Happy November to everyone! 

Pedro here, your Social Media Engagement Intern for Live Green! Since November 15 is America Recycles Day, I thought you might be interested in learning more about the celebration, as well as what Iowa State does year-round to support (and offer) recycling, through a little crash course. 


There are many aspects of recycling that might be confusing.  For example what bins recycling goes into. Oftentimes cities and recycling companies use color-coded bins to dispose of trash and recyclables in an organized manner, for easier sorting. However, memorizing the different color of each bin, in different locations can be confusing and often-times frustrating. In order to reduce the confusion and encourage more people to recycle, Iowa State has adopted Single Stream Recycling, a strategy that allows all recyclables to be placed in the same recycling bin rather than having to sort items individually. The chart below, shows how this is accomplished. The collected recyclables are then taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Des Moines to be sorted, processed and shipped to companies for use in manufacturing new products. 

Single Stream Recycling

As simple as Single Stream Recycling is, there are still guidelines to follow related to the items that can and can’t be recycled. As noted above, please avoid throwing the “Do Not Include” items listed above. While it may seem like some of them would be recyclable or should be able to be recycled, we are guided by what the MRF can accept. 

For example, you might be surprised to see that many of the non-recyclable items are made out of plastic. Oftentimes it can be easy to assume that all plastics are the same, but they aren’t. Multiple types of plastic resins are used to make different items, and depending on what resins were used and what market demand is, what plastics can be recycled can be limited and might vary. It is really important to ALWAYS read the signs carefully on recycling bins to make sure you are recycling correctly. If we put items in recycling bins that can’t be accepted, the MRF may have to landfill what otherwise would have been recycled, due to contamination.  

Campus Recycling

Recycling in Ames depends if you are on or off-campus. And even depending where you live (residence hall, apartment or house) recycling availability might differ. If you live in a residence hall, or frequent the Iowa State Campus, there are a few different options available for you! 

Within campus buildings, you can find blue recycling bins in common space areas. Around campus, outside of buildings, there are solar recycling compactors allowing recycling as you are moving between buildings. Finally, within campus housing, there is in-room recycling that allows residents to collect their own recycling and deposit it in larger recycling collection dumpsters outside their apartment or residence hall. Taking out the recycling, as well as taking out the trash. 

Iowa State University’s Recycling Coordinator, Ayodeji Oluwalana has been busy, not just in “blue bin” recycling, but also in looking at creative solutions for finding new uses for recyclable materials and monitoring our progress in keeping recyclable items from going into trash dumpsters. Read more about Ayo’s multi-faceted work in the Inside Iowa State article, “From boxes as bedding to dorm room bins, recycling efforts blossom”.

Community Recycling

It might seem harder to recycle when living off-campus; actually it’s just different. Because of the City of Ames’ unique approach to diverting trash from landfills, through their Resource Recovery System, you won’t find the drop-off recycling centers like you might be used to in your hometown. Instead of having a community recycling center, the City of Ames sends all their trash through a system that actually can keep more trash out of the landfill than community recycling centers. 

The reason this is able to happen, is because many of the items that can’t be put into the campus recycling bins (plastic silverware, straws, pizza boxes, etc.), can be put into the City’s Resource Recovery System. What the City’s system does is take everything you dispose of as trash and sorts it through a system of screens, magnets and other processes. This separates what is good to use as a fuel source to mix with natural gas in the City of Ames’ power plant to produce energy and what is not. All the things that aren’t a good fuel source still get landfilled, but this system is able to reduce what would normally be landfilled, by an average of 50-60%. It’s a pretty interesting system and there aren’t many of them around the U.S.  In fact, the very first one (municipally-owned and operated) was opened in Ames in 1975. Learn more about the City of Ames Resource Recovery System on the City of Ames website.

So, what’s with the picture of the yellow glass recycling bin? As I mentioned, the Resource Recovery System separates what can be used as a fuel source and what can’t be used. Glass is something that can’t be used. So, the City of Ames, offers recycling collection containers throughout the City, if you live off-campus. The bins are located at grocery stores throughout Ames, as well as in other locations. The collected glass is processed by the City and sold for use in making a variety of products. Glass locations can be found on the City of Ames glass recycling webpage.

