FAQs - Waste management and recycling at UNHQ



The Division of Administration is committed to manage UNHQ waste responsibly and contribute to the SDG goals, particularly target 12.5: By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse”To this end, we require UNHQ waste to be processed locally and have achieved zero-waste-to-landfill! We currently recycle and compost over 60% of the waste that leaves our own facilities, the rest goes to a local state of the art Waste to Energy facility. As part of UNHQ Environmental Management System, a plan of action is being implemented to continuously improve waste management, including through regular waste audits.

With your help, we want to reduce the total amount of waste UNHQ generates and increase the recycling and composting rates of what cannot, ultimately, be reduced or re-used. Everyone’s participation is essential to the success of the UNHQ waste management programme and contribution to the SGDs!




We have compiled a list of commonly asked questions. If you cannot find your answers here, send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]. We will update the list regularly.

  1. How can I help?
  2. Why is it important to separate my waste? Is it not sorted off-site?
  3. What and where can I recycle within my office space: at my desk, by the photocopy machines, at the pantry?
  4. What and where can I recycle at the Conference and General Assembly buildings and where?
  5. How do I dispose of paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, office supplies and food waste?
  6. How do we properly dispose of confidential documents?
  7. My office is not in the UNHQ Secretariat, are the procedures different?
  8. What is being done to reduce waste at the cafeteria/café locations?
  9. How can I dispose of my waste at the cafeteria and café locations?


Q1: How can I help?


A1: You can:

  • Ensure you understand what and how to recycle in your building
  • Observe the recycling and waste bin signs in the buildings you visit
  • Reduce your personal waste by choosing more sustainable options over single-use products, such as bringing your own cup, reusable bottle and cutlery, using hand dryers, returning unneeded supplies to stock, reducing printing, etc.
  • Encourage your colleagues to recycle
  • Contact FMS Helpdesk if you do not have the correct bins for your building, floor or workstation 
  • Sign up to become a Recycling Ambassadors by contacting Greening UNHQ 


Q2: Why is it important to separate my waste? Is it not sorted off-site?


A2: UNHQ waste removal contractor treats trash bags and recyclable bags separately. The trash bags are treated in Brooklyn where some of the food waste is separated for composting. Recyclables bags are sorted in Queens and, to the extent possible, paper, plastic, metal and glass is recovered and provided to local mills for re-purposing. Non-composted trash and contaminated recyclables are sent to a local and state of the art waste to energy facility. What this means is that any recyclables in the trash or with trash will be lost to waste-to-energy incineration instead of being re-purposed into new products! By correctly sorting your trash before disposal, you help us recycle more, recover valuable material, and reduce pollution.


Q3: What and where can I recycle within my office space?


Q3.1: At my desk, in the blue bins?

A3.1: You can only recycle paper and cardboard, including colored paper, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, books, clean food tray, folder (including colored ones and those with metal tabs). Attached staples and small paper clips do not need to be removed. Anything else will contaminate the bin, which will have to be treated as regular trash! 

DOs (Place these items in your recycling bin) DON'Ts (Do not place these in the recycling bins)
  • Paper, including colored paper and cardboard
  • Newspaper/ magazines/ catalogues/ books
  • Folders including colored ones and with metal tabs
  • Napkins, tissue, food wrappers, etc.
  • Food or food-contaminated items
  • Plastic binders, glass, plastic or metal items

Q3.2: By the photocopiers, in the large blue bins?

A3.2: Larger blue bins usually placed near copy areas are for mixed paper or broken-down cardboard items that do not fit into the small blue bin. Please take care to remove Styrofoam and/or plastic packaging. 


Q3.3: In the pantry/kitchenette?

A3.3: Specially marked commingled recycling bins are available to recycle (clean/dry) paper, glass, plastic and metal items. Aluminum containers and other metal items go in the receptacle labelled for glass and plastic. Please make sure that bottles and cans are empty, and containers are rinsed clean before placing them in the recycling bin (a little food residue is fine). Contaminated items cannot be recycled!


Q3.4: On flexible space floors, in the centralized bin stations?

A3.4: Flexible space floors are equipped with 3 stream centralized workstations in alignment with NYC commercial recycling rules. Please separate paper/cardboard and plastic/glass/metal and beverage cartons in the appropriate labelled bins. Paper and cardboard should be dry and clean. Other recyclables should be empty and quickly rinsed to minimize contamination and maximize recycling. Please refer to the quick guide and detailed list of items for each waste stream.



Q4: What can I recycle at the Conference and General Assembly buildings and where?


