Waste Management and Recycling

Waste Management and Recycling

Penn recycles about 30% of its total waste stream, diverting over 2,000 tons of material from landfills annually. Facilities and Real Estate Services is responsible for the collection of municipal waste and recyclables at Penn. The University has special recycling for computers, printers, batteries, and fluorescent light bulbs. Our services and programs help the individual reduce their waste stream, reuse products to extend their life cycle, and recycle products at the end of their life cycle.

We color code our waste to make proper disposal and recycling easier - blue is for recycling, gray or black is for trash, and green is for compost and food waste.  Examples of the color-coded bags and containers are included in this pdf.  Posters of what items should be recycled and thrown away are available for download on the Green Campus Partnership website

Help inform your peers about proper recycling practices.

What can you recycle?

Below is a detailed list of what can be recycled on campus:

Mixed Paper

Mixed paper is the term used for all types and grades of paper. Paper and cardboard are collected together from all buildings on campus. Almost all paper, with a few exceptions, can be recycled.

  • Office Paper
  • Junk Mail
  • Bulk Packs
  • Glossy Paper
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Notebooks
  • Catalogs
  • Paperbacks
  • Brown Paper Bags
  • Phone Books
  • NO Hardcover Books
  • NO Wax Paper
  • NO Soiled Paper

Departments can recycle hardcover book for a fee by arranging a pick-up through Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services. Contact sustainability@upenn.edu for more information.

All other hardcover books can be donated to your local library. Many bookstores (including the Penn Bookstore @ 36th and Walnut) offer buy-back opportunities for used textbooks.


Empty & Flatten:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Clean pizza boxes
  • Drink and ice cream cartons
  • Fiber board (ex: cereal boxes)
  • NO Wax-Coated Cardboard
  • NO Food Soiled Cardboard

Did you know?

The capacity of a recycling dumpster increases 8-10 times when boxes are broken down. Corrugated cardboard boxes and pizza boxes must be emptied and flattened for recycling.

In Academic/Administrative buildings, put flattened cardboard boxes next to any recycling bin in the building. (This indicates to the housekeeping staff that the box is meant to be recycled.) In College Houses, place flattened boxes in their designated location.

Glass, Plastics #1 - #7, and Metals

Glass, all plastic, and metals are recyclable materials that are collected together, or "commingled," in College Houses, academic/administrative buildings, and outdoor locations across campus.


  • All glass food and beverage containers (all colors)
  • NO window glass
  • NO light bulbs

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb recycling bins are located at all College House info desks.


All plastic containers, wrappers, and bags are now recyclable on campus. Examples include:

  • Plastic cups, bottles, and lids
  • Shampoo and detergent bottles
  • Milk jugs and yogurt containers
  • Plastic packaging
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic wrap
  • Candy and chip wrappers
  • NO Foam Products

Did you know?

Most plastics are turned into new items such as plastic pots, polyester for carpets and jacket fillings, and outdoor furniture.


  • Aluminum Cans
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Empty Aerosol Cans
  • Steel & ferrous cans (canned goods, coffee cans, etc.)
  • NO batteries or electronics

What should be put in the trash?

The following items are not recyclable, and should be placed in the trash.

Food Waste

  • Uneaten Food
  • Kitchen Scraps

Food waste from all Penn Dining Halls is composted. Select buildings on campus also provide composting services. Please contact you local Eco-Rep for more information.

Soiled Paper

  • Used Paper Plates, Cups, and Napkins


  • Foam cups and plates
  • Foam containers
  • Foam Packing Inserts or "peanuts"

Special Items (Universal Waste and E-Waste)

For information on how to recycle computer, batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and other electronic equipment, please visit the Special Waste and Recycling section of the Green Campus Partnership website.

Where to recycle

BigBelly trash receptacle

Office and Education Buildings

Each office and educational building handles its waste and recycling differently. Please look for designated bins and recycling areas in your building.

College Houses

All of our College House participate in our recycling program. Please use the recycling containers located at or in your college house or Sansom Place.

Outdoor receptacles and triplets

There are a number of outdoor locations for recycling, including trash and recycling "triplets" and BigBelly solar compactors. FRES' current trashcan consolidation initiative will ensure that all outdoor trash bins are accompanied by at least one recycling bin by the end of the Spring 2012 semester.

Did you know?

Penn installed ten BigBelly solar-powered compacting trash cans with recycling bins along Walnut and Spruce Streets to increase your public recycling options. These cans compact trash so that the container stores up to four times the capacity of a regular trash can!


The University composts all leaves to be re-used on the campus landscape. In addition, Penn’s Morris Arboretum provides composting facilities for the entire neighboring municipality of Springfield Township, allowing both garden waste drop-off and free compost.

What can you do?

To find out what you can do to reduce your waste and for more information about waste and recycling practices, visit the Minimizing Waste section of the Green Campus Partnership website.