Plastics Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a Plastics Webinar on April 15, 2021 in celebration of Earth Month. We shared a film screening of the PBS Frontline documentary Plastic Wars, followed by a panel discussion with experts in the field: Alejandra Warren, Sustainability Consultant and Co-Founder of Plastic Free Future, Dan Domonoske, Executive Vice President of Potential Industries, and Eva Holman, Policy Organizer at UPSTREAM.

This page provides the webinar recording, links to more resources, and all of the questions (with answers) submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.


Resources from Panelists

Webinar recording and panelist discussion

Questions and Answers

Text was edited for conciseness.

1. Are plastics #3-7 going to the landfill?

Dan: Yes, all of the plastic #3-7’s are going to the landfill. There is a market for plastic #5, which is polypropylene, and depending on the MRF (Material Recovery Facility) recovery equipment, they’re able to recover that.

2. What are some plastics-related policies that UPSTREAM is working on?

Eva: Within the last few years, we’ve started to introduce reuse policies which mandate reuse for on site, and sometimes can also include a cup or a container charge for single-use “to go” containers. These are really what we’ve been passionate about introducing, supporting, and passing all over the Bay Area and beyond.  

3. Some grocery stores are collecting single-use plastic bags. Is there a market for them? What happens to them?

Dan: It’s my understanding that the contamination level on single-use plastic bags is so high that even if it ends up in a recycling facility, it just gets trashed.

4. How many shipping containers are currently being exported for recycling?

Dan: Between six and eight 40-foot containers per day. It goes to Southeast Asia but that’s cardboard and paper because there’s essentially no market for that in California. A 40-foot container holds about 20 to 23 tons. Very few plastics are being exported from our Shoreway facility to Southeast Asia.

5. I’m a middle schooler, how can I help? It’s way harder to make an impact as a younger person as adults don’t really listen.

Alejandra: Use your voice. Don’t be afraid, don’t feel small, because any conversation that you can have can make a really big difference with your friends at school with your teachers, with your parents, with your family. Every time you show them by example that you are leading the way, they’re going to listen to you. So don’t think that they are not listening. We are all listening, and we want more kids like you involved.

Eva: School cafeterias are a great launching point! For some reason, schools moved away from reusable trays and containers to rigid plastic containers with plastic tops some years ago. Schools in Palo Alto, as well as in Berkeley and Marin are moving back to reusables in their cafeterias. If you’re in a school that has a cafeteria that’s using single use items, that’s a great spot to get involved! You have a strong voice within your school environment, especially if your school is back [in session] now. If not, then it might take until next year, but that’s gives you some time to set up a really great campaign and do some research on how schools in Berkeley and Palo Alto have navigated that process.

6. I’ve heard that some plastics, the kind that seem almost like cellophane, are biodegradable?

Dan: It doesn’t work. It’s fine in a lab, but there’s no commercially viable application for that in the country.

Alejandra: There’s a lot of greenwashing in “bioplastics,” “biodegradable plastics,” and “compostable plastics.”  We’re starting to understand that they really don’t do what people wanted them to do. We can see all sorts of plastic that say compostable, and they are probably compostable when they go to a composting facility with a really high temperature and controlled humidity. But if you take that compostable fork to the beach and accidentally drop it then a turtle is going to eat it. The fish are going to eat it, and it’s never going to decompose, it’s just going to break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics or nano-plastics. They’re going to end up in the fish, they’re going to end up in the food chain, and we’re going to end up eating them. So please keep your eyes open for all those names that are not the real solution.

7. What about Trex – NextTrex recycling program for plastic film?

Julia: A lot of plastics can be recycled once. You can turn a water bottle into a pair of shoes but you can’t recycle the shoe. So at least you’re extending the life of a product which I think is what NextTrex does.

Alejandra: Everything that we think that is recyclable, it’s just going to be down cycled probably into a product that is a lot lesser quality than the first one so then it ends there.

Dan: Recycling is if something gets used over and over. Glass, aluminum, and paper [get used] over and over. Down cycling is when you turn it into some kind of a park bench or three-dimensional plastic lumber and it stays that way forever. Even to do that, it’s not done with post-consumer film plastic.

