Waste Not: Update on Campus Guidelines for Recycling and Food Waste at UMass

With more staff and students returning to campus for the spring semester, sustainability leaders at UMass Amherst are spreading the word about new guidelines for handling waste.

Due to the pandemic, food will continue to be served at all dining locations on campus in recyclable, take-out containers. Dining-in with traditional plates and flatware will not be available. With to-go containers in use exclusively, it’s more important than ever to properly handle waste and keep recyclables out of the landfills.

Empty UMass to-go containers should be tossed in recycling bins found around campus and in every residence hall.“It doesn’t have to be clean, but it has to be empty – no food or liquid,” says Laurie Simmons, Residential Life sustainability coordinator. “If it isn’t empty, it is trash because it’s a container with food and can’t be recycled. The ideal situation is that people empty food waste into a food waste bin, if that is available, and then recycle the container.”

The food waste stream, formerly called compost, will accept food waste only – no containers or packaging of any kind.This change comes after a campus waste study found last year that non-food materials were overwhelming the local composting facility, Martin Farm in Greenfield. “And now there is more of it because everything is to-go due to the pandemic,” Simmons says.

Food waste collection is available at dining locations and in three residential areas – North Apartments, Orchard Hill and Commonwealth Honors College lobbies. All residence halls have recycling and trash containers.

All empty bottles, cans and paper can be recycled – in addition to UMass to-go containers. But that does not include plastic bags. “That’s a tough one,” Simmons says. “People trying to do the right thing sometimes put a plastic bag full of recyclables in the recycling bin, but that doesn’t work.”

Plastic bags must be thrown in the trash or taken to a location, such as a local grocery store, that recycles plastic bags.

As a way to educate the campus and promote behavior that supports sustainability efforts, students and staff are encouraged to take the UMass Waste Quiz. “You can complete the quiz as many times as necessary and review the feedback in order to get a perfect score,” Simmons says.

Those who get a perfect score by Feb. 13 will be entered in a drawing to win prizes, including UMass hoodies, gift cards to local eateries, reusable water bottles and other goodies. If you have questions, contact Simmons at lsimmons@sacl.umass.edu.