

Empty aerosol cans (no liquid inside and depressurized) can be put in the mixed recycling bins. Caps should be reattached. Any waste aerosol cans that are not empty or are pressurized (i.e. broken or non-functioning)) are handled as hazardous waste. Please contact Environmental Health and Safety for assistance (585) 475-2040. Personal household spray paint or pesticide cans should be brought to Household Hazardous Waste collections (available twice a week at the Ecopark by appointment)

Yes, labels may be left on metal cans.

Metal lids can be recycled if they are left attached to cans. Metal bottle caps that cannot be reattached to glass bottles or lids that are not attached to cans, may be into cans of matching metal (for example, steel lids into steel cans and aluminum caps into aluminum cans) if the tops of the cans are pinched closed to hold the caps and lids in.

Yes, metal pots and pans are accepted for Mixed Recycling. If they are in good condition, consider donating them through the Goodbye, Goodbuy! program or an area thrift store. Glass lids should not be included for recycling


Glass bottles and jars are accepted for Mixed Recycling.

Non-bottle glass including dishware, light bulbs, heat resistant glass (Pyrex™), mirror and window glass have a different melting point than bottle glass. These materials can damage the furnace used during glass manufacturing and cause impurities in new containers.

Glass that is processed in mixed recycling Material Recovery Facilities (MRF), is typically sent for “Beneficial Use” at landfills. The NYSDEC has given landfills across the state approval to use MRF glass as Alternative Daily Cover, reducing the amount of virgin soil necessary to cover waste at the end of the working day. Glass can also be used as road base or in construction efforts at landfills. MRF glass is a low quality commodity because it is typically contaminated with a number of plastic and paper items. In states where there is a Bottle Bill (such as New York), glass manufacturers have a consistent supply of high quality recycled glass to purchase from redemption centers where the glass is clean and color sorted.

Returnable glass bottles are recycled into new glass bottles and other products. If you want your glass bottles to be recycled into new materials, the best option is to bring them back to the store or to redemption centers. In the residence halls there are specific bottle and can collection bins in the waste closets.


Keeps food waste out of the landfill saves space and reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In a landfill, organic material is covered with other trash. Microorganisms break down the organics anaerobically (without oxygen). The main by-product of this anaerobic breakdown is Methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

RIT captures pre-consumer food scraps in the kitchens at, the Student Alumni Union (SAU), the Commons, and Gracie's. Post-consumer food waste is also captured at Gracie’s. These materials are hauled to Noblehurst Farms where they become feed-stock for an Anaerobic Digester.

An anaerobic digester is an intentionally created environment where organic materials are broken down anaerobically (without oxygen), producing biogas. The biogas is captured and used to generate electricity. The material left over after digestion is a compost-like, nutrient rich humus that can also be used as a fertilizer.

RIT currently does not offer composting to the general population on campus because of high risk of contamination of materials and a lack of locations to take the material to once it's been collected. Fiber materials like napkins, paper plates, and paper cups are not beneficial for anaerobic digesters and therefore not accepted by our current organics vendor. Finding a viable option for composting our campus' organic material will be high priority in the coming years.

Much of the information provided here was modified from Monroe County’s Recycling FAQs:

Frequently Asked Questions About Mixed Recycling