8. How we can get Trader Joe’s to change their plastic packaging?

Eva: Don’t buy those things at Trader Joe’s. I know I frequent Trader Joe’s, but I try not to buy that packaged stuff because it’s completely wasteful and it’s completely unnecessary, especially for produce to be packaged like that.

Julia: Go by your stores, and let them know! The more people who speak up, the more they’ll hear about it.

9. Are there any restaurants in the Bay Area that will let you bring your own plate or container for takeout?

Eva: We’re starting to gather more data in this area! If you hear of a restaurant or a cafe that’s letting you bring your own, we want to hear about it. It’s really important that we celebrate these restaurants that are taking the lead.

Alejandra: Our plan is to create a map. We just had a meeting on this with a bunch of activists  in the Bay Area. We want to create a map that everyone can use to guide them in making decisions in frequenting restaurants and cafes that are allowing for reusables.

10. Are there any restaurants in the Bay Area that will let you bring your own plate or container for takeout?

Eva: We’re starting to gather more data in this area! If you hear of a restaurant or a cafe that’s letting you bring your own, we want to hear about it. It’s really important that we celebrate these restaurants that are taking the lead.

Alejandra: Our plan is to create a map. We just had a meeting on this with a bunch of activists  in the Bay Area. We want to create a map that everyone can use to guide them in making decisions in frequenting restaurants and cafes that are allowing for reusables.

11. What are the most impactful and also realistic plastic reduction campaigns that local organizations should encourage in their local communities?

Alejandra: As restaurants reopen, there’s an opportunity to ask legislators to pass a policy that mandates reuse for on-site dining at a new restaurant. If a restaurant’s opening or there’s a restaurant with new ownership or new management, mandate reusables for on-site dining. Also, push for PFAS ban no matter what, because PFAS chemicals should not be in your foodware whether it be plastic or non-plastic.

12. [In reference to the “chasing arrows” symbol and recycling] The printed guidelines on our bins from your companies are quite misleading. Why can’t we be honest with one another?

Eva: Just like we want transparency in our food system, I think the same kind of clarity should be expected from consumers about packaging. We want to know if it’s truly recyclable because that will impact our purchasing, and so I’m just really excited that this is changing. The film told the story really well about how these symbols were created, and none of it was to help consumers make the right decisions or to help waste management companies.

Dan: There are two cases right now we should keep our eye on in California. One is Smith vs. Keurig, which has to do with the pods, and the second one is Greenpeace vs. Walmart. Both of them have to do with stopping the misleading representation of recyclability when it’s not true.

13. Where to purchase bulk food in the Bay Area?

Alejandra: Check this list of stores that offer food in bulk.

14. Is the Biden administration and our new and improved Environmental Protection Agency working on resolving our plastics problem?

Eva: The “Break Free from Plastic” bill, is something we should all get behind and support. And recently, a reuse component was added to that as well. Also, climate is big on Biden’s plate right now, and obviously the extraction of fossil fuels and the creation of plastic has a huge climate impact, as well as many more aspects of the whole oil business. I think that the connection between plastics and climate will become an obvious next step. I know that Recology funded the ballot initiative, which would actually do a chargeback to the makers of plastic packaging. That money would be used to fund programs that are working on reducing plastic pollution.

15. Amazon brags that “this plastic bag is 50% lighter than a cardboard box”. Is this relevant?

Eva: The conversation should not be “is this one single use disposable better than this other single use disposable?” It should be “Hey Amazon, when are you going to start using reusable packaging?” The new campaign with Amazon is to get a reusable bag with a resealable closure and put that out into the market. There’s a big push from California, in the Bay Area and beyond, to ask Amazon to start piloting reusable packaging solutions.

16. What do you see as hopeful in the fight against plastic?

Alejandra: Just the fact that you’re here learning about it, and educating yourself, makes it a positive experience, because you’re learning and you care, and you’re going to bring this knowledge to your family and your friends, and you’re going to make a difference with this knowledge.

Dan: I think that it’s going to be harder for the big companies and the retailers to brainwash us into making stupid decisions to buy stuff without thinking about the unintended consequences. We are the ones that make decisions on what we choose to buy. And that’s a good thing.

