Recycling FAQ

1. What do I do with bottle caps?

Before tossing your bottle into the recycling bin, be sure to remove the cap. At CSB, you can recycle your cap in the recycling rooms, but at SJU just throw them away.  Removal of the cap allows for evaporation and prevents retention of residual liquid. Extra liquid causes a number of problems: it adds weight, which adds to the energy (and fossil fuel emissions) necessary to transport the recyclables; it creates a mess and dirties the recycling plant.

2. Can I recycle envelopes with the plastic windows? What about staples? And spiral notebooks? Glossy advertisements? Post-its?

You'll like the answer to this one; all of these items are fine to toss into the "Paper" recycling bin. In the recycling process, all paper, even the glossy, is converted to pulp, and all non-natural fibers such as metal will be strained out. So don't waste your time removing staples, spiral bindings, or plastic windows!

3. Can I recycle paper with tape on it?

It's OK to leave tape on paper; however, it does gum up machines and reduce the efficiency of recycling. Try to remove obvious tape from papers and posters before recycling...but again, don't waste your time scraping tape off of paper!

4. Why can't I recycle pizza boxes?

The actual cardboard of the pizza boxes is recyclable; it is the food residue that is almost sure to have seeped into the cardboard that the recycling company doesn't want. When recycling collectors see a food-soaked item in a cardboard recycling bin, they may assume that the entire bin is "contaminated;" they can't take the time to sort out the good and the bad cardboard. We have to provide them with clean, ready-to-recycle products!

5. Can I recycle any plastic that has a recycling sign and number on it?

At CSB and SJU you can recycle any plastic with a number on it: #1–#7.

6. Do I have to separate glass, plastic, and aluminum?


7. Do I have to worry about labels?

No. You can leave labels on bottles and cans!

8. What if I don't have a recycling bin?

Most importantly, you don't need a "recycling" bin to recycle. Any container will work -- a small trash can, a box, a paper bag for paper—be creative! However, each room and office should be already be outfitted with recycle bins. If your room doesn't have bins, just let your RA know and they can contact custodial services.

9. How important is it that I prepare recyclables correctly? Doesn't this take a really long time?

It is desirable to prepare items correctly before placing them in recycling bins. This means:

  • Flatten boxes. If you don't, it leaves less room in the dumpster for other people's recyclables.
  • Clean out obvious food residue from plastics (such as a yogurt container). You do not have to rinse out drink bottles; sugary soda residue is acceptable!
  • Remove bottle caps (so that residue can evaporate and not add weight and mess).

Custodians cannot take the time to separate dirty containers, remove pizza boxes, or flatten other boxes. Please take a few extra seconds and move any items inappropriately placed in the recycling bin to the trash - this will earn you major points from the recycling fairy!

10. How does recycling help me as a CSB/SJU student?

The College and University saves money. This can translate into more money for student needs, such as space, housing improvements, etc.

11. Can I recycle batteries? Why should I?

Yes, you can, but they do not go in our normal recyclying bins. Instead you need to take them to your nearest electronics recycling location.You should recycle batteries because they contain toxic chemicals; if placed in a landfill, they could contaminate groundwater and soil.

12. Should I buy rechargeable batteries?

Rechargeables contain even more toxic materials (heavy metals) than standard batteries, so if you use them, make 100% sure you dispose of them properly- not in the trash. Rechargeable batteries you use from day to day like those in your cell phone or laptop, as well as rechargeable appliances like phones and Dustbusters should not be thrown in the trash. Recycle them! Do not put any batteries in the commingled system!

13. What do I do with plastic bags?

There is no universal system for plastic bag recycling; that's why you should really make an effort to prevent the production and use of bags by carrying a re-usable bag or backpack. However, with those bags you do have, try to reuse them. They make great small trash can liners! If your bags are grocery bags from a store with a bag recycling program, you can take them back to the store from which they came. It differs store to store, but most grocery stores sell their used bags to be made into plastic lumber (the company is called Trex), which is made from the plastic and sawdust. Plastic bags can not be recycled with cans and bottles as they are difficult to handle in transport and jam conveyor belts and air intake filters.

14. What should I do with my laundry detergent bottle?

Recycle it! Just take the cap off!

15. How can I get rid of junk mail once and for all?

Call 1-888-5 OPT OUT to stop credit card offers.