A4: Specially marked commingled recycling bins are available in common areas of the Conference and General Assembly buildings to recycle (clean) paper, glass, plastic, beverage cartons, and metal items. Please make sure that bottles, cans and containers are empty, and containers are quickly wiped clean before placing them in the recycling bin. Heavily contaminated items cannot be recycled!

Centralized waste stations to separate paper/cardboard, metal/plastic/glass/beverage cartons, and trash are progressively being provided in common areas to facilitate sorting at the source and increase recycling.



Q5: How do I properly dispose of paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, office supplies, food waste?


Q5.1: Paper?

A5.1: Use the small blue bins by your desk, the large blue bins by the photocopiers, or the centralized waste bins on flexible space floors. Consider reducing the amount of documents you print and printing on both sides whenever possible. 


Q5.2: Cardboard boxes and/or larger cardboard pieces?

A5.2: Separate larger cardboard items that do not fit into your blue desk bin (taking care to remove Styrofoam and/or plastic packaging and disposing of them in the regular trash gray bins) and place them in the large blue bins by the photocopiers or next to it if it does not fit.


Q5.3: Office supplies such as manila envelopes and hanging file folders?

A5.3: Paper folders, if they cannot be reused, can go to the blue bins. Manila envelopes should be bundled up and sent to your respective Messenger Mail stations for proper routing and disposal. Paper clips, bulldog clips, and binders should be re-used, returned to the office supply cabinet, or returned to stock (contact FMS helpdesk).


Q5.4: Glass, metal, plastics, and beverage cartons?

A5.4: Office buildings in New York City municipality are required to separate recyclables from the regular waste before it is collected. In office areas, glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans, beverage cartons, recyclable containers, and similar items may be placed in specially marked commingled recycling bins located in the kitchenettes or in centralized waste stations on flexible space floors. Bins are also located in common areas of the Conference and General Assembly buildings. Make sure all items are empty, quickly wiped or rinsed clean and consider using a cup and re-usable bottle whenever possible! For the cafeteria and café locations, check Question 9.


Q5.5: Food waste?

A5.5: Food waste NEEDS to be disposed of in the regular trash and, in the interest of hygiene and pest control, should be put in the regular trash bins at the pantries/kitchenettes. It is extremely important that food and beverage do not contaminate desk recycling bins as the entire bin would have to be treated as regular trash for sanitary reasons. For the cafeteria and café locations, please refer to Question 9.



Q6: How do we properly dispose of confidential documents?


A6: Safe and Secure Disposal (SSD) and Recycling of obsolete documents, at all levels (i.e. decommissioned documents), is available and should be used when truly needed as the costs to the Organization, in both time and money, are significantly higher than disposal of regular paper. The following are the steps for SSD service:

  • Place a work order with the FMS Helpdesk with your full name, location and specify that it is Safe and Secure Disposal you require.
  • Please continue to dispose of your regular waste/non-confidential paper recyclables in your desk blue bin or large blue bins by the photocopiers, taking care not to dispose of non-paper items in these, such as binders, CD’s and magnetic tapes.
  • A recycling programme representative will bring the SSD bins to your location.
  • The SSD bins are collected and then taken to a designated area for later destruction.
  • Certificates of Destruction can be provided if a request is made when the work order is placed.


Q7: My office is not in the UNHQ Secretariat, are the procedures different? 


A7: While generally consistent, the procedures for recycling do vary from building to building. Below is a summary for common items:

Item Secretariat, UNITAR, FF, ALBANO DC1, DC2 Falchi
Non-recyclable trash In trash receptacle (usually grey) under desk* In the common area, tall black receptacles In trash receptacle
Paper In blue paper receptacle under the desk In paper receptacle under the desk In paper receptacle under the desk
Plastic, metals, glass In the common area recycling container (kitchenette) In marked tall green bins in common areas In trash receptacle**
 * Flexible space floors of the Secretariat Building use common area receptacles for trash and recyclables.
** Separation of recyclables is performed off-site by landlord’s trash vendor


Q8: What is being done to reduce waste at the cafeteria/café locations?


Q8.1: Why is the cafeteria not offering reusable dinnerware, flatware, and cutlery?

A8.1: With the closure of the previous main cafeteria for security reasons and the need to continue to provide food services, there are currently eight (8) café locations spread in 5 different buildings throughout the UNHQ complex. Unfortunately, none of these locations, except for the Delegates Dining Room, have the infrastructure or the space for installation of conveyers and dishwashers to properly clean dining dishes and utensils.

