Living Sustainably

Waste & Recycling


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Have you ever thought about how much trash you generate on a given day?

The average American in 2008 produced 4.5 pounds of garbage every day.[1] So, what exactly is being thrown away?  Take a look at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) facts and figures from 2008 for a break down on what the American waste stream is composed of.[2]

American Waste Stream

A significant amount of waste is being generated but a large proportion of this trash can be prevented and reduced. The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but only 30% is actually recycled[3].

Our trash, or “municipal solid waste” (MSW), can be recycled, burned or landfilled. In the United States, landfills are the most popular form of waste management and Bloomington is no exception to that.[4]

All of Bloomington’s trash gets trucked ~60 miles north to the Sycamore Ridge Landfill, near the city of Terre Haute. This means increased pollution from transportation as well as other environmental issues such as air, soil, surface and groundwater contamination.[5] Landfills also have an additional problem of taking up space, while the waste decomposes and releases methane.  Methane is one of the most effective greenhouse gases in capturing and storing heat in the atmosphere, promoting the greenhouse effect.

Therefore, it has become increasingly important to watch what we consider and throw away as “trash”. We can adjust our habits to relieve the amount of waste we are producing every day by being resourceful through reduction, reuse and recycling. Check out the short video, The Story of Stuff, to learn more about the implications of waste disposal.






What Can I Do?

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It's as simple as this- stop generating so much trash! Here's how:

  • Rethink
    • The first step in reducing the amount of trash that you generate is to become more aware of your current habits and identify things that you are doing (or not doing) that impact the amount of trash you generate. Here are some things you can do to monitor your trash footprint: 
      • Keep a Trash Diary. For one week, make a trash log. Document every item you throw in the garbage, and at the end of the week see what types of things you’re throwing away, and the quantity. You might find that what you’re currently tossing in the trash bin, this “end product” of your consumption so to speak, can actually be recycled or composted.
      • Buy Less. Before buying something, think about whether you really need it or not. Be aware of advertising and its influence on your purchasing habits. Do you really need to get the newest version of something (i.e. a phone) when your current one works just fine?
      • If It’s Broken, Fix It. Before throwing something away that’s broken, see what you can do to fix it. If it really is broken, see if you can dismantle it and recycle its parts to divert waste from entering the landfill that isn’t really trash.
      • Donate Used Items. If you no longer want something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should get tossed in the trash! If an item is still in good condition, donate it to an organization such as the Hoosier to Hoosier Community Sale, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or other charities in the Bloomington community through the Community Wishlist. 
  • Reduce
    • The next step in changing your trash footprint is to think about your purchasing behaviors. Specifically, in what ways can you cut down on your need to throw away materials before you even buy something? For example, instead of buying foods that come in non-recyclable containers, buy foods that come in packaging that is recyclable. Better yet, buy foods fresh (from local farmers markets, if possible!) or in bulk to further reduce the amount of end product you are generating- remember that just because you can recycle a container doesn’t mean there is no energy impact (while recycling is better than throwing an item in the landfill, not needing to recycle in the first place because you didn’t generate the end product is even better!)
  • Reuse (Upcycle)
    • The next step in reducing your trash footprint is to work on extending the life of the items you consume by reusing them, or “upcycling” them. Reuse an item in the same way the item was designed, or get creative and use it for something new altogether. Whether you are simply reusing food containers for food storage, or turning would-be recyclables or “trash” items into the components of a Do-It-Yourself project, the only limitation to upcycling is your imagination!
  • Recycle
    • Residential Recycling
      • If you live in a house in any of Bloomington’s neighborhoods, recycling is easier than ever. The City of Bloomington now has free curbside recycling pickup every other week throughout the year (click here to find out when your recycling pick up days are.) In order for the city to pick up your recycling you don’t need to sort through all of your items, just be sure to keep the paper products separated from everything else when you set them out on the curb for pickup.
    • Apartment Recycling
      • If you live in an apartment complex in town that does not offer recycling, what can you do?
        • Talk to your landlord. Encourage the property manager to implement a recycling program. Explain the environmental importance of recycling, as well as how more and more renters are looking for living spaces that offer this important amenity.
        • Talk to your neighbors. If recycling isn’t offered by your apartment complex, some of your neighbors may not realize that this doesn’t mean they can’t still recycle on their own. Encourage your neighbors to recycle in their own apartments, and ask them to talk to the landlord, too. If enough people ask about recycling amenities, it is more likely that the landlord will offer recycling in the future.
        • Recycle Downtown. If you live near downtown but don’t have recycling in your apartment complex, utilize the Downtown Recycling Center’s services. Keep your recyclables separate from your trash in your apartment, and then take them down to the Downtown Recycling Center, conveniently located just behind City Hall. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30am-5:30pm, and takes all glass, plastic, aluminum items, and paper, cardboard, and other paper products.
  • Compost
    • You can further reduce the amount of waste you generate by composting your food waste. To learn more about sustainable food practices and composting, check out the Food section of this website. 
What is Recyclable?

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The City of Bloomington recycles all glass, plastic, aluminum items, and paper, cardboard, and other paper products. If you have curbside recycling, be sure to keep the paper products separated from the other items in order for the City to pick it up; if you are using the Downtown Recycling Center, you’ll need to separate your items categorically.While recycling is pretty straight forward, sometimes it can be confusing. Check out the list below for some common items that can and can’t be recycled.


Paper Products:

  • Junk mail
  • Magazines
  • Catalogs
  • Office Paper
  • Shredded Paper
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard (flattened)
  • Paper board

Paper Products covered with a waxy or plastic coating:

  • Frozen dinner boxes
  • Paper milk cartons
  • Boxed soups or drink cartons

Metal Products:

  • Metal food containers
  • Aluminum cans

Metal Products:


  • Food containers
  • Glass jars
  • Glass bottles

Window Glass

Plastic Products:

  • ALL plastics labeled #1-7
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic bottle caps

Ceramic Items

  • Ceramic cups, plates, bowls, etc…

Styrofoam carry-out food containers:

  • ONLY #6 Styrofoam

Styrofoam packaging:

  • Any Styrofoam that is NOT labeled #6
  • Styrofoam packing material or packing peanuts (You can donate these materials to Pak-Mail)


  • Foam
  • Light bulbs
    • Regular bulbs can be thrown in the trash
    • Compact Fluorescent Ligtbulbs (CFLs)