Graphic and GIFs by Tom Abi Samra

The Recycling Rundown

After you’ve forgotten about that Starbucks cup or plastic bottle, people are actually responsible for sorting through your recyclables.

Whether you’re diehard recyclers like us, or if you never really paid much attention to the strangely shaped waste bins on campus, there’s one huge reason why you should either commit to separating your trash or send it all to the landfill: after you’ve forgotten about that Starbucks cup or plastic bottle, people are actually responsible for sorting through your recyclables. When night falls at NYU Abu Dhabi, Serco workers pull together all the waste tossed into our plastic and paper recycling bins to bring our separation up to standard. While we may boast impressive straight-A transcripts and assertions of being Global Leaders, NYUAD’s recycling would not be accepted to plants or centers without the help of our Serco workers in the basement every day.
On Nov. 26, Ecoherence ran a recycling tournament to demystify recycling on campus. 75 participants competed for the fastest time to sort a bucket of garbage correctly and vowed to teach their friends how to recycle too. One of the facilitators, Ryan Brown, Class of 2019, noted, “Many people on campus really care about recycling but when they were put to the test, they didn’t know what could and could not be recycled.” If this sounds like you, we recommend going through this NYUAD-specific recycling tutorial, but for a quick overview, we’ve profiled the biggest misconceptions on campus when it comes to recycling.
Paper Cups
Have you ever wondered why your Starbucks paper cups don’t turn soggy? Despite what their name suggests, these paper cups are lined with plastic polyethylene so that they hold liquid and prevent leakage. Although infrastructure for recycling these cups exists in cities like San Francisco and New York, it is not available in the vast majority of the world, including the UAE. As heartbreaking as it sounds, your Starbucks paper cups should go in general waste, which means they end up in landfills. Similar to paper cups, juice boxes, also known as Tetrapaks, are often placed in the paper recycling bin, while in reality, they should go in general waste because they are made of more than one material. Conversely, Starbucks plastic cups, which usually hold cold beverages, are recyclable — but not the straw.
To decrease your paper and plastic cup usage, bring your own reusable mug whenever purchasing beverages. And if you’re on campus, with every ten Starbucks drinks you purchase in a reusable container, you get one drink for free.
Pizza Boxes
On the other hand, pizza boxes are a bit special and require more attention. While the box is recyclable, the paper that is in direct contact with the pizza is not. Make sure you remove this greasy paper and throw it in general waste before placing your pizza box in the paper recycling bin. Similarly, takeout containers that have been soiled by food are not recyclable and must go in general waste.
Plastic Wrappers
We’ve all seen people throw plastic wrappers from candy, chocolate, ice cream, etc. in recycling a million times, always in good faith under the assumption that they’re made of plastic. Unfortunately, these wrappers are usually made of more than one material and are not recyclable. Therefore, the next time you go to the Convenience Store and buy yourself ice cream, remember to put the wrapper in general waste, or buy an ice cream tub, which you can recycle and eat with a stainless steel spoon. An even better alternative is to take your glass bowl to Baskin Robbins in the Marketplace and be 100 percent waste-free.
Cling Film and Plastic Bags
Some plastics are not recyclable due to infrastructural limitations. For example, cling film — also known as Saran wrap — and plastic bags are traditionally made of PVC and polyethylene respectively, which are recyclable materials in theory. However, machinery might get clogged up if such items are placed in them. Therefore, throw your cling film in general waste and reuse plastic bags by placing them in the Boomerang Bag bin outside the Convenience Store.
Remember to clean your plastics before you recycle them!
Have you ever thrown a half-full water or juice bottle in the plastic container to say that you at least recycled? We’re sorry to say that if you have ever done so, it is very likely that someone had to open that bottle, empty it and wash it. Moral of the story: place only clean and empty items in the recycling bins.
Finally, aluminum foil and glass are not recyclable on campus, although they might be elsewhere. So try and reduce your usage of such items.
It is worth noting that most institutions in the UAE do not even offer recycling as an option. NYUAD has had to put effort into sourcing recycling partners. Our paper and cardboard go to a recycling plant in Dubai, our plastic is exported for recycling, we recycle oil from the dining hall, have a biodigester to turn our food waste into compost and have a bulb crusher to help dispose of burnt fluorescent bulbs. Further, according to Louise Larkins, Serco’s Soft Services Manager, we will have receptacles and a solution to dispose of glass in early 2019 when the new contract starts. Yet, with all of these investments in place, it is our turn to make use of them as a community.
One initiative that students are currently working on is a proposal to facilities and Residential Education to include recycling bins as part of every dorm room’s inventory. Kate Melville-Rea, Class of 2018, completed a capstone on the effects of placing recycling bins in student rooms and found statistically significant results for improvements to recycling quality. “The best and most promising result for me was when the Serco workers themselves shared with me how much smoother it made their work run,” added Melville-Rea. When you put your takeout box in the paper recycling bin, someone has to throw out the now contaminated recyclable paper.
With such a diverse community of people coming from all different kinds of recycling backgrounds on campus, of course there are different levels of recycling literacy. This is why it is necessary to have a form of orientation for newcomers. As Raunak Shrestha, Class of 2020 and Ecoherence President, notes, "We may run recycling games from time to time but our community is in need of a more systematic way of educating us from day one on the dos and don’ts of recycling."
Hannah Melville-Rae is a contributing writer and Tom Abi Samra is Multimedia Editor. Email them at
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