From You, with Love (for the Planet!)

Holiday season is here, and it’s time to celebrate those you love with gifts they’ll appreciate. What better way to show them you care for both them and the planet than with a gift free of excess packaging and with a personal touch? Check out our full guide on how you can practice sustainable gifting this December, and year-round! 

Key Tips 
–> Shop locally and small
–> Avoid single-use packaging (especially if it can’t be recycled or composted)
–> Try non-physical gifts 

Homemade with Love
Get crafty and creative this year with a homemade gift. The time and effort you put in to making your gift will show the recipient how much you care! 

  • From Your Kitchen to Theirs
    • Bake a dish with their favorite flavors
    • Make homemade jam, jelly, soup, salsa, or granola
    • For an easy homemade cookie mix, put all the ingredients in a jar for them to bake on their own time
    • For fellow bakers, reusable baking accessories like silicone baking mats can be a great addition to the gift
  • Handmade Pottery or Ceramics 
    • Visit a local studio to create a personal and long-lasting gift 
    • Got an aspiring artist in your life? Send them a gift card to the studio so they can enjoy the freedom of creating whatever their heart desires! 
  • Handmade Jewelry, Clothing, or Art 
    • Art, clothing, and jewelry-making supplies are a one-time (or infrequent) purchase that can make many personalized gifts for family and friends. Try your hand at crocheting a scarf or fashioning a beaded necklace

Gifting in the Digital Age
Eliminate the need for packaging and physical gifts altogether with a completely digital gift – perfect for family and friends that spend time online. 

  • Subscriptions: Streaming services offer subscription services for music, movies, TV shows, and more
  • E-books: Digital books offer readers the ability to carry limitless books in their pocket! For those readers in your life that enjoy a physical book, shop at a secondhand bookstore
  • Classes: There are many hobby classes offered online (or in-person) from arts and crafts to language learning and more
  • Donations: Donate online to a charity or local organization that is close to their heart 

Experiences to Remember
Gifting experiences rather than physical gifts is another way to avoid single-use packaging and to create memories instead! 

  • Restaurant Gift Cards: Or take them out to a delicious meal 
  • Tickets: Tickets to local museums, sporting events, concerts, theme parks, zoos, theatre shows, and movies
  • National/State/Regional Parks Pass or Botanical Garden Membership: Purchase yearly free entry passes to local parks and gardens for the outdoors-enthusiast in your life! San Mateo County offers an annual pass that allows free entry into 22 local parks
  • Classes: Music, dance, cooking, language, workout, and rock-climbing classes 
  • Outdoor Adventures: Plan a camping trip, hike, boat trip, or ziplining excursion

Low-Waste Gifts
Choose long-lasting and low-waste gifts with little packaging that the recipient can use over and over again. 

  • Gift Reusables: Water bottles, lunch/bento boxes, to-go cups, mugs, baking trays/molds, metal or silicone straws, dishes, glasses, and utensils
  • Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Kits: DIY kits are available for many hobbies from knitting to candle making  
  • Zero Waste Health and Beauty Products: Toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, lotion, and more are available online and at local refill stores
  • Seeds and Plants: A perfect gift for the people in your life with a green thumb! Houseplants are a source of air-purifying home décor. Herb, fruit, and vegetable plants are a gift that keeps on giving! Repurpose old jars and containers into pots for an extra zero waste touch
  • Repair Kits: Gift your loved one the option to repair their broken items for years to come! 

Packaging Tips 

  • Recyclable packaging (bonus points for no tape and origami type folding!): Use wrapping paper without glitter, glue, or plastic decals (these aren’t recyclable!). Newspaper, tissue paper, old maps, artwork, or scratch paper are all recyclable options 
  • Reusable packaging: For a reusable packaging option, try wrapping your gift in a hand or tea towel or using dedicated reusable packaging. You can also wrap your gift in socks, a scarf, or a reusable tote bag for two gifts in one! 

We hope you take some inspiration from these tips and gift a little greener this year. Remember to limit packaging and try reusable, secondhand, homemade, or non-physical gifts. Happy Holidays from RethinkWaste!  

Share how you’re celebrating sustainably by tagging us on social media – #RethinkHolidays onFacebook,Twitter, orInstagram!

