Recycling at MIT

The dorms are a hot mess when students move out of their rooms for the summer, because non-graduating students must check out by noon on a certain day (lest they pay a fee) and we all procrastinate on packing up our belongings. There are only so many boxes one can afford to fit into a U-Haul, and the need to leave items behind is understandable, but man, so much good stuff is abandoned.

Over the years, I've scavenged around and scored a vacuum, an unopened 5lb container of protein powder, a pair of tall Hunter rainboots, a pair of Uggs, a bungee chair, an egg crate mattress pad, a box of laundry pods, and a desk lamp, to name a few. For all the packs of granola bars I couldn't save, I am sorry. But for everything else, it has its place, and oftentimes, it's not the trash.


Trash2Treasure at MIT is a great program that stores unwanted clothing & dorm accessories over the summer to resell to students in the fall, but they physically don't have the space to save everything that each dorm leaves behind. The least we can do as residents is to make sure that our junk is properly disposed of.

MIT recycling says...

Items that can be recycled, but require specialized bins/Pick-ups:

  • Computer monitors, keyboards, mice, hard drives, cell phones, CDs, etc
  • Soft plastics like air packets (deflate them first), bubble wrap, magazine wrap, plastic bags, plastic wrap
  • Batteries
  • Lightbulbs

more info on how to dispose of specialized recyclables below

Trash that can't be recycled :(

  • Candy wrappers
  • Paper cups with waxy coatings inside
  • Plastic utensils & straws
  • Paper towels, napkins, tissues
  • Styrofoam cups/food containers
  • Black plastic
  • Oil-soaked pizza boxes (relatively clean boxes are OK)
  • Compostable dishware/utensils

MIT's recycling system is "single stream".

That means you don't need to sort paper from plastic/metal. Everything that's acceptable in MIT "single stream" recycling bins:

  • Aseptic containers (soy milk containers, drink boxes)
  • Paperback books
  • Cardboard/brown paper bags (cardboard boxes should be broken down; some tape is okay)
  • Junk mail/envelopes (all types, including ones with viewing windows)
  • Glass bottles/jars (any color)
  • Metal cans (tin/steel/aluminum)
  • Milk/juice cartons
  • Newspapers, magazines, catalogs
  • Paperboard (cereal/shoe boxes)
  • Pizza Boxes - clean, not soaked in oil
  • Plastic bottles and containers numbered #1-7 (soda/juice/water bottles) except no black plastic because its color may contaminate other recycling during the breakdown of the plastic material
  • Plastic food containers, but NOT black plastics


Contaminants like food waste, liquids, and plastic wrap can get caught up in the gears of the sorting machinery or contaminate a whole load of recyclables, causing them to become trash



pictured: Casella "Single Stream" recycling sorting facility

All Recycling Bins Are Created Equal

Just as MIT's campus has evolved and grown, so has its recycling program. Over the years it has progressed from separate white paper, newspaper, can, and bottle recycling to today's "single stream" system that collects all of those and more in one place. As a result, there are many types of recycling bins on campus (some with old labels), but they all feed into the same "single stream" system. So, even if a bin is labeled "white paper only", you should use it for all kinds of "single stream" recyclables.

Contaminants like food waste, liquids, plastic wrap, or items that don't belong in single-stream recycling can get caught up in the gears of the sorting machinery or contaminate a whole load of recyclables, causing them to become trash. Wipe out food waste to remove all but trace amounts, pour out liquids, and be sure you aim for the right bin!

Special Recycling - Batteries, Electronic Waste, Plastic Bags and More


eWaste is electronic waste such as Monitors, CPUs, Televisions, Printers, Copiers, and their components (mice, keyboards, speakers, etc.)

Facilities does not charge for the pick up of any electronic items. To request a pick-up of your office CPUs, monitors, printers, fax machines, and other electronics, make a service request on Atlas


technocycle bins are for recycling small electronics


TechnoCycle is electronic waste related to daily-use technologies, such as cell phones, PDAs, pagers, floppy disks, CDs and CD cases, video tapes, cables, and wires. Eligible items: Portable Devices (Cellphones, Tablets, MP3 Players, and Headphones), Media Storage (CDs [cases and inserts OK], DVDs, and Video Tapes), Computer Periphery (Mice, Wires, Keyboards, and External Drives). Items with an MIT sticker must be deactivated by the Property Office.

For small electronics, please use TechnoCycle bins (as ) located in Distributed Mail Centers. If you have a large amount of TechnoCycle, go to Service Requests in Atlas to arrange for a pickup.

Styrofoam Packing Peanuts

Styrofoam products are expensive to recycle and are toxic to the planet, so please ask vendors to avoid using them. 
You can donate reused packing peanuts in clean and usable condition to Mail Services for reuse. To send the peanuts to Mail Services, place sealed bags of the peanuts on top of campus mail boxes, addressed to Packing Peanuts Reuse Program, WW15.

