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Frequently Asked Questions: Paper

Q: What kind of paper should go in the paper recycling bin?

A: Mixed paper is our catch-all category for paper. If the paper tears and is not contaminated with food or oil, it can be placed in the paper recycling bin.  Large corrugated cardboard boxes should be flattened and placed in the green dumpster in the dumpster enclosure.

Q: I often see people taking magazines out of the recycling bins at the Stanford Recycling Drop-Off Center. Is this okay?

A: We do not mind if people would like to take magazines for reuse, as long as they do not climb inside or on the bin and they recycle them once they are done.

Q: How do I recycle cardboard?

A: Corrugated cardboard is the material that has a thin wavy material in between the two outside layers. Once you have identified corrugated cardboard, empty the box of its contents and packaging. Air pillows and bubblewrap can be recycled in the paper bins on campus or in the plastic film bin at the Drop-Off Center, but polystrene is not recyclable on campus.  Flatten the box and place it the green cardboard dumpsters located next to the garbage dumpster on campus outside of most buildings. If it is a small piece of cardboard, you can also put it in one of the mixed paper recycling bins on campus. In the residential area, flatten the box and place it next to your curbside bins. Flattening the box saves space in our collection truck, allowing us to be more efficient on the route.

Q: What should I do with cereal boxes and gift boxes?

A: Cereal boxes and gift boxes are generally made of a lower valued paper called paperboard. Empty the box completely, including food, plastic inserts, or packaging material, flatten, and place in the paper recycling bin.

Q: Can catalogs be recycled?

A: Catalogs can be recycled in the paper recycling bin.

Q: We just received our new phone books. What should we do with the old ones?

A: Phones books can be placed in the paper recycling bin.

Q: Can books be recycled? I tried to sell my books back, but they didn't take them all.

A: You could try to donate your books to a used bookstore or put in our book bin at the Stanford Recycling Drop Off Center.  We can also recycle your hard and soft backed books in the paper recycling bin.

Q: Can I recycle old photographs and negatives?

A: No, we cannot recycle these materials.

Q: Can aseptic and carton containers be recycled?

A: We accept aseptic and carton containers including juice and milk cartons and soy milk containers along with other glass, aluminum, and plastic container in the Plastics, Metal, and Glass bin on campus.

These containers are made of high quality paper and polyethylene. Some of the drink boxes have a small percentage of aluminum. Once collected, aseptic boxes are hydropulped to separate paper fibers from plastic and aluminum foil. Mills value the fiber recovered from aseptic packaging because of its strength, length, and brightness. Depending on the markets, the plastic/foil residual can also be recycled into high-end plastic lumber products.
Source: Carton Council

Q: Why can't pizza boxes be recycled?

A: Pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, however the cardboard becomes soiled with grease, cheese, and other foods once the pizza has been placed in the box. Once soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the paper fibers will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process. Food is a major source of contamination in the various paper categories.  However, you can put pizza boxes, donut boxes and other oil or food soiled papers in the compost bin on campus.

Q: What should I do with paper plates and paper cups?

A: Although these items are paper, these items are not recyclable nor compostable, unless they are certified compostable. Often times these items are soiled with food or other contaminants which causes problems in the paper making process. In addition, many paper products have a thin petroleum plastic lining to give strength to the product and prevent leaking. This petroleum plastic lining is consider a contaminant in the composting process so they cannot be composted. Please throw paper plates and cups in the landfill bins unless they are certified compostable.  If they are certified compostable (look for the term "compostable" on the item), the product has a corn-based PLA liner.  These products will compost in a commercial compost facility and therefore can be placed in the compost bins on campus.

Q: What should I do with slightly used paper towels and paper napkins?

A: Although these items are paper, these items are not recyclable. However, you can place paper towels and napkins in the compost bin on campus.

Q: Can I recycle my bows, ribbons, wrapping paper, and boxes?

A: Bows and ribbons are not recyclable, but they are certainly reusable if care is taken when they are removed from packages. Save bows in cardboard boxes for presents throughout the year. Gift wrapping, tissue paper, paperboard boxes, and corrugated cardboard boxes are recyclable in your mixed paper bin. Better yet, use reusable holiday gift bags or purchase cloth bags that can be used year after year. Look for recycled content in your gift wrap too! Instead of purchasing gift boxes, reuse shoe or other boxes around the house for gifts. Flatten gift boxes that you received for easy storage for the next use.

Q: What can I do with old greeting cards?

A: You can use old greeting cards to make new gift tags. Once the holidays are over, go through your greeting cards and cut out pretty pictures or textures from the cards and save them in a box for next year.  In addition, you can recycle them along with your mixed paper.

Q: I am concerned about identity theft. Where can I take personal papers to be destroyed?

A: PSSI offers confidential material destruction for paper products for the Stanford community. Call our office at 321-4236 for pricing.

Q: How do I reduce my junk mail?

A: We all know that recycling junk mail is good, but reducing it is better. Reducing junk mail gets clutter out of your mailbox, frees up your time, and helps protects the environment. It takes 17 trees to make a ton of paper. That means nearly 100 million trees get used for junk mail every year in the U.S. Let's keep the trees in the forest, and get the junk mail out of your life.

Individuals and businesses will find the newly designed web-based Stop Junk Mail Kit from the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition to be very helpful in reducing junk mail. It focuses on easy ways to reduce commercial access to your name and address so this information won’t be traded, rented, or sold to companies who send unwanted mail. There is also many helpful links to related issues and programs.

In addition, the Santa Clara County Recycling Hotline’s webpage has a junk mail reduction kit and instructions on how to reduce junk mail. It explains what works and what does not work, and how to stay off mailing lists. Check it out at

Now there is a tool for businesses to use to reduce undeliverable mail to former or relocated employees. By joining the Ecological Mail Coalition’s free service, businesses can reduce millions of catalogs, flyers, magazines and other promotional mail pieces that are sent to former employees every week.

Q: What are the key benefits to recycling paper?

A: Paper recycling reduces the need for raw material and uses less energy and causes less pollutino than producing a new product with virgin material. Paper makes up approximately 38% of the U.S. solid waste.