Zero-Sort Recycling


At Bowdoin, we use a Zero-Sort recycling program where you can put your recyclables into ONE bin rather than having to sort them. For quick reference, take a look at our Zero-Sort guide.

Below are some FAQ about the Zero-Sort recycling system. If you have ANY other questions, please email us at

What goes in the Zero-Sort bins?

  • ALL PAPER (staples/paperclips OK): newspapers, magazines, envelopes (all types), colored paper, folders, notebooks, brown paper bags
  • CARDBOARD: shoe boxes, pizza boxes (remove food, grease OK), milk/juice cartons
  • PLASTICS: all containers #1 - #7 which includes:
    • Water/juice bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, empty salad/yogurt containers
  • GLASS: any color bottles, jars
  • METAL: beverage cans, ALL aluminum (foil, trays), empty aerosol cans

What CANNOT go in the Zero-Sort bins?

There are some items that unfortunately cannot be included in the Zero-Sort bins. BUT many of these items can be recycled separately, so please bring those items marked with an asterisk (*) below to the specialty recycling station located in Smith Union across from the Mail Center.

  • Plastic bags (Zip-loc, grocery bags, bread bags)*
  • Tissues and paper towels
  • Light bulbs*
  • Ceramics
  • Styrofoam
  • Hazardous waste
  • Batteries*
  • Containers with food inside – enough food that it will fall out if you tip it over (once emptied, most food containers can be recycled!)
  • “Technotrash”* (see recycling technotrash, below)

How can I find out if my plastic container is recyclable?

Plastics #1-#7 are recyclable in the Zero-Sort. On the bottom of the container, look for a triangular symbol that with three chasing arrows around it and a number inside. Unfortunately, if there is no number then it cannot be recycled in Zero-Sort.

Can I recycle food containers, such as yogurt cups or pizza boxes, if they still have food on them?

ALL food containers should be empty before being put in the recycle bin, BUT they DO NOT need to be squeaky clean. As long as food does not fall out of the container when tipped over, recycle it!

Can I recycle plastic shopping bags or Ziploc bags?

Plastic bags cannot go in the Zero-Sort bins because they get caught in the sorting machinery, BUT they can be recycled separately if you drop them off in the “soft plastic” box in Smith Union across from the Mail Center. You can also drop these off in specialty "soft plastic" bins at any supermarket or pharmacy store - just ask an employee if you can't find the bin.

The “soft plastics” that can be recycled (as long as they are dry and clean) include:

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Plastic wrap
  • Bread or produce bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Paper towel and toilet paper overwraps

Can I recycle CDs, DVDs, cell phones, chargers etc (aka “Technotrash”)?

These items cannot go in Zero-Sort, but they CAN be recycled separately!

You will find specialty “Technotrash” containers in the following locations on campus:

  • Smith Union recycling center (across from the Mail Center)
  • The Kanbar computer lab
  • The H&L computer lab
  • The Help Desk on the second floor of Coles Tower
  • The second floor of the Buck Fitness Center
  • The Bowdoin Magazine in the McClellan Building
  • The Sustainable Bowdoin Office in Rhodes Hall

The items listed below are accepted as “Technotrash”:

  • All forms of electronic media:  CDs, DVDs, video tapes, game cartridges etc.
  • Hard drives, Zip drives etc.
  • Cell phones/pagers, and their chargers, cables, and headset accessories
  • iPod, MP3 players, digital cameras
  • All computer accessories: cords, cables, boards, chips, etc.
  • Inkjet printer cartridges

What about larger electronics, such as monitors, scanners etc?

There is a great program funded by Dell Computer and Goodwill Industries called ReConnect. They will take most old technological items. Check out the IT website for more information

Please note: only personal computers should be recycled through Reconnect. All Bowdoin College computers are property of the College. If you have a Bowdoin College computer that is no longer in use, please contact Mike Roux to arrange for pickup of the old computer.

Can I recycle batteries? Which ones?

YES! You can drop recycle ALL alkaline batteries (AAA, AA, C, D and 9V) in the proper bin at the recycling center in Smith Union, right across from the Mail Center.

Other batteries, such as Metal hydride, lithium, ni-cad, silver, mercury, and zinc (very rarely used in a college student’s day-to-day life) are considered hazardous and must be collected for proper disposal under the guidance of Bowdoin's Environmental Health and Safety office.

Can I recycle CFL light bulbs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps)?

Yes!  Because fluorescent light bulbs contain trace amounts of mercury, all fluorescent bulbs on campus must be recycled. NEVER dispose of fluorescent bulbs in the trash or in a dumpster. If you have a CFL bulb in your office or dorm room that dies, please leave a note for your housekeeper to bring it to our central accumulation area in Rhodes Hall. The Office of Environmental Health & Safety will make sure it gets properly recycled.  If a CFL bulb should break in a dorm room or office space, campus members can follow these directions for safe clean up provided by EnergyStar or the Maine Bureau of Waste Management.

If you have personal fluorescent bulbs at home that need to be recycled, check with your local public works office. For example, Brunswick residents can recycle fluorescent tube lighting (including CFLs) at the Graham Road Landfill, and CFL bulbs can now be recycled at many retail locations throughout the state, just visit the Efficiency Maine website for a complete list.

WAIT, I can return bottles and cans for CASH?

  • Don’s Redemption Center, (51 Harpswell Rd # 600) OR The Beverage Rack (48 Cushing Street) – drop off items and get cash on the spot!
  • Clynk Redemption at Hannaford Supermarket, (35 Elm Street, Brunswick, ME, 207-725-8701) – purchase Clynk bags from Hannaford, fill them up and drop them in the special Clynk dumpsters to save money in an online account and “cash out” whenever you want! Learn more here.

I live in an on-campus apartment (Pine, Harpswell or Brunswick apartments) and there is a Zero-Sort dumpster. How do I use it?

The Pine, Harpswell and Brunswick apartment complexes have  Zero-Sort recycling dumpsters in their parking lot next to the trash dumpsters (marked with a blue lid and zero sort recycling labels).  Just like their personal trash, students are responsible for routinely bringing their recycling out to the dumpster and depositing materials into the dumpster for pick-up. 

To avoid lost or stolen recycling bins, please bring your bin back inside your apartment. If you have questions please contact the Sustainability Office at:

Who should I call about getting new trash or recycling bins for my dorm or office?

What do I do if I see a recycling bin that needs to be emptied?

by calling x3333 or

How much Zero-Sort recycling does Bowdoin recycle annually?

In fiscal year 2015 Bowdoin recycled 417 metric tons of Zero-Sort material.  That doesn’t include all the bottles and cans that were redeemed for recycling by the campus community, as well as techno trash, metal, and other recyclable materials that are not part of the Zero-Sort program. This number also does not include the food waste that is composted from both of the dining halls as well as from all of the College Houses.

Where can I find tips on reducing waste on campus?

Visit Bowdoin’s "Reducing Our Waste" page for tips on how to reduce waste on campus!