Why should we recycle at UNL?

Recycling is an easy way for you to help make a positive impact on UNL and the surrounding Lincoln community. Recycling, when done correctly, can save valuable space in landfills and conserve natural resources. To recycle right, it is important that you only put items into the recycling stream that you are confident can be recycled- paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans. Recyclables that are mixed with contaminants like food waste, plastic bags, non-recyclable plastics, and more are often sent to the landfill, which wastes valuable resources like time and money. Stick to the basics and when in doubt, throw it out!

How does recycling happen in my building?

Recycling at UNL is a team effort, and we rely on a lot of important stakeholders to make it happen! Currently recycling efforts in individual campus buildings are managed internally and each building or department is responsible for coordinating how their indoor recycling containers are emptied into central recycling collection totes- typically located on the building dock or outdoor dumpster area. This is typically done by volunteer faculty, staff, or students. Please note that our plastic and aluminum recycling streams are collected together and must be bagged and tied before being placed in the central collection totes for pickup.

Later this semester, the university will launch a new pilot program designed to make recycling processes universal in campus buildings. It will be tested in eight buildings before being offered university-wide. During the pilot, campus community members can expect to see new waste and recycling stations installed in the eight participating pilot buildings. Check out the recently published Nebraska Today to learn more!

A recycling bin in my building is overflowing. What do I do?

Recycling is only possible at UNL when we all work together. Currently, the servicing of interior recycling containers is the responsibility of building occupants. Contact your Building Maintenance Reporter(s) to learn more about the specific process in your building. If you see a bin overflowing, feel free to help your fellow building occupants and transport the items to the central recycling collection totes outside or on your dock. Recycling at UNL is only successful if we all work together!

What does UNL recycling do with the recyclables picked up from my building?

UNL employs a team of Refuse and Recycling Material Collectors that drive our fleet of university owned trucks around campus to collect waste items from buildings. Click here to meet our drivers! Recyclables are picked up regularly and taken directly to Green Quest Recycling in downtown Lincoln, where materials are weighed, further separated by commodity and grade, and baled to be sold and shipped to companies that make them into new products.

What can I do to help?

There are many things you can do to make recycling successful at UNL!

  • Check out our Involvement Opportunities page to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities on campus and sign up to participate!
  • Monitor your spaces. If you see overflowing recycling, please do your part to help by picking up loose items and transporting the container contents to the central recycling totes in your building. Recycling is only possible if we all work together!
  • Be a recycling champion among your circle of peers at UNL. Spread the message of how to recycle right and encourage positive recycling habits on campus! UNL Recycling is available to meet with your department or administrative unit, class, residence hall floor, RSO, intramural team, greek chapter, etc. to talk about recycling on campus and why it is important. Contact the UNL Recycling Coordinator at recycling@unl.edu to learn more!
What can I recycle on campus?

UNL collects a variety of recyclable items commonly found on campus including empty plastic bottles and cans from vending machines, cardboard, old papers, envelopes, and sticky notes! See our Accepted Materials page to learn more about what items can be recycled at UNL. Familiarize yourself with these items so that you can make the smart choice and recycle right!

Why doesn’t UNL compost organic waste?

It is not economically feasible for the University to offer campus-wide composting at this time. UNL Dining Services is gradually installing biodigesters in the dining centers to divert organic food waste from the landfill. Biodigesters accept organic waste materials and combine it with an enzyme that facilitates breakdown of the food, producing grey water that is cycled back into Lincoln wastewater treatment facilities.

Why do I have to sort my recyclables?

At UNL, we practice multi-stream recycling, meaning that we have multiple recycling streams: Cardboard, Paper, and Plastic & Aluminum. It is necessary for recyclable materials to be separated appropriately, because our drivers haul the different material types separately from one another to avoid contamination. This ensures that each commodity stays as clean as possible during the transport process, making it easier for Green Quest to accept and process the materials. Recyclables with high rates of contamination cannot be recycled and are typically sent to the landfill. Learn more about how to avoid this and correctly sort your recyclables by visiting our Accepted Materials page.

I don’t see a cardboard recycling bin in my building. What do I do with my cardboard?