For unwanted contribution pleas and catalogues, make a few simple phone calls or emails and ask to be taken off of mailing lists. To limit your exposure, write "Please do not rent or sell my name" or "No mailing lists" next to your name whenever you order products by mail, enter a contest, subscribe to a magazine, send in a warranty card, or otherwise give your name and address to a company or organization. (Also consider not sending in the warranty card for a new product - it's usually not required.)

One effective way to remove your name from national mailing lists is to write the Direct Marketing Association and register with their Mail Preference Service - an indication that you do not want to be contacted by solicitors. In a letter or 3 1/2 x 5" postcard, include the date, your name in all its iterations ("Jane Smith," "Jane E. Smith," "Ms Jane Smith" etc.), address and signature, and write "Please register my name with the Mail Preference Service." (The term "Mail Preference Service" may sound confusing, but rest assured, registration with MPS is what you do to get off of the mailing lists.) This actually works. Marketers do not want to waste their efforts on people who have explicitly stated they are not interested.

Please see this page for more information on how to do this:

16. Where do SJU's recyclables and trash go?

For SJU, Waste Managment picks up recycling once a week.  It ithen trucked to the Waste Managment recycling facility in north Minneapolis where materials are sorted by type, baled, and sold to other markets for processing. Waste is taken either to the Pope/Douglas waste-to-energy incinerator in Alexandria or to the Waste Management landfill in Elk River.

17. How do I buy recycled?

The key to buying recycled products is reading labels. You must look for the trademark arrows of the recycling symbol, but that doesn't always mean the product is made from recycled material; it may simply mean the product is technically recyclable (sometimes, only if the product is returned in perfect condition to the manufacturer!).

What you really must check is the ingredient list: you want to see the percent of post-consumer content. Many paper products promote themselves as recycled, but come from industrial surplus (called pre-consumer) that would be recycled anyway. Post-consumer means that another person has already used the material and it is being recycled to you. So that you can use and then recycle it, of course!

18. What is the process of recycling like?

There are three basic steps in the life of your recyclables: manufacturing, consumption and recovery. All three must occur before recycling is complete. Buy efficiently and buy recycled! Recovery occurs when recyclables are separated from discards; putting paper into a recycling bin is the first step in this process.

At Materials Recovery Facilities, recyclables are sorted in preparation for processing. Magnets and air are used to divide up metals and light items. Employees separate out other items (so be kind and rinse your food containers). Mechanical sorters that use optics to identify different kinds of paper and puffs of air to sort it are also now being developed. This entire separation step may seem inefficient, but transportation and collection can be more efficient when separation is postponed; it's also easier to get people to recycle when they can throw everything together.

At Processing Plants, sorted items are converted into usable material. Plastics get shredded. Different types have different specific gravities, so they will float/sink to different degrees and can then be separated. Paper is soaked in water. In the recycling process, plastic envelope bits float up and magnets remove staples. A large chain is rotated in the vat of paper goo, and tape remnants adhere to the chain for removal.

19. Does stuff put in recycling bins get thrown away?

Unfortunately, sometimes it does if it is contaminated. Even a tiny piece of food can send an entire bin of recycling to the dump. In addition, the international commodities markets do fluctuate, sometimes making simple dumping less costly than recycling. This is rare, however, and if you buy recycled, the demand for the recyclables will increase. You're not really recycling unless you buy recycled products!

20. What are the top three simple steps I can take to reduce landfilled waste and improve recycling at CSB/SJU?

  1. Reuse and recycle your paper. Currently, almost as much paper is thrown away at Saint John's as is recovered for recycling.
  2. Don't buy things you don't really need and buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
  3. Recycle all year round, not just at the end of the semester.

Recycling the following materials saves the stated quantities of energy:

  • Aluminum cans: 185 million btu/ton
  • LDPE: 24.1 million btu/ton
  • PET: 22.2 million btu/ton
  • Mixed plastics: 20.5 million btu/ton
  • Steel cans: 20 million btu/ton
  • HDPE: 19 million btu/ton
  • Newspapers: 16.5 million btu/ton
  • Corrugated containers: 13 million btu/ton
  • Office paper: 10.1 million btu/ton
  • Mixed paper: 6.7 million btu/ton
  • Glass bottles: 2.1 million btu/ton

Note: There are 5.8 million British thermal units (Btu) in a barrel of oil and 0.125 million Btu in a gallon of gasoline.

*Information on this page used with permission from Harvard University