What To Do with These 5 Tricky Items 

Many common household items can go into the recycle, compost, and garbage carts. But did you know that there are items that don’t belong in ANY of your three carts at home? Read below to learn what to do with items that can be tricky to dispose of.  

1. Mattresses 

There comes a time where one ends up with an old mattress that needs to be disposed of. Luckily, mattresses are covered under California State Law to be recycled free of charge because there’s material inside that can be recycled and reused.  

If you’re having a mattress delivered to your home, you can ask the retailer about taking your old one back. For other disposal options, there are drop-off locations you can bring your old mattress to, including the RethinkWaste-owned Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. For more information, visit our mattress page.   

2. Paint  

It is illegal to dump paint down the drain or in the garbage since it is considered a hazardous material. With the help of the statewide paint stewardship law, there are many convenient drop-off locations to bring leftover paint to (such as a paint store), where it can be recycled or disposed of safely. Both the Shoreway Public Recycling Center (PRC) and the San Mateo County Household Hazardous Waste Program accepts leftover paint from households, at no charge. In addition, the statewide law includes collection of paint from businesses as well. 

3. Electronics 

Even when electronic items stop working, there are still valuable metals inside that can be safely extracted to be recycled and reused. There are a number of ways to safely dispose of your electronic waste.  

  • Collection events, also known as E-SCRAP EVENTS, are organized by your city or town every year. Check our calendar for your city or town’s next e-scrap event. Please note some events do not accept e-scrap. 
  • Bring electronic waste to the SHOREWAY PRC for proper disposal free of charge. 
  • Schedule a BULKY ITEM COLLECTION through Recology San Mateo County by calling (650) 595-3900. Please review what’s allowed and not allowed for Bulky Item Collection here
  • Visit RecycleStuff.org to search for locations near you in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County to dispose of your unwanted electronics. Please note some locations may charge a fee. 
  • GREEN CITIZEN located in Burlingame, CA accepts various electronics for disposal. They accept TVs, computers/servers/laptops, monitors, tablets, network switches and UPS batteries free for recycling, and other electronic items for a fee based on weight of the items. For a full list of items accepted, please visit their website

4. Fluorescent Lights 

Although electricity-saving, fluorescent lights contain a small amount of mercury inside its glass tubing, which means it is considered a hazardous material. Some local businesses that sell these items will take them back after use. You can also bring used fluorescent lights to the Shoreway PRC or check this list of retailers that will take them back. 

5. Small Appliances 

Microwaves, blenders, toasters, waffle makers, these are just a couple of examples of the common small appliances that may exist in many kitchens. If it breaks, consider repairing it. There are plenty of online resources such as tutorials and videos to walk through how to fix certain items. If you’re upgrading an appliance, consider giving your used one away to someone who may want it through donation centers, online trading applications, or asking friends or family if they’re interested.  

If you’ve tried the above options and still have appliances to get rid of, take them to the Shoreway PRC at no charge. 

We accumulate a variety of waste, and sometimes it isn’t as straightforward as dropping it in your recycle, compost, or garbage carts. But it can still be convenient!  

You might have noticed that all five of these types of tricky items can be brought to the Shoreway Public Recycling Center (PRC) in San Carlos for safe disposal or recycling free of charge. The PRC is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and is open for any resident to use for household items, regardless of if you live in the RethinkWaste service area or not. For more information about the PRC, visit our Location, Hours & Services page. Hopefully next time when you find yourself needing to dispose of these tricky items, you’ll know exactly what to do! 

Tips & Tricks to Reduce Food Waste

Californians throw away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year, which ends up being about 18 percent of all the material that goes to landfills (CalRecycle)! Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, is emitted into the atmosphere when compostable materials like food are buried in landfills. By promoting edible food recovery through programs and practicing tricks to extend produce longevity, Californians can alleviate food insecurity while reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Follow these tips to reduce food waste in your home and local community!

Before the Grocery Store

It’s easy to overbuy when food shopping blindly. Before you leave the house, take inventory of the goods in your pantry and refrigerator. From there, you can plan out healthy meals for the week – whether that’s a diverse menu or the same meal prep recipe. If something will expire soon, plan to buy ingredients to incorporate it into a recipe. Make a grocery list of the necessities and stick to it! This stops shoppers from purchasing excess perishable items, which ultimately creates more food waste. 

