Single-Stream Recycling

The single stream system at Washington University in St. Louis makes recycling simple and easy, providing the campus community with two primary options: recycle or landfill. The majority of everyday materials can be recycled in designated bins throughout WashU campuses. Most major dining locations also include post-consumer compost collection for organic waste and compostable serviceware.

WashU campuses transitioned to the single-stream recycling process in 2010. The simplicity of the single-stream recycling system has helped the university nearly double consumer waste diversion. Institution-wide, approximately 30% of consumer waste is diverted from landfills through recycling and composting. Waste audits indicate that as much as 60% of office consumer waste can be recycled and as much as 90% of dining service waste can be recycled or composted. The Bear’s Den eatery has achieved approximately 80% waste diversion through enhanced signage, peer-to-peer education, intentional purchasing and staff training.

recycle-label_low-resWhat Can You Recycle in Single Stream?

Single-stream recycling makes the process easy, but it is important to follow basic guidelines. In the WashU single stream program, you can recycle anything that falls into these categories:

  • Paper: most office papers, including white, colored and coated paper; magazines and catalogs; envelopes (even with plastic windows); phone books, etc. Paper bags and the sleeves from coffee cups. EXCEPTIONS include: food-soiled to-go boxes, paper coffee cups and paper to-go cups/bowls. 
  • Cardboard: all corrugated and non-corrugated cardboard boxes. Break down boxes; if it won’t fit in a bin, our custodial staff is trained to take it to containers located on university docks.
  • Plastics: Recycle plastic containers #1-5 and 7. Shake or wipe out any plastic to-go ware with food or liquid contents. EXCEPTIONS include: plastic bags, Styrofoam and #6 plastics. Leave bottle caps on bottles. Reduce the need to send items to the landfill by avoiding purchasing #6 plastic items.
  • Aluminum and Steel: Food and beverage containers. Before disposal, empty out the contents.
  • Glass: EXCEPTIONS include: Pyrex, broken glass and heat resistant lab glass. Empty contents of jars and bottles before recycling.

Follow signage posted in dining areas or labels on containers to avoid contamination. Want more specifics on what goes where? Check out these comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions.

Many other products can be donated, and WashU has many options to dispose of miscellaneous and hazardous waste.


Recyclemania is a nationwide eight-week-long recycling competition in which over 350 schools compete in a variety of categories rewarding increased waste diversion rates. The university’s performance has improved drastically since the competition began in 2003, especially with the shift to single stream recycling. In 2015, WashU recycled 1,000,012 pounds of materials and composted 87,340 pounds of food organics, resulting in a diversion rate of 44.65%. WashU also collected 25,781 pounds of e-waste over a 4-week period, placing 16th in the nation for this category.

Volunteer Opportunities

Are you a recycling enthusiast? Compost Ambassadors engage in peer-to-peer education, helping others navigate WashU’s waste sorting system. Sign up today! Student, staff and faculty are all welcome to apply!