My name is Steven, and I’ve spent three years living in campus co-ops.
Like many of you, I’m rather flummoxed in the kitchen sometimes. I’m standing there with an item in my hand, and I just don’t know the best way to get rid of it. We all want to recycle and compost as much as possible; we want to minimize our dumpage to the landfill, but it’s hard sometimes. Do you know where to put bubble wrap? How about soymilk cartons? What about tea bags? What about the wrappers in which tea bags come?!
So I did some investigating to get to the bottom of where commonly-misplaced items ought to go, checking in with published materials and emailing Julie Muir from Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc. the University’s recycling and garbage company. Everything pretty much makes sense, just like the handy-dandy sign you should print out and put in your kitchen and room. But then there are a few weirdo objects that often get misplaced that I wanted to bring to your attention.
Milk and juice cartons, and soymilk, almondmilk, ricemilk containers. Aka aeseptic containers. I used to think they were unrecyclable (as they are in Palo Alto), but Stanford is different! Anyway, the take-home point is they go in the plastics/metals/glass recycling, just like other milk containers.
All your tinfoil goes in the plastics/metals/glass recycling. It doesn’t have to be squeaky clean, but chunks of food do not belong in the recycling bins.
Pizza boxes, donut boxes, and other paper contaminated with food goes in the compost!
Normal corrugated cardboard gets its own big green dumpster. But waxed cardboard has wax infused in the paper fibers and can’t be recycled. It also goes in the compost! (also makes great fire starter).
Plastic grocery bags, bubble wrap, and other dry film plastics go in the paper recycling! They are picked out down the line and recycled in their own way to become mold-resistant lumber! How cool.
Tea bags go in the compost, but most wrappers in which teabags come go in the trash!* I know they seem like paper, but they’re an airproof/waterproof plastic-fused-with-paper deadly combo and they cannot be recycled or composted. So keep them out of those streams!
*Cheaper teabags sometimes come in pure paper wrappers (like Lipton tea). Those you can recycle with other paper. It’s pretty obvious when they’re not all shiny or plastic-y on the insides.
So let’s try to keep as much out of the landfill stream as possible. And remember the larger context: the best way to do that is to consume less overall, find reuses for things headed towards waste, and buy in bulk (with less packaging) in the first place.
We and the rest of America also generate an inordinate amount of garbage each year. And much of that garbage is actually edible food! In fact, some “dumpster divers” get nearly all of their food by salvaging the “garbage” supermarkets throw out on a daily basis. This inspired Jeremy Seifert to produce Dive, a film about why America sends so much edible food straight to the landfill which I encourage you to check out if you’re interested in more info on the topic.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about dumpster diving or putting on a screening of Dive.
Steven Crane is a recently graduated HumBio major, co-op enthusiast, and dumpster diver. He lives in and loves Synergy, and will stay on The Farm next year as a Course Associate for HumBio. He also welcomes any feedback.
- General recycling at Stanford info
- More FAQs than you’ve ever had
Thanks to Julie Muir for her confirmations on these tricky cases.
Julie leads the construction and demolition waste diversion program and the food waste collection and composting program. She also continues to expand the campus recycling services. She advocates for a zero waste campus through a comprehensive program of waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and sustainable purchasing. Julie has lead over 20 audits of campus trash to provide the Stanford community with meaningful data to improve targeted waste reduction.