Cardboard should be broken down and placed outside of your office, behind common area recycling containers, or taken directly to the nearest cardboard dumpster. Custodial Services employees collect flattened cardboard and transport it to the campus cardboard dumpsters, which are emptied regularly by UNL Recycling. Cardboard must be flattened, or it will not be collected.

Can I recycle pizza boxes leftover from an event?

In 2018, the City of Lincoln banned clean and dry corrugated cardboard from the landfill. Pizza boxes can be recycled, but only if the cardboard is clean, dry, and does not have any solid food residue. If there are any pizza remnants or large, wet grease spots on the box, throw it out to avoid contaminating other cardboard recycling! When in doubt, throw it out!

What about Books? Plastic bags? Coffee cups from my favorite coffee shop? Glass?
  • Books: Paperback books can be recycled with office paper in the paper recycling stream. If you have a large quantity of hardcover books to be recycled, please email recycling@unl.edu to request a special pickup.
  • Plastic bags: Plastic bags are the #1 recycling foul in Lincoln! Plastic bags are not recyclable with other plastics because they create a hazard for recycling processors. Loose plastic bags can cause recycling sorting machines to malfunction, shut down, or even catch fire. While we do not collect plastic bags for recycling at UNL, they can be taken to local grocery stores and other retail collection sites where they are transported to a specialized recycler and most often processed into composite lumber used for building decks, playgrounds, benches, and even recycling bins!
  • Coffee cups: Unfortunately, paper coffee cups are not recyclable. Most of these types of cups contain an internal plastic or wax coating to provide insulation and waterproofing, which makes them very difficult to recycle. Please dispose of your cup and its cardboard sleeve in the trash, or better yet, bring a reusable mug to be filled up at your favorite shop! Most coffee shops on campus and around Lincoln offer a cup discount- saving you money and protecting our environment!
  • Glass: Glass is not currently recycled at UNL. The City of Lincoln accepts clean and dry glass bottles and jars at Consumer Recyclables Collection Sites. Glass recyclables in Lincoln are eventually shipped to Ripple Glass in Kansas City to be processed and recycled into new bottles and fiberglass insulation!
Can I request extra recycling totes for an office clean out or on-campus event?

Yes! Visit our Request a Container page to let us know more about your project or event, and we will work with you to help provide what is needed.

How do I recycle empty ink and toner cartridges?

Used ink and toner cartridges can be packaged and returned to UNL Mail Services with your regular campus mail. The ink and toner cartridges that are received from campus are packed on pallets and shipped to Environmental Office Solutions in Colorado. Cartridges are then sorted based on condition and end market requirements and ultimately sold to cartridge fillers for refill and reuse.

My building has several pallets to recycle. Does UNL Recycling collect pallets?

Pallets are picked up from most buildings on a weekly basis and can be left near your building's dumpster. If you have a special request email recycling@unl.edu to request a pickup.

Does UNL Recycling provide shredding services?

UNL Recycling does not provide shredding services. UNL Printing Services runs a shredding program on campus and can handle shredding needs ranging from small quantities to larger projects. Visit the Printing Services website for more information.

I have something that I think may be considered a hazardous material- can I put this in a campus Landfill container?

No. Contact UNL Environmental Health and Safety at (402) 472-4925 for information on safe disposal of all hazardous materials- including batteries, lightbulbs, electronics and more.

My office is getting new furniture, electronics, etc. Does UNL recycle surplus property?

Yes! The UNL Inventory, Surplus and Asset Management Department provides the UNL community with direction and guidance regarding fixed asset acquisition, transfer, and reuse of unwanted surplus property on campus. During normal campus operations, they hold a weekly open house at their East Campus warehouse where campus units can purchase items for departmental use at a reduced cost. Inventory auctions open to the public are also held every 2-3 months. Visit https://inventory.unl.edu/ to learn more.

Can I bring my recyclables from home to recycle on campus?

No. The university does not have the capacity to accept recyclable materials produced by faculty, staff, and students off campus. Please only use UNL recycling services for waste generated on campus.

Where can I recycle in Lincoln?

The City of Lincoln Solid Waste Management Division operates Residential Consumer Recyclables Collection Sites throughout Lincoln for household use. Additionally, all garbage collectors operating within the City offer recycling as a curbside pickup service. Visit the City of Lincoln to learn more.

Don’t see your question listed?
Email us at recycling@unl.edu