The cafeteria operation is researching more sustainable and cost-effective disposable cutlery options. At the same time, you can help reduce waste by bringing your own cutlery, opting for the biodegradable paper bowls or emptying and quickly wiping down the aluminum containers before recycling it.


Q8.2: Why does the cafeteria offer paper and aluminum containers instead of offering only paper ones at the buffets?

A8.2: CulinArt has been working closely with the Division of Administration to green the cafeteria and has replaced plastic containers with larger paper bowls and plates in summer 2017. Aluminum containers are offered especially for those who are opting to take their food out and they are fully recyclable when emptied and quickly cleaned. Consider using the compostable paper bowls when eating at the cafeteria itself instead of the aluminum containers. It is the most sustainable choice. 


Q8.3: Is it possible to bring my own mug to refill it at the cafeteria?

A8.3: Yes, it is, and you will always save when using it with the “Bring Your Own Coffee Mug (BYOCM)” program! It has been revised to now offer loyal BYOCM customers a FREE coffee refill after their 10th purchase. Promotions are subject to change from time to time.


Q8.4: Is it possible to bring my own food container and fill it with the food from the cafeteria?

A8.4: No. This is not permitted under NYC health regulations.


Q8.5: Can I ask for less packaging when I order something to go at the cafes?

A: Yes. CulinArt is trying to reduce the packaging of sandwiches and other take-out items at the cafés, using biodegradable alternatives when possible. You can help by opting out of a container or bag.


Q8.6: Can overall packaging be reduced? Why are the apples sold at the cafés wrapped in plastic wrap, for example?

A8.6: CulinArt is trying to reduce packaging but has to follow applicable health codes for our safety, which requires that items that may be handled by several people, such as fruits, to be wrapped individually.


Q8.7: Are there any initiatives promoted by the cafeteria to reduce food waste?

A8.7: CulinArt is extremely conscious of reducing food waste and has done so by cooking when needed, monitoring food waste at the end of each day, and adjusting its offering as a result as this affects the company’s profitability.


Q8.8: What happens with the fried oil used in the kitchen?

A8.8: The fried oil is collected and recycled to make diesel fuel by a third-party vendor.



Q9: How can I dispose of my waste at the cafeteria and café locations?


Q9.1: How is the waste separated at the cafeteria and cafés?

A9.1: In most cafés, 2 stream centralized waste stations are provided to separate trash/organics and paper/glass/metal/plastic/beverage cartons in alignment with NYC business recycling rules. Bins for organic waste have also been introduced at the 4th floor cafeteria to increase composting rates. Please follow the signs and pictures for guidance. Recyclables should be completely empty and aluminum/plastic containers quickly wiped to minimize contamination. A little food residue is fine but heavily contaminated items will not be recycled. In addition, recyclables incorrectly placed in the trash will not be separated, end up incinerated and reduce the ability to separate organic waste for composting. 


Q9.2: What can I put in the "Trash & Organics" bin?

A9.2: 'Trash & Organics' include food scraps, compostable containers, straws, soiled napkins, soiled cups, aluminum container lids, and other non-recyclable items.


Q9.3: What can I put in the “Recyclables” bin?

A9.3: 'Recyclables' include plastic, glass, metal, beverage cartons, and unsoiled paper. Please make sure they are empty and quickly wiped to minimize contaminations and increase recycling. 


Q9.4: Can I throw a soiled plastic or aluminum food container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A9.5: No, unless it is completely emptied first. We also ask that you quickly wipe it to minimize contaminations. A little food residue is fine, but heavily contaminated items cannot be recycled. 


Q9.5: Can I throw a half-empty beverage container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A9.5: No, a can or bottle that still has liquid in it should be emptied first before being placed in the recyclables bin. 


Q9.6: What happens if I throw a soiled container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A9.6: If the recyclable material is mixed with food, it will not be separated for recycling by the waste disposal contractor and can contaminate the other recyclables in the bin. It may end up being incinerated to generate energy instead of being recycled, a less desirable outcome. If you see that a recyclable bin is contaminated, please continue to separate your waste correctly. It is by showing the example that you will inspire others to follow.


Q9.7: Are organic waste composted?

A9.7: As per the answer to Q2, UNHQ trash, which includes food and compostable materials, is treated in a specific facility where, to the extent possible, organic waste is separated and composted. Approximately 18% of UNHQ regular waste from the main campus is currently composted. This percentage can increase with your help. When recyclables are mixed in the trash, it impairs the separation of organic waste and they are lost to incineration for energy instead of being recycled.