Eva: I’m seeing this huge stage of opportunity and growth in green jobs, people moving away from going through other people’s garbage into jobs that bring them joy, and building a whole green infrastructure in this entire country and beyond!

Pre-Submitted Questions and Answers

1. Plastic bag recycling says bags must be clean & dry. What if one bag is dirty or wet, does the whole bundle get scrapped?

The short answer is typically no. Typically it takes more than just one piece of contamination to make the whole bundle unusable. The issue is if each person puts in one item that can’t be recycled what seems like a small amount of contamination can add up quickly.

2. What is the biggest disconnect with our waste management system and the general public?

One of the biggest disconnects with our waste system and the general public is the chasing arrows symbol. On almost all plastic items you can find the chasing arrows symbol, which some people mistakenly refer to as the recycling symbol, with a number inside. These chasing arrows and the number indicate what type of plastic the item is made out of, not that the item can be recycled.

3. Are people properly sorting? How much incorrect sorting can you tolerate with today’s recycling tech?

In our service area, for the most part people are sorting properly. At our Material Recovery Facility (MRF) we have a 13% contamination rate. The MRF is where we process all of the recyclables that we receive in the blue recycling bin/cart. That basically means for every 100 items sent to the MRF about 13 of them can’t be recycled and instead are sent to the landfill.

4. Is there an organization similar to RethinkWaste operating in the Monterey Bay Area? If not, can the model be leveraged?

Yes, the Monterey Bay area has an organization called the Monterey Regional Waste Management District (MRWMD). MRWMD serves Moss Landing, Castroville, Marina, Seaside, Del Rey Oaks, Sand City, Monterey, Monterey-Salinas Highway area, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Unincorporated Carmel, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, and Big Sur.

5. How can I avoid plastic when buying food?

One option is to buy in bulk whenever possible. If you are looking for places to purchase bulk products, check this list of locations. Another option is to see if there are other packaging options such as metal cans or glass jars.

6. What to do with many plastic bags – grocery, bags carrying food, nuts, snack etc.

Unfortunately, in our service area we can’t recycle soft plastic, including grocery bags and snack wrappers. If you can’t reuse them, all soft plastic must go in the black landfill bin.

7. How much of our plastics actually get recycled?

Plastics #1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE) are readily recyclable and are usually recycled in both domestic and some international markets. Plastics #1 are items such as water and soda bottles, peanut butter jars, and salad dressing bottles. These items are mostly recycled into more water and soda bottles or textiles and insulation. Examples of Plastics #2 are milk jugs, laundry detergent and oil bottles, and drain cleaner containers. These items are mostly recycled into more laundry detergent and oil bottles, piping, recycling containers, shampoo bottles, and chairs.

8. Why can’t the U.S. incinerate the unusable plastics that litter our environment like Japan does?

Incineration is illegal in the state of California, so incineration is not an option.

9. Is there such a thing as bad plastic or like plastic you wouldn’t recommend recycling?

Plastics #3 – 7 are plastics that are difficult to recycle. Examples of Plastics #3 – 7 are PVC pipes, yogurt containers, cold and hot beverage lids, and takeout containers. There is currently no market for the material when it is deconstructed, as these are low-quality plastics. Currently, RethinkWaste is still accepting plastics #1 – 7, but once plastics #1 – 2 are sorted out, plastics #3 – 7 are directed to the transfer station and sent to the landfill. Try and avoid these plastics as much as possible or reuse them if you can.

10. I understand that black plastic cannot be recycled. How can we get manufactures to quit using it? Better labeling?

One way to try and get manufactures to stop using black plastic would be to advocate for other options. You can do this by writing letters directly to manufacturers and businesses, speaking to your local representatives, and spreading the word about waste reduction bills and ordinances.

11. Why are towns not having places to bring items that terracycle collects, such as a drop off place for items that terracycle collects?

Terracycle is a company that offers collection and recycling of items that are typically not accepted in a curbside recycling program. It would be wonderful if more communities had more drop off locations for hard to recycle items. If you are looking for local options for recycling different items please check recyclestuff.org.