At the Grocery Store

Don’t be a perfectionist when picking produce! We all come in different shapes and sizes, as do our fruits and vegetables. Buying misshapen produce allows farmers to flourish and reduces “ugly” produce that may be disposed of at the end of the day. You can also subscribe to companies like Imperfect Foods or Misfits Market to receive farmer’s unique or excess produce, and lessen food waste.

Storing and Preserving Food at Home

A large part of a food item’s life depends on the storage and preservation methods at home! First, check the temperature setting on your refrigerator (40°F or below) and freezer (0°F). Make sure food is well organized and items that need to be used first are in front, so that older food is not lost behind fresh goods. 

Leafy greens should be stored in the fridge with a damp paper towel in a reusable container, while bananas, tomatoes, and others can be left on the counter. Potatoes, garlic, and onions can be kept in a cool, dark and dry place, while fresh herbs thrive in a glass of water. Another great way to avoid food spoilage is by separating foods that can easily go bad from items with ethylene (which promotes ripening). Foods that produce ethylene gas include bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and green onions. 

You can also practice fermenting, pickling, canning, curing, drying, and freezing techniques to preserve food for as long as possible. This is an easy way to always have usable and safe foods at your disposal. 

After a Meal

If you are unable to eat your leftovers within a few days, store them in the freezer rather than tossing fresh food. Fruit and vegetable scraps can be made into soups, smoothies, stir-fries, and baked goods like banana bread. You can also save produce stems, butts, and seeds to turn into new fruits and vegetables with a little soil, water, and sunlight. Using leftovers creatively is a great practice!

Any food scraps, food or beverage soiled paper, and yard trimmings should be placed in your compost bin to be turned into a nutrient rich soil additive! RethinkWaste service area residents can even pick up finished compost at our Shoreway facility!

If you have more food on hand than needed, please consider donating to a local food pantry. By practicing edible food recovery and composting, you are supporting California State law SB 1383, which aims to keep organic material out of landfills!

There are endless ways to reduce food waste which save the planet and your wallet. Finding any small or big changes that work for your household is an important step to address food waste and help California reach its goal of 75% source reduction!

Share with us how you’re reducing your food waste by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Get more food saving tips at StopFoodWaste.org.

Rethinker Spotlight Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a Rethinker Spotlight Webinar on June 29, 2022 featuring local artist, Harriete Estel Berman. Harriete shared in-depth details about her art, the materials she uses, and the messaging behind the art pieces, followed by a discussion where attendees got to ask Harriete questions.

This page provides the links to resources, the recording of the event, and questions and answers from the audience.


Webinar Recording

Questions and Answers

1. What inspired you [Harriete] to turn ordinary waste material into extraordinary pieces of art? Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration?

In 1980 moving to California, there was no curbside pick-up recycling. I lived in Palo Alto near the Stanford campus and became aware that they had recycling on campus. I would collect newspaper, glass, and tin cans.

In 1988, I simply decided that I was only going to use recycled materials. At that time, I started using recycled tin cans. And using this material inspires new work all the time. The patterns on the tin cans, the lettering, and the messages from our consumer society are all the things that inspired me. When I started working with plastic waste, I must admit it was kind of embarrassing. The piece that I show you with a necklace in the fruit crate label, I submitted to an exhibition, and a colleague of mine admired my jewelry piece made up of plastic waste. So, I was admitted because my craftsmanship is impeccable, but truly, I am working with waste material.

2. When you [Harriete] heat and bend the plastic, what tool do you use, and do you do it outdoors?

I’ve done lots of experiments that don’t require heating. While I don’t heat the plastic, I am always doing new experiments with plastic! I work with the garage doors open, as I believe in the fresh air, but try to be as nontoxic as possible. Heating plastic is not something I would generally recommend. I did experiments with laser cutters, and that doesn’t work either because it is essentially hot. So, the point of my answer is to think about how you can use your materials in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

3. What is your [Harriete] favorite kind of scissors to use? And how do you avoid accidentally cutting your fingers when working with cans?

I learned to work with my materials very carefully! When I work with my tools and materials, I always rethink my approach to the material. You’d be stunned to realize how difficult it is to cut plastic waste. I investigate all different kinds of shears that will cut the plastic. So, when I work with my materials, I am always as safe and environmentally conscious as can be. I’m also thinking about the impact that it has on my body. So generally, if I’m cutting plastic, I’m only cutting a few hours out of the day because it’s difficult to cut. You’re going to want to think about how you can be aware of using your materials in a way that you can sustain that for yourself as the artist.

