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What Can be Recycled at Caltech?

Q. Do COVID-19 precautions require us to use single-use items for everything?

A. No, reusables are safe for use during the COVID-19 pandemic as long as proper hygiene practices are followed. This article from MIT helps explain in more detail.

Q. What can be recycled?

A. The following materials can be recycled in the central recycling stations or at the building loading dock:

Mixed Paper

  • Yes: Office and Copy Paper, Magazines, Glossy, Folders, Newsprint, Envelopes, Phonebooks, Paper Board (i.e. cereal boxes, etc.), and Booklets
  • No: Food, Liquid, Napkins, Paper Towels, Tissues, Wax Paper, or Foil

Cans and Bottles

  • Yes: Any Plastic, Glass, or Aluminum Containers with a Cash Redemption Value. This includes most Water, Soft Drinks, Sports Drinks, Coffee and Tea Beverages, Fruit Drinks Under 46 Ounces, Vegetable Juice Under 16 Ounces, Beer, and Wine/Spirit Coolers
  • No: Bottles and Cans without a Cash Redemption Value (Milk, Medical Food, Infant Formula, Wine, 100% Fruit Juice Over 46 Ounces, 100% Vegetable Juice Over 16 Ounces), Food, Liquid, Plastic Cups, or Coffee Cups

All Other

  • Yes: Clean Metal, Clean Non-CRV Bottles, Clean Non-CRV Plastics, and Non-CRV Glass
  • No: Food, Liquid, Napkins, Paper Towels, Electronic Waste, or Hazardous Waste


  • Yes: Flattened Cardboard can be recycled in green bins located at most building loading docks. Additionally, if flattened cardboard is placed next to central recycling stations, The Custodial team will take the cardboard to outdoor cardboard bins.
  • No: Packing Material (Plastic Wrap, Foam, Peanuts, Airbags, Packing Slips, etc.). Packing materials can be brought to the Caltech Post Office for reuse by other customers.

Q. When will recyclables be collected from my building?

A. Recyclables will continue to be picked up once a week from all campus buildings. Your building's Custodial team will collect the recyclables from the central stations, take them to a loading dock or collection point, and the Recycling team will take the recycling for further processing and sorting.

Q. What are building occupants (staff, students, and faculty) responsible for?

A. The goal of the changes outlined above is to make recycling easy and intuitive through consistent bins and signage across campus. These changes will have limited impact on building occupants' recycling responsibilities – offices will still be equipped with personal recycling bins where individuals will gather their recyclables. When full, individuals will then empty their recycling in floor-level recycling stations that are clearly labeled and centrally located. Additionally, building occupants are asked to dispose of their food waste in common area trash cans located in kitchens and break rooms that are emptied every day.

Q. What should I do if my building's recycling bins are overflowing or are not used?

A. The Facilities Department is always looking for ways to improve recycling on campus. The locations for central recycling stations were selected based on building traffic and occupant convenience. However, if bins are filling more quickly than they are emptied, some bins are not used at all, or you would like to provide feedback on recycling in your building, please contact Caltech's Buildings and Grounds Department at (626) 395-4738 or email Caltech Sustainability at sustainability@catech.edu.

Q. What if my building would like more bins?

A. Please contact Caltech's Buildings and Grounds Department at (626) 395-4738 for options to obtain additional bins.

Q. How can I recycle electronic waste?

A. Campus personnel may complete a service request or email the Safety Office at safety@caltech.edu to request an e-waste pick-up at your on-campus office. E-waste is not to be left on loading docks or dumpster areas as electronics can contain hazardous materials and need to be handled through the hazardous waste program.

The following types of electronic waste are accepted: batteries, computers, copiers, CDs/DVDs, Fax Machines, Flat Screens, Keyboards, Laptops, Monitors, Phones, Printers, Scanners, Servers, Mice, and other electronic waste.

Q. Why Can't I put food, liquid, soiled paper, paper towels, napkins, or paper with coatings in the recycling bins?

A. Foods, liquids, soiled paper, and waxy paper are the most common types of contamination found in Caltech's recycling. While Caltech is committed to recycling as much waste as possible, these common types of contaminants can render a material un-recyclable or cause problems in the recycling process that create more harm than good.

  • Soiled Paper Products: Paper products are recycled by mixing them with water and turning them into slurry. However, oil and grease from the food cannot be separated from the paper fibers during the pulping process, making the slurry unusable.
  • Food and Liquids: Food and liquid residues on recyclables can be a major problem for processing facilities, leaking out and ruining materials such as paper and damaging equipment.
  • Paper Towels and Napkins: Paper towels and napkins, even when not contaminated with oils and grease, typically are not recycled because their fibers are too short to be woven into new paper products.
  • Coated Paper Products: Most facilities cannot process paper products that are coated with plastics, polymers, or wax. These include paper coffee cups, milk cartons, frozen food containers, aseptic non-refrigerated containers such as soy milk or soup.

Recycling Signs: