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Environment and Energy


As part of Spotlight on Waste Month, E&E asked staff to submit questions about waste and recycling at the University. Here are the answers, have a read and see if you have been putting your recyclables in the right receptacle and your trash in the right cache...

1. Is there any difference between what people put in their bins at home and at work? It depends where you live! In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough everything recycled at home can be recycled at the University. Having said this there are things that crop up at work that you wouldn’t commonly find at home, such as plastic cups from vending machines (which are also ok to recycle). Bear in mind that not all sites at the University have a food waste collection (although these are being rolled out), in which case any waste that would go in the food bin must go into general waste bins. The main things to remember are:

  • At home, tissue paper goes in your food bin. At work please put this in the general waste bin.
  • At home, glass is usually placed in your mixed recycling bin. At work, separate glass bins are provided on most sites (ask your building or facilities manager if you don't know where).
  • University-run cafes and catering outlets use 'Vegware' compostable cutlery and packaging. This should go in the food bins provided in each outlet.

Guidance on what you can recycle at home within Cambridgeshire is available here:

2. What kinds of plastic can and can’t go in the recycling bin, and how do we tell? We wondered specifically about the strong zippable bags that our disposable coffee comes in, and the similar plastic that microwaveable rice is found in. Some of these have a small recycling logo on and some don’t! Anything that is plastic packaging is ok so: bottles, tubs, pots, trays, bags, as well as plastic wrapping. The three main exceptions are crisp packets (or any 'metallic plastic'), cling film and expanded polystyrene, which cannot be recycled and should go into general waste. Any plastic combined with paper (such as windowed envelopes or sandwich boxes) should also go into general waste bins. 

3. Can broken glass go in the recycling bins? No - glass should go into the separate glass recycling bins. Be careful when handling it!

4. Does recycling have to be washed before it goes in the bin? As clean as possible - but it doesn’t have to be 100% pristine. Food is a major contaminant of recycling and so food packaging needs to empty. Heavily contaminated items should go into general waste bins.

5. Can bubblewrap be recycled? (including padded envelopes) Bubble wrap yes, jiffy bags no. There is no easy way to recycle these (yet!) as it is difficult to separate out items made of both paper and plastic. Why not re-use padded envelopes for internal post?

6. Can rubber bungs for test tubes or rubber gloves be recycled? No to any kind of rubber.

7. Can polystyrene packaging be recycled? We cannot currently recycle polystyrene, through our mixed recycling contract. It’s important to remove it from cardboard packaging. Note that a recycling option for polystyrene is planned for the future! See our Waste A-Z for more suggestions on polystyrene.

8. Can printer toners go into the recycling? Cartridges cannot be recycled through our office bins however many printer companies offer 'take back' schemes. You can also recycle them by sending them through UMS to ‘Toner cartridges, Laundry Farm’, or there is also a self-deposit collection point in the Sidgwick Site waste area, behind the Buttery Cafe. Be sure to check the waste A to Z for the latest recycling instructions for printer cartridges.

9. Can we recycle black plastic bags? No. these cannot be recycled at home or at work so these go into the general waste bin.

10. Can we recycle shredded paper? Yes. At work, shredded paper should go into a clear plastic bag and then the bag put into the recycling bin.  At home, shredded paper should go directly into your compost/green bin.

11. Can we recycle the paper tissue that we use to dry our hands? No. At work, tissue paper, used or unused, wet or dry should go into the general waste bin as it is not high quality enough to be recycled. At home, tissue paper should go directly into your compost/green bin.

Rubbish rules to live by!

To add to the FAQs we've put together some recycling and waste rules of thumb. If the following aren't cheesy enough for you to remember how to recycle correctly, we don't know what will...

It’s not that drastic, just recycle your plastic! Almost any plastic packaging can go in the recycling bin. This includes plastic bottles, pots and trays, plastic films, and even the ‘zippable’ plastic containers and bags for items such as instant coffee. The only exceptions are crisp packets (or other metallic plastic - see below) and expanded polystyrene (the foamy packaging often found in boxed deliveries).

Two materials in it? Just bin it! As a general rule, no ‘multiple compound’ products should go in the recycling. This means no items which are made of more than one thing, such as Pringle tubes (metal and cardboard), ‘Jiffy’ envelope/bags (plastic and paper) or Crisp packets (metallised plastic film). This is because they can’t easily be separated to be recycled into one or the other material.

Do the scrunch test! Not sure if it’s foil or metallised plastic film? An easy way to find out is to do the scrunch test. Simply scrunch the item in your hand - if it remains 'scrunched' it is foil and can be recycled; if it springs back it is probably metallised plastic film and not recyclable.

If it’s got a plug, to our website you must lug! Any electronic items are classified as ‘WEEE’ waste and must be sent for reuse and recycling. There are lots of valuable parts to electronic equipment which can be reclaimed, plus many electrical items contain hazards not suitable for landfill. A WEEE collection form is available for download from our website.

Light out? Don’t mess about! Fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs are classed as hazardous waste due to the small amounts of mercury they contain. They should therefore not be disposed of in any regular bin – contact your building manager about disposal and collection options, and take care when handling them.

Have you got any questions on waste and recycling? Send them to and we'll find an answer for you!