Waste FAQs

food waste, recycling, and landfill signs listing all acceptable items

Food Waste
Food waste bins are for food scraps only

Plastic to-go containers, bottles, cans, and mixed paper all go in recycling bins

Any item that isn’t recyclable or food waste goes in trash bins

Please consider using reusables whenever possible, like a reusable coffee mug and water bottle.  UMass Dining will give you a $0.25 discount on your coffee if you bring a reusable mug to a retail dining location, and we have installed hundreds of water hydration stations across campus to conveniently fill up your reusable water bottle!

What goes in the bin? 
View the complete list below and then test your knowledge with real life examples in the Waste Quiz

Addressing Contamination

What is contamination? 
Contamination is the action of polluting a waste stream with anything that shouldn't be there. What falls into the “anything that shouldn’t be there” category? General waste items going into a recycling bin, food and liquid waste and other potential pollutants, including the presence of hazardous and laboratory waste in non-specialized bins.

IMPORTANT: Contamination in food waste or recycling bins may reroute the entire bin to a landfill. How can you help? By following these two simple rules:

  1. Only food scraps go in food waste bins. That means no containers, cups, utensils or bags of any kind.
  2. Only recyclables go in recycling bins. That means no liquids, food waste, plastic bags, colored plastic (Solo) cups, paper and styrofoam (polystyrene) cups, utensils, frozen or refrigerated food and beverage boxes, or compostable containers.

General Info

  1. Where can I find a complete list of what is and isn’t recyclable on campus?
    See the complete list below.
  2. Why are there so many different takeout containers on campus?
    All plastic clamshells used for on-campus takeout are recyclable. The specific container may change due to supply chain challenges, but it will always be recyclable.
    PLEASE NOTE: Sushi and noodle bowl containers are not recyclable at this time and should be placed in the trash.
  3. If I’m not sure whether an item is recyclable, what bin should I put it in?
    First, look at the complete list below. You can call the Physical Plant Sustainability office at 413-545-0799.  If you still don’t know, it’s best to place the item in the trash. Putting non-recyclable items in the recycling bin contaminates it and may reroute the whole bin to a landfill.
  4. Where should I put my liquids?
    Down the drain (your mouth or the sink). Disposing of liquids in trash or recycling bins contaminates the recycling stream and adds significant weight to the waste, which translates to high costs for the university.

Food Waste

  1. Why does UMass call its compost “food waste”?
    Now that we’re using recyclable food containers at our grab-and-go locations, the only thing compostable is your food waste. So it makes sense to call it what it is. Besides, to call it compost can be misleading. For example, many members of our campus community in 2020 or previous years who are back on campus in 2021 still include WorldCentric compostable containers (which we are no longer using) in the category of “compost.” We’re aiming to avoid confusion about what is compostable by simply calling it “food waste.”
  2. Why can’t I put compostable materials in the food waste bin?
    If you go off campus to purchase a takeout meal or beverage, you may get a “compostable” container or cutlery. If you dispose of these items on campus, please use the trash bins. The farm that composts our food waste cannot handle large amounts of so-called “compostables,” because they don’t break down or decompose in the timeframe needed to sell soil as “certified organic” on the open market. If you were to look around the café or restaurant that served you the “compostable” container or cutlery, chances are they don’t even have a compost bin. And if they do, the “compostables” most likely end up in a landfill or incinerator anyway. That’s not a dig. Just telling it how it is!
  3. Why do only some residence halls have food waste bins?
    UMass is carefully and strategically expanding food waste bins in residence areas. In 2021, we’ll expand to 14 residence halls, up from just four in 2019. Please be patient with us as we expand this program. If we do it too quickly, we risk pest issues and lack of coordination with the Office of Waste Management, which provides the hauling of all waste streams on campus.
  4. Why aren’t there food waste bins on every floor?
    UMass went through a campus waste system evaluation in 2019-2020. It was the recommendation of outside experts that food waste only be collected in residence hall lobbies on the first floor. As we expand the program, we will continue to evaluate the locations of food waste bins in residence halls. 
  5. Are coffee grounds considered food waste?