4. What kinds of tools do you [Harriete] use for cutting metal and how long have you been cutting metal?

I have the privilege of having both a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Metal Smithing. I have a lot of technical skills, but I will say that I have an aptitude for working with materials. Even though I have a lot of technical background, it was a leap to take my traditional metalsmithing skills and work with tins cans and waste to turn waste to art. That’s one of my objectives- to truly transform my materials! I am really not inspired if the final outcome looks trashy. I want people to look at my work and be like “Wow, how did she make that!?” and not have it be so obvious that it might have been an old tin can, milk bottle, or orange juice container.

5. Do you [Harriete] have a favorite material to work with and if so, why?

I don’t really have a favorite material, but I am always experimenting. I am always going back and forth with tin cans and plastic, which I have been doing for eight years. The bigger project that I like is the black plastic necklace which took about four months. Also, I am always focusing on one project or the next, so therefore I am always experimenting.

6. What inspires you [Harriete] to make art that addresses the economic sphere of society?

I am more inspired by what I see in politics and just around me in my own neighborhood, so I feel like I must address that. The children are not bulletproof pin was made for a show about politics. The message and children are not bulletproof is more resonant now than it was 20 years ago when I made it. With my grass sculpture made entirely from tin cans, I was thinking about the environmental impacts of lawns. Keep in mind that this was 22 years ago, and people thought I was insane. But now- as we continue to have lawns, face related climate change, experience a 100-year drought- for the first-time, people must realize the environmental impact of having a grass lawn.

7. Do you [Harriete] have a favorite personal art piece?

My favorite personal art piece is the functional chair I created that is attached to the wall. It describes what I am seeing in our consumer society where people create an identity for themselves by what they buy and why they buy it. I am very, almost painfully, aware of the impact of our consumption and overconsumption. We are talking about plastic waste, packaging, consumption, and climate change. It all has to do with our consumption. I cannot stop thinking about that! So, I am generally aware, which is the reason why I only get takeout once a year. Not only that, but I also get a guilt attack when they use a plastic container. I mean, there are a lot of places that are changing the law that they can’t use single-use plastic for takeout, but instead must shift to containers that are recyclable or environmentally friendly. Still, we continue to create volumes of waste in our society. That is hard for me too!

8. We are starting to see white plastic being used to replace black plastic containers: are those recyclable?

The response to that is that it depends. If you see a chasing arrow symbol with numbers one or two, then yes, it is recyclable! If it does not have these, then unfortunately, it will have to go in the garbage bin, or you can do something else with it. Hopefully after this webinar, you get inspired to rethink it and use it for another time or creation!

Clean Your Home without Toxic Chemicals

Dust, mold, stains, and dirt are inevitable in any household. Environmentally friendly cleaners not only tackle these common household issues, but can also lower waste production.

Switching from toxic chemicals to environmentally friendly cleaners can eliminate hazardous waste-related accidents that can affect an individual’s health and safety. Creating your own cleaning solution can also reduce the time and cost associated with bringing hazardous waste directly to San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program for special disposal. Lastly, having safer cleaning products can lead to developing healthier habits sooner as some of these cleaning alternatives can be found right in your pantry!

Let’s jump into some examples of common household hazardous chemicals:

Examples of Common Household Chemicals

  • Bleach
  • Drain cleaner
  • Shower cleaner
  • Degreaser
  • Antifreeze
  • Automotive cleaners
  • Pesticides
  • Paint strippers and removers
  • Pool Cleaner

How Can Toxic Chemicals Be Harmful?

