Have You Bin Recycling? Here’s How You Can Start

Photo by Ann Li

Do you know what the Three R’s are? Of course you do. Since grade school, we’ve been drilled with the super fun alliteration: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You feel confident in your Three R’s. You know them by heart, after all.  But when you’re standing in front of those six recycling bins found all over campus with an empty Au Bon Pain iced coffee cup in hand, you realize you’re clueless; even when armed with your Three R’s. Doug Goodstein, the Student Programs Coordinator at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, says, “There is more to being good stewards of the Earth than just sorting recyclables into their correct places. As students and members of the State College area, we have a responsibility to respect our environment and neighboring communities by being thoughtful with our waste habits.” You know you want to recycle that plastic cup, but where? Questions mill through your mind: What the heck is “Misc Plastic”? Wait, what even is compost? Valley is here to take the confusion out of preserving our Earth by familiarizing you with each recycling bin that resides on campus.


The easiest bin. This receptacle doesn’t discriminate when it comes to paper. Notebook paper, newspaper, magazines or that brochure you were hastily handed in the HUB— it’ll take it all. Paperboard, the cardboard that makes cereal and tissue boxes, is also a favorite of this bin. Corrugated cardboard like pizza boxes can be placed next to the paper bin for recycling. DO NOT place tissues, paper towels or wet paper here, though- we’ll cover where those go later.


The most valuable bin. Did you know that once an aluminum can is recycled, it will be a new aluminum can within 90 days? Did you know some states even offer cash for the recycling of metal cans? Although Pennsylvania, unfortunately, doesn’t pay you for your healthy recycling habits, the metal recycling bins at Penn State still adore all things aluminum and steel. Soda cans, soup cans, the aluminum burrito bowl cover from Chipotle…it’s all welcome here.


The breakable bin. Clear, green and brown glass are all accepted by this bin. Would it smash into a thousand pieces if you dropped it on concrete? If so, then it goes here. Your iPhone screen is an exception to this rule, sorry.

“Stretchy” Plastics

The water bottle bin. This bin accepts all types of narrow-mouthed drink bottles including water bottles. The plastic that makes up water bottles is considered a valuable “high-end” resource because it can be recycled continuously and made into a myriad of other items. Not to mention, a water bottle not recycled will take 450-1000 years to decompose in a landfill. Don’t let your water bottles outlive you—just place them in the recycling bin.  Additionally, this bin loves “stretchy” plastics. A good rule of thumb for remembering this is if you can stretch it with your thumb (i.e. plastic bags or film) it goes in here.

Misc Plastics

The plastic cup bin. This bin accepts all thin, wide-mouthed plastics such as your iced drink cups from Starbucks or Au Bon Pain, the lids of your hot drinks, to-go food containers and plastic utensils.


The mystery bin. With its lid and green bag, the compost bin may be the most foreign of all the recycling bins in the line-up. Composting is one of the best ways to avoid excessive food waste and facilitate the natural decomposition process of organic material. At Penn State, we are fortunate enough to have our own compost facility where our fruit and veg scraps, bread and soiled paper products (here’s where the tissues and wet paper come in!) are transformed into soil. If it used to be a plant, you can lift up the lid and place it in this bin.


Sadly, some things cannot be recycled at Penn State. Paper cups due to their waxy inner lining, chip bags, granola bar wrappers and dense plastic bags (i.e. cereal bags) must be placed in the garbage can.

Although it seems like a ton of decision-making goes into what recyclable goes where, the most paramount decision a citizen of Earth can make is to consider recycling at all. Doug Goodstein says, “There isn’t much complicated about sorting recyclables into their places, we can all do that. It’s realizing the impact of our laziness in not doing so that makes the biggest difference in our community.”

Valley is convinced you now have the tools you need to divorce from the Three R’s and confront those blue bins fearlessly while feeling good about stepping towards a more sustainable lifestyle.