Recycling and Composting at Penn State
We certainly want you to recycle and compost—but as a last resort. We really want you to reduce what you use and reuse what’s left.
For your waste, click the poster below for everything we recycle at Penn State. To learn about changes to the plastics and miscellaneous recycling bins that began in Fall 2019, please visit this page.
For information on the Waste Stream Task Force, including updates and reports, click here.
How to Recycle
How to Responsibly Dispose of Batteries at Penn State
There are two kinds of commonly used batteries: non-rechargeable ones, such as alkaline batteries, and rechargeable batteries. The two types have different disposal protocols. Non-rechargeable alkaline batteries can be thrown in the regular trash, whereas rechargeable models, including Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium-ion, all contain components that are hazardous to people and/or the environment if not managed correctly. Additional batteries that should be collected due to their hazardous components are lithium single use batteries and lead acid batteries. The University is legally obligated to collect and properly manage rechargeable and other hazardous batteries that are used in University-related business.
How to Dispose of Rechargeable Batteries:
Each building has a Battery Collection Leader(s) in charge of collecting rechargeable batteries, properly packaging and sending them to the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Department for proper processing (find your building’s Battery Collection Leader here).
If you don’t find your building’s contact person is working on campus, please contact the Environmental, Health and Safety department directly to arrange for collection.
It is emphasized that this program is only for batteries used in University-related business. Non-Penn State related batteries may be recycled at Home Depot, Lowes, Staples and the Centre County Solid Waste Authority.. A full description of various battery types can be found below.
Questions can be sent to the EHS.
Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) Batteries:
Typically used in cordless tools, two-way radios, laptop computers, cell phones and other equipment. These batteries contain cadmium, a heavy metal that is hazardous to people and the environment.
Nickle Metal Hydride (NiMH) Batteries:
Typically used in cordless tools, laptop computers, cell phones and other equipment. The components of these batteries are hazardous to the environment.
Lead Acid Batteries:
Typically used as a backup power supply for computers (UPS), emergency lighting, security and fire alarms and to power vehicles. These batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid, both of which are hazardous to people and the environment. (Car batteries from Penn State fleet and department cars are recycled through OPP’s garage. Take your battery to the garage or email firstname.lastname@example.org for pick up.)
Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Batteries:
Typically used in photographic equipment, cell phones, cordless tools and laptop computers, and are becoming more common. These batteries are hazardous to the environment and pose a significant fire risk if not handled properly.
For more information about rechargeable batteries, please visit a Beginner’s Guide to Rechargeable Batteries.
Typically used to power radios, flashlights, and other equipment. These batteries contain a small amount of potassium hydroxide, which does not pose a significant hazard to people or the environment. These batteries are not required to be collected and can be disposed in the regular trash.
Lithium batteries can store more energy than most single use batteries, therefore offering a longer shelf life. Lithium batteries cannot be recharged, but Lithium-Ion batteries can. Lithium batteries are most commonly used in high drain devices, like digital cameras. These batteries can be disposed of through Environmental Health and Safety.
Typically include alkaline, carbon zinc (9-volt, D, C, AA, AAA), mercuric-oxide (button, some cylindrical and rectangular), silver-oxide and zinc-air (button) batteries. Most small, round “button-cell” type batteries are found in items such as watches and hearing aids and contain mercury, silver, cadmium, lithium or other heavy metals that are hazardous to people and the environment. These batteries should be disposed of through Environmental Health and Safety.
Large Batteries >3 lbs:
Contact EHS directly for the recycling of large batteries.
Batteries are not to be brought from home!
Recycled batteries should be from University business only. For disposing batteries used at home, please contact CCRRA or visit their Recycling FAQs page.
- Desktop computers, laptops, and various personal electronics can be recycled
- Penn State computers are recycled through Lion Surplus
- Each spring, Lion Surplus hosts an electronics recycling day where Penn State faculty, staff, and students can drop off computers and other electronic equipment for recycling, free of charge
- Centre Country Refuse and Recycling Authority accepts the following electronics for recycling:
- computer monitors
- keyboards, desktop printers and scanners
- CD, DVD, and VCR players/recorders
- computer peripherals and external devices
- video game consoles and controllers
- battery back-up systems
- cords and cables (including chargers)
- CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes can be either reused or recycled through Lion Surplus as long as they don’t contain sensitive information.