  • Prolonged exposure to chemicals can lead to adverse reproductive risks and cancer-related illness
  • Can cause irritation to skin and eyes
  • Can cause corrosion to pipes
  • Can catch fire, react, or explode
  • Some chemicals can deplete the atmospheric ozone
  • Can lead to groundwater contamination when disposed improperly in landfills
  • Chemicals that enter storm drains can pollute the water we drink and swim in, and pollute the marine life in the water
  • Hazardous to children and pets if left unguarded around the house
  • Certain types of HHW have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers, contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets

Tips to Reduce Cleaning Waste

When purchasing cleaning supplies for long term usage, keep an eye out for these:

  • Refillable bottles
  • Paper packaging
  • Recycled-content packaging
  • Pump sprays rather than aerosols
  • Reusable towels
  • Purchasing in bulk

Preventative Measures

  • Clean and dry any damp or wet areas within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
  • Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60%) to decrease mold growth by:
    • Venting bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside
    • Using air conditioners and dehumidifiers
    • Increasing ventilation
    • Using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing and cleaning
  • Wiping up spills and stains immediately can reduce the need for stronger solvents
  • Increasing monthly cleaning routines reduces the need for household chemicals 

Cleaning Alternatives

All Purpose Cleaner:2 cups water, 2 cups distilled vinegar, (Optional: Juice of 1 large lemon or 20-30 drops of tea tree oil for fragrance and antibacterial properties) Mix ingredients, spray on surface, and wipe after 5 minutes.
Deodorizer:Sprinkle carpet(s) with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary.
Drain Cleaner:The first option is to use a plunger or plumber’s snake. The second option is to pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow up with half a cup of vinegar. After 15 minutes, follow with 2 quarts of boiling water.
Glass Cleaner:Mix one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in one quart of water. Spray on and use newspaper to dry.
Furniture Polish:Mix one teaspoon of lemon juice in one pint of mineral or vegetable oil and wipe furniture.
Limescale Remover for Kettle:Lemon wedges and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn the burner off, and let the kettle sit for a few hours. Rinse with clear water.
Silver Polish:Boil two to three inches of water in a shallow pan with one teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of baking soda and a sheet of aluminum foil. Totally submerge silver and boil for two to three more minutes. Wipe away tarnish and repeat if necessary.
Mothballs:Use cedar chips, lavender flowers, rosemary, mint or white peppercorns.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner:¼ cup baking soda mixed with 1 cup vinegar; pour into toilet bowl and let it sit before scrubbing
Weed Remover:30% Vinegar. Spray over weeds
Check out these products instead of household chemicals:EPA certified products
More safe cleaning tips can be found via San Mateo County Environmental Health

We hope that these tips help you reduce toxic chemicals in your home! Share with us how you have switched to greener cleaning products this season by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram






Why We Celebrate Earth Day

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, and Earth Month as a whole this month, let’s take a moment to learn about how this massive political and environmental movement began. Earth Day is a celebration of our planet and all it does for us, but it is also a stark reminder of the actions we must take in order to protect the Earth’s natural beauty and its inhabitants.

The first Earth Day took place in 1970 in response to the growing degree of air and water pollution in the United States, with universities and colleges as the epicenter of the movement. Senator Gaylord Nelson helped start the Earth Day movement with the help of Stanford University student Denis Hayes. The major catalyst for the Earth Day campaign was a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in January of 1969.

Earth Day has long been associated with public demonstrations in favor of environmental protectionism and environmental justice. The first Earth Day saw 20 million Americans, or 10% of the American population at the time, participate in some fashion, either by demonstrating in the streets or parks or attending an Earth Day talk or event. The U.S. Government created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed many laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Education Act, partly in response to the Earth Day movement and the growing public outcry against industrial pollution.

In 1990, Earth Day became an international movement, with 200 million people in 141 countries around the world participating. The first United Nations Earth summit took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Earth Day 2020 marked 50 years of a still very active movement for climate action embraced by people young and old in every corner of the globe. Despite the international participation in the Earth Day movement, we still have a long way to go to protect our planet.

Here are some actions you can take today and tips to celebrate Earth Day and Earth Month in the spirit of the movement:

  1. Learn more by watching a film or reading a book about environmental justice or other environmental issues.
  2. Practice mindfulness while enjoying Earth’s natural beauty. Get outside and take a hike, and remember to “pack in and pack out” anything you bring with you.
  3. Join an Earth Day demonstration or clean-up. Check your city’s website for any events that may be happening locally during Earth Month. Check out this article for more events happening around the Bay Area. The City of San Mateo also has several events listed on their website.
  4. Make an effort to conserve natural resources. Some ideas are biking or walking instead of driving, taking a shorter shower, going meatless for Earth Day, and considering drought-resistant, native, and pollinator-friendly plants.
  5. Connect with nature through gardening. Consider planting a tree or get started on your Spring herb garden!
  6. Consider switching to reusable products and divesting from single-use plastic as much as possible in your daily life. You can even take a plastic free pledge!
  7. Attend one of RethinkWaste’s Earth Month events! Visit this page for more details on our Environmental Justice film screening on Thursday, April 21st at 5 p.m.!