Soft Plastics

Special bins are located in Distributed Mail Centers around campus, at the elevator near the Stata Loading Dock and in the basement of the Stratton Student Center. These soft plastics bags shouldn't be placed in "single stream" recycling bins because they interfere with the materials when being sorted at the recycling facility. Acceptable items include:

● Air packets (deflate them first)
● Bubble wrap
● Journal/magazine wrap
● Plastic bags
● Plastic wrap (must be clean and free of food residue)
● Shrink wrap


MIT accepts for recycling all types of batteries, including alkaline batteries.

Battery disposal bins are located in Distributed Mail Centersand all residence halls. The Student Center basement also has receptacles.


Batteries that must be recycled include: rechargeable batteries such as nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, lithium ion (button batteries used in watches and hearing aids), laptop batteries, and lead acid batteries. Battery terminals should be taped as a fire prevention measure during collection and transportation.



Fluorescent, Compact Fluorescent (CFL), and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs must be disposed of properly per Massachusetts Law. They cannot go in the trash or regular recycle bins. They must be recycled and hazardous materials disposed of properly. To request replacement of broken light bulbs or pickup of unwanted light bulbs, submit a request through Atlas.

Clothing & Books

Donate used or damaged clothing, textiles, and shoes in one of the three Planet Aid bins on campus: between Building 46 and Albany Garage, between Buildings W34/W35 and Kresge Lot, and in Westgate Lot across from Building W71. Even torn or damaged clothes and fabrics are sorted for textile recycling. There's also the Goodwill on Massachusetts Ave.

Donate used hardcover and paperback books in Got Books bins. Book donation bins are located in back of Next House (Building W71) and next to Building 46. Contents of these bins are picked up by an organization called Got Books.

Food Waste

Composting organic material produces CO2. The same items decomposing in a landfill release methane - a gas that has 20 times more potent greenhouse effects. Next time you have a banana, toss that peel in the compostables bin. 

Compostables collected at MIT include food scraps such as fruits, vegetables, meat and bones, and leaves from office plants. No "compostable" dishes or utensils are accepted at this time

Unfortunately, while compostable dishware and utensils can be processed in high temperature composting facilities, there aren’t any in our region yet. Bring your own reusable dishware and utensils to reduce your ecological footprint.
— MIT Facilities


Food trucks are a great way to grab a quick meal, but they also produce a significant amount of unrecyclable trash such as: 

   • Food containers with waxy coatings
   • Disposable utensils
   • Condiment packets

For a more environmentally friendly meal, bring your own containers and utensils. 


Find out more about MIT community groups dedicated to sustainable practices and green lifestyles by reaching out to them below:

  • GSC Sustainability Subcommittee
    Graduate student sustainability group devoted to increasing graduate student involvement in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

  • UA Committee on Sustainability
    Undergraduate student sustainability group devoted to increasing undergraduate student involvement in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

  • Sloan Sustainability Initiative
    Sloan School of Management sustainability group dedicated to building a community of innovators for sustainability.

  • Fossil Free MIT
    Group open to all MIT members, with the aim of combatting climate change and promoting fossil fuel divestment.

  • MIT Waste Alliance
    Group of MIT and Boston area students, industry experts, professionals, and researchers aimed at discussing waste-sector and waste management issues and innovations.

  • Working Green Committee
    Group of MIT staff and departmental representatives that develops and delivers programs to educate MIT staff about recycling, reducing, and reusing goods.

Offices and Resources

  • Office of Sustainability
    Solving global sustainability issues at a local level. By utilizing the campus as a testbed and incubator, we aim to transform MIT into a powerful model that generates new and proven ways of responding to the challenges of our changing planet.

  • Energy Solutions Initiative
    The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) advances science, engineering, policy, design, the humanities, and the arts toward a people-centric and planet-positive future. ESI pursues its mission by mobilizing students, faculty, and staff across MIT in partnerships for interdisciplinary education, research, and convening.

  • MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI)
    The MIT Energy Initiative is MIT’s hub for energy research, education, and outreach. Our mission is to create low- and no-carbon solutions that will efficiently meet global energy needs while minimizing environmental impacts and mitigating climate change. 

  • Department of Facilities
    The Recycling and Materials Management Office oversees the removal of recycling and solid waste from campus. Its focus is to create programs that promote proper waste disposal. For more information on recycling and sustainability practices at MIT including What can be Recycled at MIT and Recycling FAQ.

  • Trash2Treasure
    An annual program that takes one student's trash and turns it into another student's treasure by collecting unwanted items at the end of the academic year that are still usable and storing them to sell at the beginning of the next year.

  • Choose to reuse
    Extend the life of unwanted good products by sharing them with others at this event held the third Thursday of the month during the academic year.

  • The MIT furniture exchange
    The MIT Student Furniture Exchange (FX), a service project of the MIT Women's League since 1958, sells used furniture and household goods at bargain prices.

    Reuse is a group email list for exchanging free and for-sale items located at MIT or within the greater Boston area.

taken straight from the "Responsible Waste Disposal Practices" education course available on

This course was created by a collaboration between the GSC Sustainability Subcommittee and IS&T, with support from the Office of Sustainability, Department of Facilities, and the Energy Solutions Initiative.