- If they do contain sensitive or confidential data, they can be shredded and recycled through the blue/white shredding program.
- Go to the General Stores website and click on “General Return”; complete the on-line “Return Form” and click submit.
- Once you submit your Return Form a pick-up will be scheduled, free of charge.
- What happens to Recycled Content:
- At Penn State, General Stores is the main processing center for used toner cartridges
- They will accept cartridges for recycling whether they were purchased through General Stores or from another source
- In 2016, 10 tons of used toner cartridges were recycled at the University Park campus
- Due to the material and energy savings in the recycling process, cost savings are passed along to the consumer
- High Pressure Sodium (HPS)
- Metal Halide
- Mercury Vapor
- Self-Ballasted Mercury Lamps
- Low-pressure Sodium Lamps
- Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs
- Considered hazardous waste due to trace amounts of mercury, recycle separate from rest of the bulbs
Do not recycle:
- Standard incandescent light bulb. Throw in trash.
How to recycle:
- To dispose of fluorescent tubes and compact bulbs, complete our special request form:
Special Recycling Request Form
The Blue White Shredding program has transitioned to a work order request process.
- Submit requests for confidential material pick up through SuiteReq
- Cost: $15 per bag
- Requests received by 12 PM Friday will be picked up the following week
- Pick up days will be Tuesday or Thursday
- Bag weight limit: 45 lbs
There are three options for level of service:
- Submit a work order each time a pick up is requested
- Schedule a weekly pick up to automatically occur without needing to submit a work order each week
- If a weekly pick up is desired, please send the contact name, building location, room number and standing order number to email@example.com
- Note you are requesting to schedule weekly pick up
- For automatically reoccurring pickups, a minimum of 1 bag will be charged
- Schedule a bi-weekly pick up to automatically occur without needing to submit a work order each week
- If a bi-weekly pick up is desired, please send the contact name, building location, room number and standing order number to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Note you are requesting to schedule bi-weekly pick up
- For automatically reoccurring pickups, a minimum of 1 bag will be changed
SuiteReq will prompt the requestor for the following information (How to use SuiteReq)
The Facility Coordinator and/or someone designated by the Facility Coordinator has access to Suite Req.
- Populate location field by selecting Building & Room number from search box (Spyglass)
- Enter building name in description field
- Select Confidential Shredding request from the list
- Enter number of blue or white bags to be picked up and note room number in the description field
Who do I contact? email@example.com
Not sure about what goes where?
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Submit a Special Recycling Request
- Request a recycling and composting presentation
- For recycling at University Park, watch the recycling video below:
For your organic waste, view the poster below for everything we compost at Penn State.
*Note: Paper towels are no longer being composted in restrooms across the University Park campus. See our recycling FAQs (on the right of this page) for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Penn State Waste Stream Task Force was convened in Spring 2018 by David Gray, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business and University Treasurer. The Task Force was charged with creating fiscally, environmentally, and socially responsible goals and principles to guide the University’s procurement, operational, and solid waste management decisions. You can learn more the Waste Stream Task Force.
We are unable to accept polystyrene (aka Styrofoam). Due to a change in the market, all styrofoam/polystyrene must go to the landfill. We realize that our signs have yet to reflect this change, and we are working on updating them. The value of plastics on the recycling market is contingent on the price of oil, because plastics are made of oil and natural gas. When oil prices rose to more than $100 per barrel 18 months ago, it was economical to process polystyrene into new products. Now that oil prices have dropped so much, it is difficult to sell the material. Penn State is waiting to determine if there are other recycling changes coming to our system before updating and installing thousands of new signs. Students in the dining commons are provided with an alternative option — a Green2Go container — and many retail establishments are offering compostable take-out containers.
Anything that is derived from a living organism (organic) will decompose. Food, soiled tissues, napkins, paper towels, etc. can all be composted. If you are uncertain if it is compostable or looks like plastic/has a plastic coating, do not put this in compost bin as it will contaminate the compost pile and finished material.
You can submit a Special Recycling Request.
Collected glass, plastic, metal and paper are transferred to the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.
We are unable to recycle hot cups because they are a mixed material made of both paper and plastic. They must be placed in the landfill bin. To avoid creating waste, purchase a reusable travel mug! Most vendors and dining commons on campus offer a .25 discount when you use a reusable mug.