There are so many different ways to celebrate Earth Day by connecting with nature and conserving resources! Share how are you are celebrating this year by tagging us on social media on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook! However you choose to celebrate this year, remember that you don’t need to wait until April 22nd to adopt eco-friendly habits and advocate for the Earth in your daily life.




Celebrating Women Environmental Changemakers

When it comes to environmental activism and innovation, change can feel like a daunting obstacle to overcome. Human-induced climate change is already starting to impact populations across the world in different ways, disproportionately affecting women and people of color. At RethinkWaste, we believe in the power of small, collective actions as a driving force of change. Take a moment to find inspiration in the women of this article, who’ve transformed the landscape of environmental leaders around the world and continue to inspire us as changemakers.

JoAnn Tall – For decades, the Lakota tribe in South Dakota have been resisting the exploitation of their sacred land for the purposes of uranium mining, hazardous waste dumping, nuclear weapon testing, and more. In 1989, the U.S government made plans to mine the hills near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to JoAnn Tall. Tall, at times standing alone before tribal council, urged leadership to refuse the incentives from the government in the interest of protecting the people and the land.

Tall’s lifelong activism has prevented thousands of acres of Lakota land from becoming landfill and incinerator sites. She later co-founded the Native Resource Coalition, which worked to spread awareness to Lakota people on the interconnectivity of environmental and human health. In 1993, JoAnn was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership and activism.

Photo Credit: Camacho

Rhiana Gunn-Wright – You’ve probably heard of the Green New Deal (A set of resolutions first presented in 2019 aimed at driving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2030) – but have you heard the voices behind it? Among them is Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who worked on developing the Green New Deal as a policy director at the think tank New Consensus. According to an interview with The Root, Riana’s passion for environmental policy is linked closely to her drive to educate, mobilize, and uplift black and brown communities that are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

Gunn-Wright holds two bachelor’s degrees in African American studies and Women’s Gender studies from Yale. She earned a Master of Philosophy as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and continues to address the intersection of environmental and racial justice as the Director of Climate Policy at the Roosevelt Institute.

Miranda Wang – It’s no secret that plastics are a huge problem in the waste and recycling industry. At the end of the day, humans are generating way more plastic than we can responsibly recycle or dispose of. Miranda Wang, Cofounder and CEO of Novoloop, is tackling the plastics problem from a molecular angle, starting in the laboratory. Novoloop collects post-consumer Polyethylene plastics (what we often call “flimsy plastics”) and breaks them down using patented technology to be utilized in upcycled plastic production. Wang, 28, has big plans for the company’s future. Her team is actively working to scale their process up to a commercial level, diverting about 25,000 metric tons of plastic annually and bringing a plastic circular economy closer every day.

Wangari Maathai – The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D., Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, author, mother, and environmentalist are just a few ways to describe the extraordinary life of Wangari Maathai. In 1976, Maathai started a radical movement in Kenya that empowered women to stand up against the deforestation and environmental degradation that was affecting their communities. Known as the Green Belt Movement, the women’s work in planting and nurturing trees later grew into a globally recognized environmental advocacy organization.

The Green Belt Movement organization continues to plant millions of trees in restoration projects throughout Kenya, while working to advocate for food security, clean water, gender equality, and more across the globe. Wangari Maathai’s legacy continues to serve as inspiration for the power of grassroots organizing and female empowerment.

Research shows that educating and uplifting women is one of the most significant actions humans can take to curb the effects of climate change. While this list includes some of our favorites, there are so many more women of color making waves in the fields of sustainability, environmental justice and activism, waste, and beyond. Take a moment now to celebrate the women who inspire you, as we continue to take steps towards a greener future.



Batteries Continue to Light Up Recycling Facilities

Have you ever noticed that batteries are in many common items in our lives? Our phones, that birthday card that plays a song, the light up pen we got for free, or that cordless vacuum. These everyday items around the house contain batteries, which means that when it’s time to get rid of them when they break or are no longer usable, they must be disposed of in a special way for safety purposes. Batteries don’t belong in the recycle, compost, or garbage bins!

