Zero Waste: Recycle, Compost, & Divert

Why Should I Even Bother To Recycle?

We hear about environmental problems almost daily.  Most, such as global warming, waste disposal, deforestation, species endangerment, water pollution, and air pollution, seem so large and complex that we as individuals feel as if we can do nothing about them.  At the very least, these problems seem to require group or government intervention.  But, there are some things that we as individuals can control.  By reducing our waste, and by recycling, every person can make an effective difference.  We can make that difference each and every day.

Recycling is an environmentally friendly activity which helps to reduce waste disposal requirements and which promotes the goal of resource sustainability.  Sustainability provides for our current resource needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations.  Recycling also protects natural resources and it reduces environmental damage caused by mining, logging, and the processing of raw materials.  Recycling saves energy because processing recyclable materials generally consumes less energy than the collection, transportation, and processing of raw materials does.  Recycling protects our environment because it reduces the demand on landfill space, and it helps to keep our air cleaner.  Plus, recycling is good for the economy. Recyclable materials are essentially a national resource.  Resources are wealth; wealth creates business; and business, in turn, creates jobs, stimulates the economy, and increases tax revenues.

Beyond recycling, you can help ensure a continuing demand for raw recycled material by buying office paper, paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and other products that are made from recycled material.

If you want to see how every bottle and can, and how every piece of paper that you make the easy effort of putting into a recycling container makes a difference, read on.  If you want to know even more, visit some of the interesting links to websites we have provided for you.

So…don’t just say you care about the environment, do something about it:  RECYCLE!!!

How is Recycling Good For The Economy?

According to a 1999 study by the National Recycling Coalition, the recycling and reuse industry consists of approximately 56,000 establishments that employ over 1.1 million people, generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion, and gross over $236 billion in annual revenues. This represents a significant force in the U.S. economy and makes a vital contribution to job creation and economic development. In Pennsylvania alone, the Department of Environmental Protection estimates that the recycling industry employs over 81,000 people, generates an annual payroll of $2.9 billion, and $18.4 billion in annual revenues. Recycling is a growth industry with many kinds of business opportunities, from waste management, to manufacturing, to the invention of new technologies. New businesses will create more jobs, produce more income, and improve our economy. Also, manufacturers who produce consumer goods and packaging with recycled content are able to reduce their needs for raw materials and energy. They need less equipment, and require fewer power plants, refineries, and processing plants. They rely less on foreign imports such as petroleum. By reducing pollution risks, manufacturers reduce the need for pollution controls. Overall, recycling saves money for both manufacturers and their customers.

Recycle Paper

Most types of paper are recyclable.  Paper can be placed in the small individual office or workstation recycling containers, or in the larger containers found in many common areas, hallways, or lobbies.  Here is a list of what can and cannot go into a paper only recycling container.

Acceptable Non Acceptable
White paper and colored paper Wet waste
Notebook paper Plastic or styrofoam
Copier paper Glossy magazines
Fax paper Tissue paper or paper towels
Laser printed paper Carbon Paper
Non-glossy pamphlets and flyers Glass
Soft cover books Wood
Computer printout paper Acetate or plastic sheets
Carbonless NCR paper Tyvek (overnight envelopes)
Paper or manila folders Plastic binding rings
Paper envelopes 3 ring binders
Adding machine tapes Hardcover books
Writing tablet paper Photographs


If you have a large quantity of paper to recycle, you can arrange with your custodial supervisor to have the paper picked up, or contact Pitt Recycling at or at (412) 624-9521.

Bottles and Cans

We recycle aluminum beverage cans, tin cans, glass bottles and jars, and plastic containers.  These should be placed in containers marked “ALUMINUM, GLASS, AND PLASTIC” which are found in many common areas, hallways, or lobbies.  Do not put bottles or cans in your individual workstation recycling container–those are for paper only.  Also, bottles and cans should be completely emptied before disposing of them.

Recycling plastics is easy.  Read below what types of plastics can be recycled and only put those types of plastics in the container.  Resist the temptation to slip plastics that recyclers don’t want into the recycling bin.  Plastics have different formulations and have to be sorted before they are recycled to make new products.  Mixed plastics can be recycled, but they are not as valuable as sorted plastics because the recycled physical properties of the plastic, such as strength, may vary with each batch.  You may leave the paper labels on the container, but throw away the plastic caps.  Plastic caps are usually made from a different type of plastic than the container and cannot be easily recycled.

These are the types of plastic containers that are acceptable for recycling:

PETE Recycle logo Plastic #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
Common uses: 2 liter soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars. This is the most widely recycled plastic and often has redemption value under the California “Bottle Bill.”
HDPE Recycle logo Plastic #2: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) which has a #2 on the container and is a tough translucent or pigmented plastic.  Acceptable containers include milk and juice jugs, laundry detergent jugs, shampoo and lotion bottles, and yogurt containers.
LDPE Recycle logo Plastic #4: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Common uses: dry cleaning bags, produce bags, trash can liners, food storage containers.
PP Recycle logo Plastic #5: Polypropylene (PP) Common uses: bottle caps, drinking straws. Recycling centers almost never take #5 plastic.
PS Recycle logo Plastic #6: Polystyrene (PS) Common uses: packaging pellets or “Styrofoam peanuts,” cups, plastic tableware, meat trays, to-go “clam shell” containers. Many shipping/packaging stores will accept polystyrene peanuts and other packaging materials for reuse.

Glass jars and beverage bottles of any color are acceptable for recycling.  Please remove any lids from bottles and jars.  Window glass or laboratory glass are not acceptable and are handled separately.

