November: Recycling Easy


It’s Leah, the Live Green! Social Media Engagement Intern. I am excited to share with you everything that is happening this month! 

November’s social media campaign, Recycling Easy, will offer information and insight about recycling on and off campus. Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, it conserves natural resources, prevents pollution, and saves energy. There are many resources on and off campus that make recycling that much easier. At Iowa State University, we offer campus-wide single stream recycling, corrugated cardboard recycling, laboratory glass recycling, and much more. 

This month also celebrates National Recycling Day on November 15th where Americans are encouraged to purchase recycled-content products and recycle more and properly. Read on to learn more about National Recycling Day, recycling basics and specific recycling services at Iowa State University!

National Recycling Day, also known as America Recycles Day, became a national holiday in 1997. Recently, on November 10, 2021, Governor Reynolds declared November 15 also as Iowa Recycles Day. The day was set to support the culture of reducing waste, conserving resources and meeting our obligations to the planet and future generations.

However, recycling is a much older concept than we give it credit for. In the 1800’s there were no blue recycling bins, no sorting, and no recycling trucks. Recycling as we know it today did not exist. 

“People recycled far more than we do now,” says Susan Strasser, author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. If the elbows in a shirt wore out, you’d take the sleeves off, turn them inside out. If a dress went out of style, you added new buttons or sent it back to the dressmaker to fashion a trendier look. Eventually, the fabric would be turned into a quilt or a rag rug. Strasser also pointed out that if you didn’t reuse your materials, it would all just pile up in your house. Household manuals even featured descriptions on how to repair glass, including how garlic can be used as glue.

Garbage pickup began in the early 19th century and many cities began to separate reusable trash from garbage designated for the landfill. Cities sold the reusable trash to industries. Many individuals were still saving their organic waste to feed their animals. By the 1920’s, source separation wasn’t happening. Not much was left being recycled besides metal at scrap yards.

When we arrived at World War II, people recycled nylons, tin cans, cooking fats, and the tin in toothpaste tubes for the war effort. By the 1960’s the first recycling programs started to link people’s concern for the environment. Most people in society didn’t think much about preserving the environment or reducing use until landfills started filling up in the late 1970’s. Curbside recycling programs helped solve the convenience issue, however the prevalence varied from city to city.

In 1960, just over 6 percent of municipal solid waste was recycled. Since then, recycling rates have increased to about 10 percent in 1980; 16 percent in 1990; 29 percent in 2000, and over 35 percent in 2017. Recycling has helped decrease the amount of waste going to landfills from 94 percent in 1960 to 52 percent of the amount generated in 2017.

To learn more about the history and development of recycling in America, check out the “When Did Americans Start Recycling?” article on the website.

Iowa State University approaches waste management on campus as the continuous promotion of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle which is very vital in achieving an effective waste minimization and diversion program. We are committed to the establishment of a sustainable campus through promotion of the reduction of waste produced, reusing materials as much as possible and recycling materials into new products.

The recently approved University 2021-2025 Strategic Plan for Sustainability in Operations guides focused commitment to reducing carbon emissions, reducing energy consumption and applying cohesive and overarching sustainability procedures to day-to-day operations including waste, water and grounds management. The waste section of the “Strategic Plan for Sustainability in Operations” upon which this waste minimization and diversion plan is anchored focuses on advancing waste prevention and divert non-hazardous construction and demolition debris and non-hazardous solid waste debris, including food and compostable material, and to pursue opportunities toward a 10% waste reduction and 85% waste diversion from landfilling by year 2025. 

On campus, a single stream recycling program, offered to all students, faculty and staff in academic and campus residential buildings, allows all recyclables to be placed together in recycling (blue) bins rather than sorting them individually. These collected materials from campus are transported to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Des Moines where they are sorted and sold to markets as raw materials to produce new products. Single stream recycling on campus is designed to increase the ease and convenience of recycling, encourage more participation and save resources by reducing waste. Learn more about recycling at ISU on the ISU Recycling Services website.

While talking about recycling, it is important to note the importance of recycling properly. If items are not recycled properly they could cause contamination to an entire bin of recyclable materials. This often happens when there is leftover food or drink in containers that spill and transfer onto all other recyclables. Next time you are about to recycle your coffee cup, make sure it’s completely empty! In addition, always be sure to read and follow the instructions on all the signs and graphics on and around the bins to ensure you are disposing of your items properly. Refer to the graphics below to help aid your proper recycling habits on campus. Learn more about recycling contamination by checking out the Recycling Contamination tab on

As we continue through the month of November, consider joining us to help combat landfill waste, preserve natural resources, and reduce costs. Iowa State University possesses many valuable resources on campus to help you join in on these efforts.

Check out the ISU Recycling Services website to learn more and take action.
As the year moves forward, please consider the Live Green! Leadership Team as your  sustainability resource for connection to information, events and opportunities to get involved with sustainability on campus and also throughout the community. Stay tuned for a month of tips, resources, connections and “did you know” stories and posts on our social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, as we round out this month’s campaign. And stay tuned for December’s Ending Fast Fashion campaign.

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