By UW Recycling | Nov 9, 2020
waste bin that says reduce reuse recycle with text that reads "america recycles day november 15" with the uw recycling and the whole u logos

November 15 is America Recycles Day! To celebrate, UW Recycling wants to take a trip down memory lane to the early days of recycling at the University. Want to do more? Check out a list of recommended activities from our team below.

Our history

uw trash in 1970The University began recycling as a reaction to student environmental movements in 1970. Students laid out their personal waste outside of the student center in the University’s first “trash-in.” They wanted to send a message to manufacturers to manage waste responsibly. The students separated the material, sent it back to the manufacturers and requested it be reused. Students partnered with the UW’s Physical Plant department to begin recycling and disposing of the waste. By 1971, the group collected roughly 2800lbs of recyclables per week.

In the 1970s, the UW recycled mostly paper, but now we strive to recycle paper, glass, metal, and plastic together in a single-stream system. We also recycle special materials separately, such as batteries, concrete, Styrofoam and plastic film whenever we can! For more information on what’s allowed in our campus single-stream recycling, check out our blog post on what makes something recyclable.

Recycling advertisement at the University of Washington (5/29/1991).

The University would not be where it is today without the tenacity and environmental advocacy of our students! Thanks to those initial efforts, we now recycle an average of 54 tons per month when operating at full capacity. The UW has become a leader in waste diversion within the PAC 12 conference – go Dawgs!

How can we do even better?

While we are proud of the strides our University has made, we want to continue to improve. We currently divert around 61% of all campus waste. We would be able to divert 83% if everything was reused, composted, and recycled perfectly. The UW’s goal is to reduce our landfilled waste by 10% by 2025. That means not just composting and recycling right, but also reducing the waste we create in the first place.

Be sure to review our disposal guide to know what you should recycle, or email us anytime at with questions.


In celebration of America Recycles Day, we wanted to offer a few ideas on what we can all do:

  • Take our online course: Learn how to sort your waste correctly on the Seattle campus by taking our recycling and waste diversion course. The course is self-paced and open to all UW faculty, students and staff.
  • Color our coloring pages: You can download the free pages on The Whole U website. Even though we hope you’ll cherish your coloring pages forever, be sure to recycle any pages you don’t end up keeping.
  • Pick-up litter: If you see litter that is safe to pick up, use a litter grabber to pick it up and place it in the correct bin. Every piece of litter that is removed from the environment helps!
  • Enjoy some trash-y entertainment: Check out our blog post for some book and film suggestions about waste.
  • Thank a waste collector (from a safe distance!): Consider saying thank you to your waste collectors when you see them! They work around the clock to keep our neighborhoods clean, including our own recycling team here at the UW. Check out our Instagram for a brief introduction to some of our waste collectors!