If you have a large amount of bottles and cans to recycle, you can arrange with your custodian to have them picked up, or contact Pitt Recycling at or at (412) 624-9521.


Cardboard boxes can be placed next to containers marked “PAPER ONLY”.  If it is possible for you to do so, please crush cardboard boxes.  Most types of cardboard are acceptable, but any cardboard treated with a wax or plastic coating is not acceptable and should be disposed of as trash.  If you have a large number of boxes or if you have some boxes that are very heavy, you may arrange with your custodian to have them picked up, or contact Pitt Recycling at or at (412) 624-9521. Packing material is currently not recycled by the University. However, there are options for recycling this material through local mailing services. For information please contact you Pitt recycling team.

Electronic Waste

Electronic Waste is unwanted computers, monitors, televisions, audio equipment, printers, laptops, fax machines, telephones, and other electronic equipment.

When electronic equipment breaks or becomes obsolete, it must be properly disposed or recycled. This electronic equipment may contain heavy metals and other materials that can become hazardous to human health and the environment, including:

  • Lead: Computer monitors and televisions contain a cathode ray tube (CRT). CRTs contain leaded glass and are the largest source of lead, a poisonous metal, in municipal waste.
  • Mercury: Some electronic equipment contains recoverable quantities of mercury, another poisonous metal. • Cadmium: Rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries are the largest source of cadmium in municipal waste.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) currently classifies discarded electronic equipment that contains these hazardous materials as characteristic hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

To ensure that unwanted electronic equipment from the University of Pittsburgh is managed in accordance with EPA requirements, please follow the University’s policy and procedure for the disposition of these items (#10-06-04 Surplus Equipment Recycling and Disposal):

  • Do not place any electronic equipment in the trash, even if it is broken.

Request a pickup online: fill out a surplus property “pickup request form” or request a pickup by calling surplus property at 412-244-7071.

How Does Recycling…

Save Natural Resources?

Our finite reserves of natural resources are being depleted rapidly, particularly with the increasing use of disposable products and packaging. In 2000, U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced nearly 232 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste. This is nearly 1 ton of waste per person per year, or approximately 4.5 pounds per person per day, and is up from the 1960 figure of 2.7 pounds per person per day. This rate of use and disposal takes a particularly heavy toll on irreplaceable natural resources such as minerals and petroleum. Reprocessing used materials to make new products and packaging reduces the consumption of natural resources. For instance, every ton of recycled steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,000 pounds of coal, and 40 pounds of limestone. Every ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 7000 gallons of water, 22.5 kilowatt hours of electricity, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. Plastics production also requires significant quantities of resources, primarily fossil fuels, both as a raw material and as a fuel to provide energy for manufacturing processes. It is estimated that 4% of the world’s annual oil production is used as a feedstock for plastics production and an additional 3-4% during manufacture.

Save Energy?

The energy required to manufacture paper, plastics, glass, and metal from recycled materials is significantly less than the energy required to produce them from virgin materials. Additionally, providing recycled materials to industry (including collection, processing and transportation) typically uses less energy than supplying virgin materials to industry (including extraction, refinement, transportation and processing).

Processing raw materials makes heavy demands on energy resources. About 3% of the energy consumption in the U.S. is used for producing packaging alone. Reprocessing used materials reduces energy needs for mining, refining, and many manufacturing processes. Recycling paper cuts the energy required to manufacture paper from virgin pulp in half. Every pound of steel recycled saves enough energy to light a 60-watt bulb for over 24 hours. Recycling used aluminum cans requires only about five percent of the energy needed to produce aluminum from bauxite. Recycling a ton of glass saves the equivalent of nine gallons of fuel oil. Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough electricity to light a 100-watt bulb for roughly 4 hours.

Help Protect Our Environment?

Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from raw or virgin materials. When people reuse goods, or when products are made with less raw material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials, and less energy is required to manufacture products. When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide and other pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere. Recycling keeps materials out of landfills where they can introduce contaminants into groundwater systems. Recycling and waste prevention divert materials from incinerators which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, ash, and other pollutants caused by waste combustion. Recycling, composting, and diverting organic wastes from landfills reduce the methane that would be released if these materials decomposed in a landfill. Recycling also increases the storage of carbon in forests. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood in a process called carbon sequestration. Recycling paper products and waste prevention allow more trees to remain standing in the forest where they can continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Save landfill space and disposal costs?

Before Pennsylvania’s Recycling Law (Act 101) was passed in 1988, about 97% of the state’s municipal waste was landfill. The per capita waste generation rate was increasing, largely due to disposable consumer goods and excess packaging. We were depleting landfill capacity at an alarming rate. One of the goals of Act 101 is to recycle at least 35% of Pennsylvania’s municipal waste by 2003. Recycling and reducing waste clearly save landfill space. Given the recent growth of recycling technology and the creation of new recycled products, manufacturing techniques, and ways to recycle more materials, it may be possible to recycle as much as 60% of our municipal waste stream. Some estimates put the figure as high as 80%.

The combination of landfill closings, the increasing demand for disposal sites, and the need to haul wastes to disposal sites farther away from the point of origin has led to increased disposal costs. In 2002 the national average landfill tipping fee was $34 per ton, while average incinerator tipping fee was $59 per ton. That is triple of what the national average fees were in 1986. Here in Pennsylvania, a net importer of waste, average landfill tipping fees in 2002 were $44 per ton, and average incineration fees were $74 per ton. That is double of what they were in 1986. While recycling will not reduce disposal rates, it will reduce the amount of waste that we have to landfill or incinerate. Recycling saves money in terms of avoided disposal costs.