Other items that can’t be used in the Resource Recovery System are food (we’ll talk about composting later), bulky items like furniture (and pretty much anything else students dispose of each year during move out) and metals. The cool thing with metals, is that while the system can’t use metals as a fuel source, it does have a cool separation process just for metals – to collect them for recycling.

Before we talk about the cool options community members have for food waste and bulky items besides trashing them, it’s important to note that even though the City of Ames has the Resource Recovery Center, there are still options for recycling. We already talked about glass. Some businesses offer recycling bins for items like plastic bags. The Ames Kiwanis Golden K Club, offers an outlet for paper recycling. All of these are no-charge options. 

Also, a pretty cool thing Iowa has (and a few other states) is a Bottle Deposit Law, which (in Iowa) allows, plastic, glass and metal carbonated beverage containers can be taken to grocery stores and redemption centers (and you get 5 cents/container). Recycling that supports economic sustainability too. Learn more about this program, as well as where you can take your beverage containers, on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. 

Besides all the no-cost options, if you prefer to have your recycling picked up at your house, similar to your trash being picked up, you can contract with a recycling vendor and pay a monthly fee. To assist residents in finding recycling services, the City of Ames Resource Recovery System maintains a listing of companies that provide recycling services on their website.


Remember when I said that food wasn’t something that the Resource Recovery Center can use? Thankfully, the City of Ames offers us an option so that we can ensure our food waste doesn’t end up in the landfill. Through the City’s Food Waste Diversion Program (FWD), all Story County residents can take advantage of a free drop-off opportunity that ensures food waste is composted rather than landfilled. The drop-off bins are located at the Resource Recovery System, 110 Center Street, and are available 24/7, 365 – super convenient and super easy. The City does offer a collection bucket (for $10) you can purchase that includes signage telling you what can and cannot be put into the collection bins. Or you can just use your own collection container. To learn more about the FWD Program and where you can purchase collection buckets, go to the FWD Program webpage on the City of Ames website. 


So, now let’s talk about what to do with all those bulky items you have during move out. First, it’s important to note that the Ames community does have a number of thrift stores and second hand stores where items can be donated. Also, there are a number of community sales or swap Facebook groups too. But, that can sometimes take more time than you might have allowed yourself during move out. The result is often piles of really great and usable items, left by the trash dumpster that is just taken right to the landfill, because these items are not able to be used by the Resource Recovery System.

A few years ago, Iowa State University’s Office of Sustainability and the City of Ames teamed up to offer an opportunity to keep reusable items out of the landfill and offer them to students and residents that could use them. The result is a 1-2 week event, during summer move out and fall move in (end of July into early August) that is basically like a GIANT garage sale. Rummage Rampage has diverted over 200 tons of move out items that would have otherwise been landfilled, in its first four years. If that isn’t impressive enough, all proceeds from event sales are split between community non-profit organizations that volunteer during the event, resulting in over $70,000 of support so far.

The event has also diversified to collect not only items to sell, but also items to donate and be dispersed to support community organizations’ missions and initiatives. Items such as towels and linens, clothing and shoes, food, toiletries, school supplies and books are also collected at Rummage Rampage. Most recently to help those who might have pets they are unable to move with, the event also includes an option to work with ROAR (Rehoming Our Animals/Aquariums Responsibly).

The 2021 Rummage Rampage event is scheduled for July 30-August 7. More information about the event, what is accepted, how to sign-up as a non-profit (student organizations can sign up too) and information from past events, can be found on the Rummage Rampage webpage on the City of Ames website. Find out more about ROAR on their Facebook page.

So, there really is a lot to celebrate at ISU and in Ames on America Recycles Day! As you can see, being sustainable in managing our waste is about recycling and SO much more. Hopefully,  this blog has offered some new ideas and reminded you of options you haven’t used for a while to reduce your wasteprint. Thanks for keeping us green! 

As far as how we are celebrating America Recycles Day at ISU – ISU Recycling Services has partnered with the Student Government Sustainability Committee to offer a week of celebration, finishing Friday, November 13, 1:00-2:15pm, with a virtual Recycling Forum. Panelists from the Department of Residence, Engineers for a Sustainable World student organization, ISU Dining, Office of Sustainability and Recycling Services will speak on their efforts and initiatives in waste reduction and diversion from landfilling. There is also a prize drawing! Find the online registration form on the Recycling Services website.

Happy America Recycles Day, Cyclones!

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