12. When/how will plastic producers be held responsible if Break Free From Plastics doesn’t pass?

For more information and to show your support for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, check their website.

If you have more questions, fill out the form below!

Contact Form

Adopt-A-Drain in Your City!

Storm drains are important to prevent flooding during our rainy seasons, but unfortunately are at risk of localized flooding hazards. Trash, leaves, plastic debris, pollutants like motor oil or fertilizers can easily accumulate in our streets and neighborhoods, which can end up contaminating the Bay and ocean, or clogging our drains when it rains. Fortunately, there’s a way we can prevent this from happening. The Adopt-A-Drain Program enables residents to help cities keep their drains clean. Currently, residents in Belmont, Burlingame, and San Mateo have official programs where residents can volunteer to adopt a drain on their block and commit to keeping it clear of flooding and pollutants.

How does it work?

Signing up to adopt a drain is very easy, simple, and fun! First, find a drain in your city that you’d like to ‘adopt,’ which basically means you will commit to keeping the top of the drain grate clear of leaves and garbage. Next, complete the online application or volunteer registration form. You could even name the drain! Finally, clean and maintain your drain. This can be a fun activity you do with your family, friends, or neighbors to make a difference in your own neighborhood. If you live in Belmont, Burlingame, or San Mateo, visit those linked pages to get more details on the program and how to sign-up. Each of these cities also provide free supplies to help you keep your drain clean.

What if my city doesn’t have an Adopt-A-Drain program?

Let your city know that you’d like to see a program like this in your city! As a resident, your voice matters and you can submit a suggestion to your local councilmember, City Manager’s office, or Public Works Department. Find the contact form for the office or department on their respective websites to make it known you’d like to see a program like this in your area.

Nevertheless, even if your city doesn’t have an official Adopt-A-Drain program, you can still help protect our waterways. If you want to protect your neighborhood from flooding, all you need is a bucket, rubber gloves, and a rake to keep your drain clean. You can also encourage your community to do the same by posting about your efforts on social media platforms like Nextdoor.

Small actions like keeping our neighborhood drains clean make a big difference, especially if we encourage others to take part too. As stewards of the environment, we can keep our local community clean if we work together. RethinkWaste encourages residents to take small actions because every little action adds up to make a big impact.

If you’re looking for other ways to get involved and make a difference this Earth Month, consider participating in our Litter Challenge! If you live in the RethinkWaste service area* you might even win a prize for participating!

*RethinkWaste service area includes: Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Parts of Unincorporated San Mateo County, and West Bay Sanitary District

Recycling Truck Catches Fire in San Mateo

On April 2, 2021, a Recology San Mateo County rear end loader truck carrying recyclables experienced a fire at approximately 5:20 a.m. The driver is safe, though the truck could not be recovered due to fire damage. The fire occurred on East Santa Inez Ave near Highland Ave in San Mateo. The City of San Mateo Police and Fire departments arrived on scene and extinguished the fire inside the truck as well as some minor burning of bushes near the truck location. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

While we don’t know the exact cause of the fire that occurred inside the truck, it could have easily been due to a lithium-ion battery that was incorrectly placed into the recycling. RethinkWaste continues to emphasize the need for safe and proper disposal to avoid the hazards of fires, which can result in safety risks for our workers, environment, and even facility. In September 2016, our Shoreway Environmental Center’s Materials Recovery Faility suffered a four-alarm fire that caused nearly $8.5 million in damages likely due to a lithium-ion battery.

For tips or best practices on safe battery disposal, please visit RethinkBatteries.org and our social media channels for information.

The Benefits of a Circular Economy

If you’ve heard the term “circular economy,” you probably know that the system’s goal is to make waste virtually nonexistent. The name describes its meaning – a circular economy is a closed loop system where a product is made and reused until its true end of its life. This is very different from our society’s linear system where products are made, used, and then disposed of.

For example, consider a pair of jeans that have recently ripped. Nowadays, mending jeans has almost become a best-case scenario. In a linear system, those ripped jeans would get donated or landfilled and a new pair of jeans would be purchased. However, a circular economy would have a vastly different approach: the denim from the old jeans could be collected and re-purchased by manufacturers who would use the material to make more jeans. With a more environmentally-friendly approach, a circular economy sounds promising! However, circular economies are challenging to instill.