Reducing what and how much we consume is the most difficult part of waste management. But it’s the most important. Penn State takes pride in the programs and efforts taking place to reduce waste at the University, but we know we’ve only just begun.
Water Bottle Refilling Stations
Annually, Penn Staters recycle more than 200 tons of plastic bottles (approximately 7.6 million water bottles). In the United States, only about 24 percent of disposable plastic bottles are recycled. At that rate, approximately 600 tons of bottles are sent to the landfill – sitting there for hundreds of years. Learn more about water bottle refilling stations and where the nearest one is to you on campus.
Reusable Dining Containers
The PSreUse reusable containers operate much like disposable carryout containers. In the all-you-care-to-eat dining locations on campus, students and staff pick up a container at the cashier. After use, containers should be rinsed out and deposited in the return locations and they will be washed similarly to the other dishware used on campuses. Students and staff using the containers are charged a fee only if they fail to return their container(s).
Reduces the size of the plates used in the dining halls
- Supports local vendor purchasing
- Donates leftover food to Meals on Wheels
- Trains students and staff on sustainable practices
Carbon Negative: Reducing Dining’s Carbon Foodprint at Penn State
This research report was a project created as part of the 2020 Drawdown Scholars Program by Divya Jain, a Penn State student under the mentorship of Rachel Brennan during Summer 2020.
Penn State Purchasing handles the procurement of everything from furniture to lab equipment on PSU campuses. Purchasing Services continually seeks opportunities to maximize purchasing value by making wise choices that benefit both the University and the environment. Read more about “green” purchasing at Penn State.
In 2010, Penn State Office of Physical Plant, Procurement Services, and the Smeal College of Business launched an ambitious collaborative effort: to develop a new standard for carpet purchasing, installation and removal that would reduce the first cost by 3-5% and the total cost of ownership by an estimated 20% and ensure 100% of Penn State carpet never sees a landfill.
The request for carpet proposals was revised in 2019, giving specific attention to supply chains, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), environmental product declarations, health product declarations and a process for tracking the useful life of carpet. Contracts were awarded in December of 2019.
The original case study for the Smarter Carpet Initiative provides more information.
To reduce the amount of paper you use:
- Choose double-sided printing for multiple pages.
- Change your default margin settings from 1.25″ to .75″ to save 5% more paper (according to the Mueller study and the Penn State Green Destiny Council).
- If you are flooded by catalogs, stop the overflow by contacting www.catalogchoice.org.
After reduction, reuse is the second most important element of waste management. It is critical at the personal and institutional level.
Unwanted items are collected from residential students in late April to early May and donated to Goodwill. Collection locations are in every residence hall where students are encouraged to drop off their gently used clothing and small household items. Unexpired food items can also be dropped off to be donated to local food pantries.
This is an adjustment to the historical Trash to Treasure Sale. In 2018, the 17th Trash to Treasure Sale collected 35 tons of waste and generated about $51,000 for the local United Way agencies.
A student works at a desk procured by the Furniture Re-use Program.
Lion Surplus, located on Services Road on the University Park campus, is a store that handles the removal of University-owned equipment in environmentally responsible ways, such as sales, bids, and auctions. The store is open to students, faculty, staff, and the public. Hours: Monday through Thursday 8:00am to 2:30pm and Friday 7:30am to 12:30pm
Any University department may send University-owned equipment, supplies, and/or materials that are obsolete, surplus, or scrap to Lion Surplus for sale or disposal. To send your department’s surplus materials, you must login SIMBA and create an Asset Transfer and Retirement Form (DOCX) request. Lion Surplus accepts anything that Penn State owns. If the items are still in working condition, they are sold in our showroom, in auctions, or on eBay and GovDeals. Items that are not functional are recycled.
Check out their stock before purchasing something new!
Penn State’s Organic Materials Processing Center (OMPEC) is a self-sustaining operation processing food waste, leaves, scrap wood, pallets, logs and plant debris. The facility provides the opportunity to divert organics from landfills and a sound means to manage leaf and yard debris, which can then all be manufactured into mulch and compost. Annually approximately 4,000 tons of organics are processed and made into mulch and compost used on campus. Compost is available for sale. The compost may be paid for at LionSurplus (Services Road) and picked up at OMPEC (279 Farm Services Road).