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Cornell University

Lab and Clinical Space Recycle Policy

The university has the following policy for LABORATORY and CLINICAL SPACES on the Ithaca campus to ensure safe and consistent handling of waste materials:

  1. Purpose - This policy is intended to enable recycling of specific wastes from laboratory or medical/clinical spaces and activities at Cornell’s Ithaca campus while:
    1. limiting the risk to Cornell employees/students/affiliates who handle waste recycled,
    2. limiting the risk to vendor employees who hand-sort waste recycled from Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and
    3. ensuring compliance with Federal and New York State waste disposal regulations.
  2. General Requirements:
    1. Waste generated from activities other than laboratory and medical/clinical activities and in spaces other than laboratory and medical/clinical spaces can be recycled in designated recycling containers in those spaces.
    2. Disposing of waste from laboratory or medical/clinical activities in recycling containers  in other spaces (e.g., offices or public areas) is prohibited. Similarly, removing this waste from Cornell is also prohibited.
    3. Items used for laboratory or medical/clinical activities but not used in associated spaces (e.g., medical waste from ambulatory farm visits or shipping/receiving activities) are covered by this policy in the same way as waste generated from laboratory or medical/clinical spaces.
  3. Exposure to Biological Materials, Radioisotopes and/or Laboratory Chemicals:
    1. All waste to be recycled must not have been exposed to biological materials including cell cultures, tissues, blood, bodily fluids, and/or microorganisms – the presence, or lack thereof, of an infectious agent does not affect this requirement. “Exposure” consists of
      1. being in contact with the material, or
      2. being present in a biological safety cabinet or other containment device in which biological materials are manipulated.
    2. Due to NYS regulations, items or materials that have been exposed to biological materials as described above may not be cleaned, disinfected, sterilized or otherwise decontaminated and then disposed of in recycling or landfill waste. These items or materials must be disposed of as Regulated Medical Waste.  For more information, see the the EH&S medical waste disposal page.
    3. Material contaminated with radioisotopes or laboratory chemicals (including chemical containers) may not be recycled. For specific guidance on disposal of materials contaminated with radioisotopes or chemicals, see EHS hazardous materials waste page.
  4. Materials and Items that may be recycled from Laboratory and Medical/Clinical Spaces and Activities via the Cornell University Recycling Program in designated recycling containers:
    1. Paper and cardboard.


Help is appreciated! If you see a recycle bin in a laboratory or clinical space that is mislabeled for single stream recycling please let us know:

  • LABELS: The R5 Operations unit has “paper/cardboard only” recycle labels. To receive labels just let R5 Operations know how many labels are needed, and a campus mailing address to send them to.
  • LIDS: Labs or medical spaces which have a “single stream” lid on their “Slim Jim” recycle bin can trade the lid for a “paper/cardboard only” lid. Contact R5 Operations to arrange a lid exchange.
  • R5 Operations can be contacted by email at, or by phone at 254-1666. 

Expected impact on Cornell's waste stream

The policy is has a small impact on Cornell's overall waste stream.

Sustainability that is safe

Diverting waste from the landfill through recycling is an important component in our efforts to develop a more sustainable waste handling program. Making a change where some items are not recycled can feel counter-intuitive. Please remember that health and well being are an integral part of sustainability, and that human health, animal health, and ecosystem health are all linked.

If you have any questions, please contact the R5 Operations Department at