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


Q1: How is waste from the UNHQ complex managed?


All recyclable materials collected from UNHQ are sorted as compostable, recyclable or trash by the trash vendor and are transported to a farm for treatment (compostables), compressed and sold as clean recyclable materials (recyclables), and sent to Covanta where they are burned and converted into Waste-to-Energy (trash). Covanta is a world leader in providing sustainable waste and energy solutions. The Company's Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities provide communities and businesses around the world with environmentally-sound solid waste disposal by using waste to generate clean, renewable energy.

UNHQ does not send any trash to landfill!



Q2: How can I help?


A2: 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 


Q3: Why is it important to separate my waste? Is it not sorted off-site?


A3: 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.



Q4: What and where can I recycle within my office space?


Q4.1: At my desk, in the blue bins?

A4.1: 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

Q4.2: By the photocopiers, in the large blue bins?

A4.2: 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. 


Q4.3: In the pantry/kitchenette?

A4.3: 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!


Q4.4: On flexible space floors, in the centralized bin stations?

A4.4: 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.



Q5: What can I recycle at the Conference and General Assembly buildings and where?


A5: 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.



Q6: How do I properly dispose of paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, office supplies, food waste?


Q6.1: Paper?

A6.1: 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. 


Q6.2: Cardboard boxes and/or larger cardboard pieces?

A6.2: 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.


Q6.3: Office supplies such as manila envelopes and hanging file folders?

A6.3: 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).


Q6.4: Glass, metal, plastics, and beverage cartons?

A6.4: 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 10.


Q6.5: Food waste?

A6.5: 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 10.



Q7: How do we properly dispose of confidential documents?


A7: 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.


Q8: My office is not in the UNHQ Secretariat, are the procedures different? 


A8: 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


Q9: What is being done to reduce waste at the cafeteria/café locations?


Q9.1: What greening initiatives have the catering vendors implemented so far?

A9.1: The following are some of the greening initiatives accomplished at UNHQ Cafés over the past four years:

  • Eliminating plastic and Styrofoam cups;
  • Significantly reducing plastics through replacement with biodegradable bowls and aluminium bowls, as well as eliminating plastic container options at the buffets;
  • Introducing eco-friendly containers at the custom deli counter in Café de La Paix;
  • Introducing china and flatware in the Delegates Dining Room and for catered events;
  • Reducing food waste;
  • Recycling in all kitchens and cafes;
  • Reclaiming used cooking oil for biofuel conversion;
  • Promoting the use of bulk condiments vs. individual packages;
  • Supporting the installation of hydration stations at Cafe de La Paix and Riverview Café;
  • Featuring fresh, local and seasonal produce when available;
  • Providing sustainable and hormone-free food items to the extent possible;
  • Reducing the number of weekly deliveries;
  • Instituting a no-idling policy for its subcontractors’ vehicles;
  • Using eco-friendly chemicals for cleaning;
  • Implementing a reusable mug program - buy 10 get 1 free (from April 2018);
  • Replacing plastic coffee stirrers with wooden ones (from fall 2018);
  • Replacing plastic straws with paper straws (from 30 July 2018);
  • Replacing non-biodegradable disposable soup containers with eco-friendly alternatives (from August 2018);
  • Replacing plastic wrapped toothpicks with paper wrapped (from fall 2018);
  • Introducing Boxed Water (from 6 Feb. 2019).

Q9.2: Why have reusable cutlery and dinnerware not been offered at UNHQ Cafés?

A9.2: Due to the closure of the Main Cafeteria for security reasons in July 2015 and the continued need to provide food services, there are currently eight café locations spread across five different buildings in the UNHQ Complex. Unfortunately, none of these locations, except for the Delegates Dining Room located at the Conference Building 4th floor, have the infrastructure or the space available for largescale dishwashing facilities (i.e. conveyer belts and dishwashers) to properly clean/sanitize cutlery and dinnerware from all catering locations. In addition to the Delegate’s Dining Room, going forward, reusable cutlery will also be available in the Riverview Café, and bamboo take-away cutlery at all locations. Please see question 3 below for further detail.


Q9.3: How will plastic cutlery be replaced?

A9.3: The dishwashing capacity at the Conference Building 4th floor was originally designed to meet the limited catering volume generated from the floor.  When the Main Café (including its dishwashing facility) was closed in July 2015 and Riverview Café was carved out from the catering space and its storage room, no change was made to the capacity of the dish washing machine on the 4th floor. 

In order to eliminate single-use plastic at UNHQ by June 2019, an additional catering staff member will be employed to collect, sort, and clean the stainless-steel utensils from the Riverview Café.  Bamboo take-away cutlery will be available in all locations to replace single-use plastic cutlery.

In the meantime, you can also contribute to our greening efforts and reducing waste by bringing your own reusable cutlery. 


Q9.4: Why does the cafeteria offer paper and aluminum containers instead of offering only paper ones at the buffets?

A9.4: 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. 


Q9.5: I have noticed many plastic-wrapped items, such as apples, cookies, cakes, etc. being sold at the Cafés. Will these items still be available after May 2019?