  1. What determines if something is recyclable?
    This is a big question that involves a big answer, but we’ll try to distill it down to a short, simple one. Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or objects.  Three main factors determine if something can be recycled: Collection (an option only when a large enough supply of material exists), Processing (a way to collect and process the materials), and Remanufacturing/Selling (a market demand that makes sense economically). These factors vary regionally across the U.S. and globally. Find more information here.
  2. If it has the recycling symbol (chasing arrows) does that mean it’s recyclable?
    No, there are some plastic items in our region that are not accepted. Many materials with recycling symbols are made of materials that don’t have a market for them to be recycled. For example, most clear cups are made from polypropylene or PET, both easily recycled. But most colored (Solo) cups are made from polystyrene, which is not easily recycled and has little to no market for recycling. That’s why they can’t be recycled on campus.
  3. Why is UMass using recyclable containers and not “compostable” containers?
    Many factors, both environmental and economic, went into the decision to use recyclable containers rather than “compostable” ones. First and foremost, we considered our wonderful local farm, Martin’s Farm Compost and Mulch located in Greenfield, MA, which processes all of our food waste into certified organic soil products. But even after investing in costly shredding equipment, Martin’s has trouble processing the so-called “compostable” products we source from WorldCentric. Mostly made in China, these products simply don’t decompose easily. They also contain unknown chemicals that make it difficult for the farm to certify their final product as certified “organic.” We also moved away from compostables, because we simply don’t have the food-waste infrastructure across campus to correctly capture these products, which results in high contamination rates in both our recycling and trash streams and puts our ability to comply with Massachusetts state waste ban requirements at risk. We’re working to increase our food waste bin infrastructure across campus, but it’s a time-consuming and costly process.
  4. Why does UMass want me to put all of my paper, cans and bottles, empty containers, and small cardboard in one recycling bin?
    All-in-one-bin or “single-stream” recycling is how we do it here at UMass. We moved to single stream back in 2012, as did many other surrounding communities. Single-stream recycling processing facilities had begun to open up nearby, which allowed us to enter into regional recycling contracts that kept our recycling tipping fees to zero or a minimum. Single stream has its positives and negatives, but we’re committed to sticking with it for now. We also believe one bin makes it easier for everyone in our community to recycle.
  5. Why should I leave large cardboard boxes outside the bin instead of throwing them into the recycling bin?
    In many cases if you have large pieces of cardboard, we want that cardboard placed separately next to the bin, because cardboard is a high-valued recyclable commodity right now.  Most other materials like plastic bottles and mixed paper don’t have much value. But cardboard gets bailed into large cubes and sold at high rates to recyclers, helping the recycling industry and communities break even and continue to operate recycling facilities to reduce landfill waste.
  6. Are plastic utensils recyclable?
    No. Plastic utensils are always trash.
  7. The boxes that frozen or refrigerated meals come in — are they recyclable?
  8. Are the boxes my soda/beer cans come in recyclable?
  9. How come some take-out containers aren’t recyclable?
    A couple of the containers used for takeout, like the sushi container at Wasabi and the noodle bowl at Star Ginger, are not recyclable at this time. We are working to find containers that can be recycled in the future, but for now these items are trash.
  10. Why aren’t Solo cups recyclable?
    Colored (Solo) cups are made from polystyrene, which is not easily recycled and has little to no market for recycling. That’s why they can’t be recycled on campus or in most other places. Want to reduce the amount you send to the landfill? Instead of using Solo cups, purchase a set of reusable plastic cups or recyclable clear plastic cups.
  11. Are there any plastic bags that are recyclable?
    No, all plastic bags — including sandwich bags, thick or thin grocery bags and any other plastic bag — must go in the trash. To reduce waste, use reusable bags or containers (including reusable sandwich bags or storage containers) and/or reuse plastic bags. Once plastic bags reach the end of their life, they must go in the trash. Putting plastic bags in the recycling bin can contaminate the recycling, break sorting machines and pose a danger to workers who have to remove the stuck bags from machines. 
    UMass has complied with the Town of Amherst plastic bag ban (also known as Article 36: Single Use Plastic Bag Ban Prohibition) since January 2017. The bylaw was written by UMass sustainability science graduate student (now alumni) Kevin Hollerbach.   
  12. Isn’t all plastic recyclable?
    Nope! Plastic bags, black plastic, plastic film, blister packs (the hard-to-open plastic that some items come sealed in) are all not recyclable. Recycling guidelines vary by region and hauler. We use the guidelines provided by our hauler, Casella. See what’s recyclable on campus below. (link to below)
  13. Do I have to clean my recyclable container?
    No, but they must be empty. Dump any food waste into a food waste bin (or a trash bin if a food waste bin isn’t available). Then place the empty container in the recycling bin.
  14. Can pizza boxes be recycled?
    Yes. Just remove the food. Stains are ok!
  15. I work in an office where we use Keurig cups (pods).  What can I do with my coffee pods after I use them?
    Unfortunately, these are trash. You can empty grounds into a food waste bin and then put the pod in the trash. The best option is to buy your own coffee and use the reusable Keurig pod.