And yet, recycling facilities across the country are facing increased fires due to lithium batteries. The Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos has experienced 47 fires since the 2016 four-alarm fire that caused $6.8 million in damages and four-and-a-half months of closure that put 70 employees on furlough. 95% or 45 of the 47 fires, were caused by lithium batteries. RethinkWaste’s Executive Director, Joe La Mariana, spoke recently to VICE News about the impacts of the rise of gadgets and electric cars have had on the Shoreway facility. The top issue with battery-related fires are the safety risks these fires pose for facility workers and the machinery.

As a government agency, RethinkWaste is made up of 11 member agencies* that banded together in 1982 to handle their waste. Costs at the Shoreway facility ultimately trickle down to ratepayers, which is why proper handling of batteries is vital. Additionally, insurance policies play a role in this pressing issue. Before the fire, the Shoreway facility was served by one insurance company, which paid out the damages of the 2016 fire. Shortly after, the insurance company dropped Shoreway as a client because it was deemed too high of a risk, and now the facility relies on seven different insurance policies with premiums jumping from $180,000 per year to $1.5 million.

Residents and businesses can do their part in properly and responsibly handling their batteries. But the biggest influence in this issue are the manufacturers that continue to create a product while not being held responsible to manage the end life of their products. RethinkWaste is working with agencies across the state to change this and to hold manufacturers accountable. In an effort to ensure access to safe battery disposal and reduce fire risk, Senator Josh Newman and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin introduced SB 1215 and AB 2440. These two mirrored bills, also known as the Responsible Battery Recycling Act, create a statewide collection and recycling program for batteries and battery-embedded products. Find the official press release here. We can all work together to raise awareness of this issue, and support legislation that aims to tackle the problem.

Find the full VICE News article here.

To find out more about how you can responsibly handle your used batteries, visit our battery page.

*Member agencies are: Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Unincorporated parts of San Mateo County, and West Bay Sanitary District.

Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

A common question that we receive from residents in the RethinkWaste service area is, can plastic bags be recycled? Well, the question and answer are a bit more complicated than it appears. Unfortunately, plastic bags are not accepted in your blue recycling cart or bin at home, and instead belong in the landfill. Although plastics bags can definitely be reused! If reuse is not a possibility, there is another option. You may have seen or heard of a plastic bag drop-off program. Perhaps you’ve seen a box that says “Recycle Your Plastic Bags Here!” or something similar, around your local grocery store or even at the mall. It’s with these drop-off programs that soft and flimsy plastic can be given a new life.

Plastic Bags are NOT Accepted in the Recycling

After residents learn that soft flimsy plastic is not accepted in the recycling, a typical follow-up question is “Why not?” Let us elaborate on why we do NOT accept soft flimsy plastic in our recycling. All materials placed into recycling carts and bins are processed at our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), which is a part of the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. At the MRF, recyclables are sorted into like materials by machines and workers. Many of our machines use rolling disks to sort the recyclables. One kind in particular, the paper screens, are prone to getting jams. As the discs spin, any soft flimsy plastic that was mistakenly placed in the recycling, such as plastic bags, gets wrapped around the discs, reducing the effectiveness of the machine.

Throughout the day as the machine processes all the materials, more and more soft plastic gets caught around these discs (see image to the right). Eventually there is so much soft plastic wrapped around the discs that the paper screen can’t function properly, which causes a jam. When a jam occurs, the machine and facility are shut down and a worker must cut out all of the plastic by hand, which can be time consuming and dangerous. For this reason, we don’t accept any soft plastic in the recycling. If you want to dispose of your soft and flimsy plastic at home, it must be placed in your black landfill bin.

Plastic Bag Drop-Off Programs

Although plastic bags cannot be recycled in our facility, there is another option. Throughout the RethinkWaste service area there are many locations that have a plastic bag drop-off program. You can bring your plastic bags to the location, drop them off in the specific bin, and from there they will be processed and recycled.

