Rethink Waste


Berkeley Lab aims to divert at least 75% of municipal solid waste to recycling and composting facilities instead of sending the waste to the landfill. Our ultimate goal is to divert at least 90% of our waste. Help us achieve this goal! 

Our waste diversion currently hovers around 50%, but our new waste diversion process has resulted in up to 72% waste diversion in some buildings. The new process has several main elements:

  1. Color-coded waste stations

Central waste stations in convenient locations have clearly labeled bins for Compost, Other Recycling, Paper recycling, and Landfill waste. Custodians empty the Compost, Other Recycling, and Landfill bins daily and the Paper bin as needed.

2. Care for your Custodian

Many of our custodians suffer from repetitive-motion injuries, often due to grabbing and emptying hundreds of workspace bins everyday. To cut down on these injuries, we ask that you take your waste to waste stations regularly.

TIP! Hold your compostable waste in a used paper coffee cup or bioplastic clamshell, and then drop it off in the Compost bin when you leave work at the end of the day or on your way to the restroom.

3. Waste Responsibility in your Workspace

Each employee can choose landfill and/or recycling bins for her/his workspace. Remember to take your food and food-soiled waste to waste stations DAILY. Taking compostable waste, which is often potentially smelly and messy, to the compost bins avoids odors and prevents pests in your workspace (and angry neighbors!).

4. Cardboard Recycling

To recycle cardboard, flatten cardboard boxes and prop them behind central waste stations. Custodians will pick them up and take them to the cardboard recycling dumpsters.

Put recyclable packaging material (e.g., molded cardboard, paper) in the Paper Recycling bin.

Put non-recyclable material (e.g., block styrofoam, deflated air-filled pillows) in or next to the Landfill bin.

Put foam peanuts into a Peanut Reuse bin.

What goes in each bin?

We understand that diverting waste is not always clear. These signs show specific items that can go in each bin. To see the signs, click on the tabs below. Click on a sign to get the 8.5"x11" version that you can print and post.


    Put food scraps, food-soiled paper, and compostable containers in the green COMPOST bin. We also compost the paper towels from the restrooms.


     Put clean paper, including copy paper and newspaper, in the blue PAPER bin.


     Put glass, metal, and all rigid plastic bottles, cans, and other containers in the blue OTHER RECYCLABLES bin.


    Put all other non-recyclable or compostable items (such as chip bags, candy wrappers, latex gloves, and styrofoam) in the black LANDFILL bin.


     Waste bins in bathrooms mostly contain used paper towels, which are compostable. Put only compostable material in the large waste bins in bathrooms. Take recycling or landfill waste to waste stations.

    If your restroom needs a small landfill bin, then feel free to email

    Specialty Recycling

    Laboratory Waste Diversion

    In buildings with many laboratories, we're seeing lower waste diversion. Waste coming from laboratories is different than waste coming from offices, so this Lab Waste Guide explains the items that can be recycling and composted in labs.

    If you're interested in diverting waste from your lab, then please email sbl@lbl.go to request bins and signs.

    Packing Peanut Collection and Reuse

    Polystyrene packing peanuts are difficult to recycle, but easy to reuse. Place unwanted packing peanuts into special bins labeled for peanuts, often located in the hallway or loading dock. Ask you Building Manager where the peanut location bin is. Once the bins are full, Custodians pull the bags and Transportation Services takes the bags of peanuts to Shipping/Receiving who reuses them in packages they ship.

    DON'T FORGET! Double check your package to ensure that you have retrieved all of your items before emptying the peanuts into the collection bins.


    Transportation Services coordinates the transportation of items to and from Salvage and requires a work ticket to pick up items. For more information, check out the Transportation FAQ page.

    Get Involved

    We're looking for lab group partners to test laboratory waste diversion. We also appreciate eyes and ears in buildings. Join the effort and become an Eco-Advocate!


    We welcome it!

    Where does the material in each bin go?   

    Custodians take the different waste streams to the appropriate carts or dumpsters behind the buildings. Richmond Sanitary hauls all of our waste streams. They started picking up our compostable materials throughout the main site in August 2013, which they take to their compost facility in Richmond. 

    Single-stream (a.k.a., commingled) recycling carts and cardboard recycling dumpsters sit behind most buildings. Richmond Sanitary picks up material from these dumpsters and takes it to their Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to sort the materials, which they then sell to recycling vendors.

    On a regular basis, SBL staff visually assesses indoor waste stations and outdoor dumpsters. This helps us understand if the program needs to improve through more communication or education efforts or better coordination with custodians or our waste hauler.


    Piloting the Process 

    Sustainable Berkeley Lab, including personnel from the Directorate and EHS, piloted the new waste diversion process with the help of the Earth Sciences Division and Facilities' Custodial Services during Spring 2013. The pilot program was deemed a success with 72% waste diversion. The program has since expanded to all of the buildings on the main site with custodial service.



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