Office of Energy & Sustainability

Waste & Recycling


Waste management is an important part of WCM sustainability efforts. Reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills can significantly reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.

At Weill Cornell Medicine, the Housekeeping team oversees the movement of our trash and recycling. Trash from the main campus is collected and consolidated in a compactor before being picked up by a hauler. WCM’s hauler provides a single-stream recycling system. This means that all recycling streams are combined together. The separation into different waste streams (paper, plastic, metal, glass) happens later at a sorting facility. Only corrugated cardboard (such as thick delivery boxes) needs to be kept separate. However, keeping paper separated from plastic, glass, and metal helps preserve it and increase paper recycling quality. Therefore, the Office of Energy & Sustainability  encourages WCM students and staff to separate paper from the rest of their recycling when possible.

WCM Waste Streams (2022)

WCM waste stream pie chart

 Diversion Rate


In 2022, of the 1171.3 tons of waste generated, 26.4% was diverted from landfills. Above the national average of 24%.


What happens to the waste?

Inside a recycling bin

Inside a contaminated recycling bin.

Housekeeping collects the waste every evening (twice per day in 24/7 areas). For practicality, housekeepers use the same wheeled receptacle to collect both trash and recycling. The bags are then visually sorted into trash or recycling streams based on the content. If a bag of recycling is clean, it will be recycled. If it has contamination of materials that shouldn't be there, it will be treated as trash.





What can be recycled?

  • Rigid plastic (bottles, clean food containers, cups) – NO plastic bags or other types of soft plastics, squeeze tubes or pouches, Styrofoam
  • Paper and cardboard (paper sheets, envelopes, receipts, folders, newspapers, magazines, catalogs – NO hard cover books, waxed or soiled paper, soft paper
  • Beverage cartons
  • Glass bottles and jars – NO glasses or plates
  • Metal (cans, aluminum foil)
  • Mixed metal/plastic objects (chairs and furniture)
  • Note: all containers must be rinsed


What is considered a contaminant?

  • Paper towel and napkins
  • Soiled paper
  • Soiled food containers
  • Coffee cups
  • Bottles or cups containing liquids
  • Surgical masks
  • Disposable gloves


Learn about the items that are often mistakenly placed in the recycling risking to contaminate the entire bag which will then go to a landfill.

Waste Streams Life Cycle


Trash life cycle

Once solid trash is picked up from our buildings, it is brought to waste transfer facilities by the haulers. From here, it is distributed to landfills, usually in Pennsylvania or Virginia.



recycling life cycle

Paper: At a material recovery facility, paper is sorted and baled by grades, such as sorted office paper (SOP), mixed office paper (MOP), and old corrugated cardboard (OCC). These bales are shipped by rail, truck, and overseas container to fiber recycling plants. SOP is sent to mills in NY, NJ, and Canada, where it is made into hand towels and toilet tissue. MOP is sent to mills in Staten Island, NY, and Philadelphia, PA, where it is made into pizza boxes and other packaging items. Note: keeping paper separated from the rest of the recycling keeps the scrap material clean, whereas it could get contaminated if mixed with the rest of the recycling.

Plastic: Plastic is sorted by resin type (PET, HDPE, LDPE, etc.), baled, and shipped to several U.S. and Canadian mills. PET can be made into fleece sweatshirts. The most-often recycled plastic, HDPE #2, is recycled into plastic lumber, tables, benches, truck cargo liners, trash receptacles, stationery, and other durable plastic products.

Metal: Metal is sorted in open-top containers and taken to various scrap metal facilities for intermediary ferrous and non-ferrous sorting and processing before being sold to foundries for smelting. For example, aluminum cans are shredded or ground into small chips before being melted and cast into ingots, which are sent to manufacturing plants where they are used to manufacture end products such as cans, castings, and car bodies. 

Glass bottles: Glass bottles are sorted by color (e.g., clear, brown, and green) and sent to processing facilities where they are broken down into small pieces and separated from metals, labels, bits of plastic, metal rings, and caps. Glass is then blended with silica sand, soda ash, and limestone, and melted into molten glass.



Cardboard life cycle

Old, corrugated cardboard is sent to mills in India and Southeast Asia, where it is made into brown shipping boxes. Note: keeping it separated from the rest of the recycling keeps the scrap material clean, whereas it could get contaminated if mixed with the rest of the recycling.


Confidential Documents & Shredded Paper

Confidential documents life cycle

Confidential documents, if not already shredded, are shredded on-site by our hauler USA Shred and then brought to a material recovery facility for recycling.


Bulk Waste

Bulk waste life cycle

Note: Before disposal, oil and CFCs need to be reclaimed from refrigerators, freezers, A/C units, etc. 

Bulk waste is collected into dumpsters which are brought by the hauler to bulk and construction & demolition (C&D) debris recovery facilities. Wood and C&D debris is sorted, recovered, and turned into mulch, construction filler, and composite board and reused in the construction of crating, planking, and refurbishing pallets/skids.


Regulated Medical Waste

RWM life cycle

For more details regarding regulated medical waste, please visit the EHS site. Regulated medical waste is autoclaved before being dumped into a landfill.


Hazardous Waste (chemicals, chemotherapeutics, regulated substances, expired medications)

Chemical waste life cycle

Hazardous waste is incinerated before reaching a landfill. Lendfills used for hazardous waste are specialized for this purpose and are not the same as landfills for standard waste.


Universal Waste (batteries, mercury, lamps, waste oil)

Universal waste life cycle

The majority of universal waste can be recycled.



Electronics life cycle

WCM uses a third party vendor to reuse and recycle as much electronics as possible.




You can help us reduce waste and improve diversion rates before you recycle.

  • Preventing waste from entering our campus (do you really need that extra shopping bag? Can you bring your own?)
  • Reducing the amount of waste you generate (choose a product with less packaging)
  • Reusing (bring your own reusable water bottle and cup)


Diversion Rate



Buildings serviced by WCM’s hauler (single-stream recycling):


Main campusOutside locations
1300 York and Whitney Pavilion 53 Beekman St
Belfer Research Building240 E 59th St
Weill Greenberg Center1163-67 York Ave
S and SI Buildings2315 Broadway
Olin Hall232 West 80th St
Lasdon House (Floors 2-5)
Oxford Building

Trash and recycling from housing and some leased areas are collected from other haulers or by the Department of Sanitation. Usually, these areas must separate paper from the rest of the recycling, and the recycling streams are collected separately by the hauler.


Buildings with source-separated recycling include:

Lasdon House (Floors 6 and above) and other housing
Feil Research Building
77th St Housing Building
Center for Integrative Medicine
LA Building
MR Building


Did you know

Diesel trucks carry Manhattan's garbage 7.8 million miles every year. That's the equivalent of driving more than 312 times around the Earth!

Office of Energy & Sustainability 1300 York Avenue, LC006, Box 14, New York, NY 10065