  1. What goes in the trash at UMass?
    If it isn’t food waste or recycling, it’s trash. If you don’t bring your food scraps to a food waste bin, toss them in the trash – never recycling. See the complete list below

Reducing Your Waste

  1. How can I reduce my waste?
    Think Zero Waste!  Don’t take more than you can eat. You can always go back for seconds.  Use your own reusable containers, utensils and napkins whenever possible. Dine in on china in the DCs. BONUS: Have lunch and dinner at any campus Dining facility for an entire semester, and we’ll automatically enter you to win a prize! UMass Amherst is a member of the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN). NOTE: Our annual membership fee allows our campus community to access waste reduction resources and discounts on reusable products from the PLAN Store
  2. Where can I go to learn more?
    We’ve created online tools to learn more about the waste system on campus and how to reduce your waste. Take our Sustainability Moodle here and our recycling quiz here. Want to learn about how waste is connected to climate change?  Watch our Youtube video here.
  3. Is it possible to get a firsthand look at what happens to waste streams on campus?
    Yes! Contact the Office of Waste Management (OWM) at 413-545-9615 to arrange for a tour of the UMass Waste Recovery Transfer Facility (WRTF) or call Martin’s Farm at 413-774-5631 to to schedule a tour and see where our food waste goes. Be sure to mention you’re a member of the UMass community!
  4. How can I get more involved in the sustainability community on campus?
    There are many ways to get involved. Check out our list of sustainability-related Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). UMass has a Chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (CSAC), which has a Waste & Recycling Subcommittee chaired by the Residential Life Sustainability Coordinator Laurie Simmons. Contact Laurie at lsimmons@sacl.umass.edu if you’re interested in serving on the subcommittee. The UMass Physical Plant Sustainability office offers numerous waste reduction programs on campus, including the Sustainability Fellowship Program which has academic positions in Zero Waste Programs. Contact Campus Sustainability Manager Ezra Small at esmall@umass.edu for more information. Our volunteer programs include the New2U Reuse Move-In/Out Program and many others listed on the Waste and Recycling page.

What Goes in the Bin?

Food Waste

  • Food scraps (anything edible, bones, stems, eggshells)
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags

That’s it! This bin is for food waste only.


  • Cardboard -  Shipping boxes, cereal boxes, egg cartons, paper towel and toilet paper rolls (no waxy coatings, or boxes meant for the refrigerator or freezer)
  • Paper - Office paper, newspaper, paper bags, magazines, junk mail (staples and envelope windows are OK. No books please)
  • Plastic Bottles, Jugs, Tubs, & Lids - plastic drink bottles, milk jugs, yogurt cups, tubs and lids, shampoo bottles, etc. (put the caps back on so they won’t slip through the cracks in the equipment)
  • Metal Cans - Soda and beer cans, soup and vegetable cans, foil
  • Glass Bottles & Jars - beer bottles, other beverage bottles, pickle jars (no pyrex, ceramics, or window glass)


  • Plastic bags and film
  • Boxes meant for the refrigerator or freezer
  • Utensils
  • Non-recyclable containers (black plastic, paper or compostable take-out containers)
  • Anything else that isn’t food waste or can’t be recycled
    No food waste bin? Food waste should then be put in trash.

Other Items

  • Liquids – always dump liquids out before placing items in any bin.
  • Clothing and Textiles – bring these to the Bay State Textiles bin (located behind Hampden and next to Brooks hall).
  • Electronic Waste – bring your e-waste to the library or your Residential Service Desk.