A9.5: Yes. The fruits have not been wrapped since October 2018. As part of the latest greening initiatives, the cookies and cakes are displayed on plates for self-service at the Café de la Paix and Vienna Café. 


Q9.6: Will the Cafés also eliminate plastic bottled beverages, such as sodas, juice, etc.?

A9.6: Yes. All plastic bottled beverages, including those in vending machines will be eliminated by June 2019 and replaced with glass, cans and/or other sustainable containers.


Q9.7: Will the reduction in single-use plastics result in fewer varieties at the cafeterias? 

A9.7: Unfortunately, some items will not be available due to the difficulty in sourcing appropriate sustainable replacements. For example, 8 oz coffee cups will be discontinued, as there are currently no paper lids for this size coffee cups. All other coffee cup sizes will be replaced with sustainable alternatives including paper lids. Additional items, which may also be discontinued include commercial items such as yogurt, snacks, etc. 

However, the catering vendor is making every effort to continually source sustainable alternatives, to ensure that customers are provided with a variety of eco-friendly products. As more sustainable alternatives are sourced, some menu items may return.


Q9.8: Will the Café prices increase due to the move to more sustainable practices?

Yes. Some sustainable packaging/containers/utensils, for example the bamboo cutlery, are more expensive than plastic alternatives. In addition, the more sustainable options for pre-packaged foods in the card box containers are not sealed; thus, there will be an increased cost of operation from higher waste due to the loss of freshness and crispness for salads and sandwiches.

As mentioned above, the provision of stainless-steel utensils at the Riverview café will involve extra costs for extra handling requirements related to the collection, separation, and washing of the stainless-steel utensils that require the vendor to hire additional staffing for the Riverview Café, as well as costs related to shrinkage (please remember to return all stainless cutlery to minimise losses!).  

Consequently, in addition to the annual price increase at the cafés due to inflation, there will be an associated price increase to mitigate the higher cost of operation and cost of procuring more sustainable packaging/cutlery/containers. However, the catering vendor is committed to seeking out less expensive sustainable alternatives as they become available.


Q9.9: How competitive are the prices of the buffet at the UNHQ cafeterias?

Q9.9: Even after the increase, the $9.75 price per pound (tax-free) for the buffet offerings at the UNHQ cafeterias is still cheaper than the price at nearby eateries.


Q9.10: Is it possible to bring my own mug to refill it at the cafeteria?

A9.10: 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.


Q9.11: Is it possible to bring my own food container and fill it with the food from the cafeteria?

A9.11: No. This is not permitted under NYC health regulations. Serving food at the buffet to own containers, which may or may not be clean can increase the risks of contagious diseases. 


Q9.12: Can I request less packaging when I order to go items at the cafes?

A9.12: Yes. CulinArt tries to reduce packaging of sandwiches and other take-out items by using biodegradable alternatives. So, you can certainly help by opting out of a container or bag. 


Q9.13: Are there any initiatives promoted by the cafeteria to reduce food waste?

A9.13: 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.


Q9.14: What happens with the fried oil used in the kitchen?

A9.14: The fried oil is collected and recycled to make diesel fuel by a third-party vendor.



Q10: How can I dispose of my waste at the cafeteria and café locations?


Q10.1: How is the waste separated at the cafeteria and cafés?

A10.1: 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. 


Q10.2: What can I put in the "Trash & Organics" bin?

A10.2: 'Trash & Organics' include food scraps, compostable containers, straws, soiled napkins, soiled cups, aluminum container lids, and other non-recyclable items.


Q10.3: What can I put in the “Recyclables” bin?

A10.3: '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. 


Q10.4: Can I throw a soiled plastic or aluminum food container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A10.5: 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. 


Q10.5: Can I throw a half-empty beverage container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A10.5: No, a can or bottle that still has liquid in it should be emptied first before being placed in the recyclables bin. 


Q10.6: What happens if I throw a soiled container in the "Recyclables" bin?

A10.6: 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.


Q10.7: Is organic waste composted?

A10.7: Waste that includes food and compostable materials is treated in a specific facility where, to the extent possible, organic waste is separated and composted. According to Greening the Blue, approximately 18 per cent of UNHQ waste in 2018 was composted. This percentage can increase with everyone’s help. When trash is incorrectly segregated it can contaminate treatment, resulting in waste incinerated for energy instead of being recycled. 



Q11: What other measures are being taken to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic at UNHQ?



  • The plastic bags for umbrellas have been removed. On rainy days mats will be put down and warning signs will be posted.
  • Petroleum-based bin liners are being replaced with biodegradable bin liners until a more sustainable alternative becomes available.
  • Event organizers are instructed not to bring single-use plastics to UNHQ.
  • Onsite vendors are instructed to eliminate single-use plastic.
  • Staff and delegates are encouraged to reduce the single-use plastics they bring into the building – including through replacing plastic bags with reusable ones, and bringing their own cutlery, refillable mugs and water bottles.
  • Signs are being posted at the entrances to not bring single-use plastic into the United Nations.