Duke University creates meaningful targets for waste diversion and reduces the overall campus waste stream. Since 2012, the estimated pounds of waste per person has steadily declined by 13% through the expansion of recycling and composting initiatives around campus. 

Recycling at Duke

In 1989, a group of students took on the task of recycling at Duke University.  They began with four pickup locations, seven collection items and one truck. Today, Duke Recycles has become a necessary part of campus operation, with a staff of five full-time recyclers and several part-time student staff.  This diverse team allows the Duke Recycles program to maintain its roots as a student-involved environmental organization.

Each year, Duke Recycles strives to collect as much recyclable material from the university waste stream as possible. Many recent initiatives within the Duke Recycles operation have allowed this program to grow, while maintaining superior customer service and productivity.  Centralized pickup sites, active participation by staff members and students, and redesigned pickup routes have helped the staff of Duke Recycles more effectively process the increasing amounts of recyclable materials received each day.

In addition to recycling collection, Duke Recycles sponsors numerous community and environmental outreach programs each year, including Earth Month, Recycle for the Children, Move Out for Charity and educational seminars for incoming students and staff. Duke Recycles has received many awards for its service and community outreach events, including the Carolina Recycling Association Outstanding Collegiate Program award and Durham's Innovative Ventures Encouraging the Reduction of Trash award.

For more information, please visit the Duke Waste Reduction and Recycling's website to learn more!

What can be recycled at Duke?

Duke Recycles services nearly 1,600 recycling bins, collecting 17 different items.  Deposit paper, newspaper and magazines, cardboard, bottles and cans, and plastics #1-7 in recycling bins around campus and help Duke prevent recyclable materials from entering landfills.

Electronic waste is also accepted on campus in some cases and in local county facilities.  Learn how to handle your electronic waste at Duke.

View a complete list of items that can be recycled at Duke.

Composting at Duke

Aside from materials that can be recycled, there is also a large amount of materials that are composted on campus. These items include the following:


Duke began composting food waste in 2002. All of the dining facilities on campus currently compost pre-consumer food waste.

Several campus eateries have also initiated programs for post-consumer composting.  Waste vegetable oil from eateries is reused as biodiesel off campus.

Currently, all compostable material that is collected in campus compost bins is composted by local compost contractors.

Landscaping and Grounds

Duke University strives to use all yard waste as compost. Grounds has installed mulching kits on all mowers to chop and recycle turf clippings. The mowers are also used to mulch the leaves in the fall, returning micro and macro nutrients to the soils and feed the turf, eliminating the need for some fertilizers.

Small limbs and shrub pruning are run through a chipper, creating mulch that is used on older landscapes and in groves. Tree contractors, which use larger chippers, do not remove any of the chips from Duke property, instead leaving them for the Landscaping Services to use on future projects or older landscapes.

Also, in 2019, Duke Gardens began a composting initiative for landscaping and yard waste.