One reason these drop-off programs are effective is that they typically have little to no contamination. Contamination is when an item mistakenly gets put into the wrong bin. For example, straws belong in the garbage, but if they are placed in the recycling or compost, the straws are the contamination. One of the biggest forms of contamination in plastic bag drop-off programs are receipts that people simply forgot to remove from a bag or mistook the plastic bag drop-off bin for a garbage bin. This type of plastic bag drop-off program is called “source separation” of materials. . Source separation is when you sort out one material (in this case plastic bags) from the rest of your waste at home. Source separation helps lessen contamination in plastic bag drop-off bins and ensures the material is clean for recycling. If you choose to recycle your plastic bags through one of these drop-off programs, be sure to only bring your soft and flimsy plastics and don’t forget to remove any receipts! To find a plastic bag drop-off location near you, take a look at our plastic bag guide.

Rethink New Year’s Resolutions

From actions big to small, every new commitment to sustainable living can have a dramatic impact on our environment! As the year draws to a close, RethinkWaste would like to provide a few sustainability tips that we could all put on our New Year’s Resolutions! Consider adding some of these ideas to your everyday routine. Every bit helps!

1. Reduce and Reuse

At RethinkWaste, we like to guide ourselves using the 4R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot). While these are all important in reducing our environmental impact on the planet, reducing and reusing are the most significant actions we can take on an individual basis. Reducing and reusing is a guarantee that items will not end up in the landfill!

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Start using a refillable water bottle
  • Make a grocery list to avoid purchasing excess food
  • Save and reuse plastic bags
  • Repurpose old clothing (for example, to use as a rag)
  • Repurpose glass jars into handy containers

2. Make your own coffee

If you’re a coffee drinker, you may enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the morning. However, buying from coffee shops produces a lot of waste! Usually, the cups and straws are not recyclable or compostable. By making coffee at home, you’re able to eliminate waste, and try out all sorts of different coffee blends. We recommend using coffee grounds in a french press or drip coffee to avoid extra waste from single-serve coffee machines. After brewing, you can place the grounds in your compost bin or in your own garden: it makes for great compost!

3. Take a sustainability-themed class

Education is really important! Attending a sustainability-themed class or workshop can all help us learn to live with less waste. For example, RethinkWaste just recently hosted a kombucha workshop, where our participants learned to lower their grocery store waste! Many organizations also teach classes in areas such as zero-waste cooking, which can help lower grocery bills, reduce environmental damage, and make our food last longer! Keep posted on events by subscribing to our newsletter or check offerings from our partners at San Mateo County Office of Sustainability!

4. Get educated about waste

Are you afraid that you’re disposing of things in the wrong bin? Fear not, RethinkWaste can help! RethinkWaste hosts public, school, and business tours of our Shoreway Environmental Center (currently virtual), that can help you figure out exactly how to sort your waste and where it goes afterwards. Questions can also be sent to info@rethinkwaste.org, where we can answer any further waste-related questions you may have!

5. Unplug devices you’re not using

Did you know? Even if you turn off your electronics, they may still draw power from your outlet. While this is a small amount, it can add up over the course of a year! Just by unplugging, you’d save on your electricity bill while helping eliminate fossil fuel emissions from electricity consumption!

6. Try some plant-based meals

According to the United Nations Special Report on Climate Change and Land, reducing our consumption of animal products is one of the most effective strategies at countering climate change. We can reduce our impact on this planet one meal at a time! There are many plant-based recipes and restaurants that would surely be delectable. 

7. Invest in rechargeable batteries

Did you know that you can purchase rechargeable AA and AAA batteries? By using rechargeable batteries, you’ll be able to lower your electronic waste (e-waste). Every year, e-waste is becoming a bigger part of our waste stream. This is a worrying trend as e-waste is very harmful to the health of our workers, our community, and our environment. A one-time investment in rechargeable batteries helps reduce battery waste on a longer-term basis. 

8. Use public transit

If you’re able, catch a ride on the train or the bus! Not only does this help with urban congestion, you’d also be reducing urban pollution and carbon emissions. Of all the actions that help the environment, taking public transportation is one of the most impactful and immediate on our environmental outcomes. 

9. Reconsider: Do I really need it?

Whenever you are deciding on a purchase, ask yourself: Do I really need it? Sometimes, it might be easy to impulsively put things in your shopping cart. By asking ourselves this one simple question, we can make sure we think about everything we’re buying. It helps us recall that reducing and reusing are our most powerful tools in eliminating waste. 

We hope that these tips were helpful! Every action counts towards reducing our waste and improving the health of our communities and environment!