For starters, a true circular economy has no waste­. Zero waste generation is already difficult for individuals, let alone on larger scales. Additionally, the quality of some materials deteriorate as they are remade, like plastics. A circular economy would move away from convenient products and toward products with longevity. Finally, circular economies often come with a large upfront cost. Transitions within companies may require a change in supplier and/or infrastructure. Still, a 2015 study found that a circular economy could be worth $4.5 trillion by 2030 if businesses prioritized “circular supplies, resource recovery, product life extension, sharing platforms, and product-as-a-service.”

Despite a few potential challenges, many companies see the value in moving toward a circular economy. Here are some examples of circular economy approaches that large companies are using now:

  1. Reusable Packaging for Everyday Items: As many companies focus on making their products more “environmentally friendly” by incorporating recyclable packing, others are flipping that model on its head. By making the conscious decision to package products in reusable containers, businesses ensure that their packaging will continue to be in use. There are even companies that put products from well-known brands that we already love and trust – from a favorite ice cream brand to a beloved haircare brand – into reusable containers! When the product is empty, consumers send the container back to be cleaned and either request a refill or are refunded the deposit. Companies like this set the precedent for making widespread reuse possible for modern brands.
  2. Focusing on Repair: Other companies are popularizing sustainable material use by focusing on “repair” instead of “replace.” These organizations showcase a closed loop system by fixing old and/or worn items from their brand. Despite being able to capitalize on those seeking to buy new items to replace their old gear, there are some companies choosing to minimize waste by mending fabric that is already in existence. These companies extend the lifecycle of their clothing by giving store credit for old or broken textiles, mending the items, and reselling them at a discount.
  3. Innovative Reuse: Yet another approach to closing the loop is to think outside the box: how can old materials be made into a completely different item? Look no further than the tech industry, where brands are trying to reduce electronic waste with innovative ideas. From “pollution printer ink” made of soot from diesel generators to a jewelry collection made using gold recovered from old laptops, the circular economy approach shows that we can create value from materials that already exist, without having to add many new resources!

Manufacturers play a large role in moving toward a circular economy, but consumers can also help by changing our everyday habits. Recycling is a step toward closing the loop, but we can do even more! To most efficiently use materials, we should try and limit our own waste and support businesses working to do the same.

Exploring Fashion’s Waste And The Ways To Reduce It

When we think of our waste stream, we often focus on daily-use items associated with food such as bottles, cans, paper, food scraps, straws, and plastic film. However, we may often neglect thinking about another source of waste that we also use every day: clothing. Perhaps you have never thrown a clothing item into your garbage, but nonetheless one garbage truck worth of textiles is wasted every second.

One of the main reasons we do not realize how much clothing ends up in landfills is that there is significant waste created even before consumer purchase. This waste, also known as upstream waste, consists of discarded material that does not become part of a finished garment. On the downstream end, clothing in poor condition that are sent to donation centers may also end up in the landfill. Another environmental impact of clothing production less visible to consumers, is the large amounts of water it takes to make clothing. On average, making just one cotton t-shirt requires approximately 2,700 liters of water. Fortunately, there are many ways to curb our waste associated with clothing.

Reduce Clothing Consumption

Stopping fashion waste can be thought of like stopping an overflowing bathtub. The first and most important step is to turn off the faucet! In this case, the faucet is our global annual production of 80 billion pieces of clothing! As an individual, the best way to help is to limit how many new clothing items you purchase. Of course, this is easier said than done, but here are several strategies that can help.

  • Limit yourself to a certain number of clothing purchases per year. This strategy works well if you know you buy a lot of clothing each year and need a tangible target to help limit yourself.
  • Only visit clothing stores when you need a specific clothing item. Remember that online stores count too!
  • When you do purchase clothing, limit waste by purchasing secondhand. This prevents an unwanted item from going to the landfill, but it also avoids all the upstream waste associated with the production of new clothing.
  • If you have to purchase new, try to buy durable clothing that you know you will enjoy for a long period of time. Look out for brands that are very transparent about the environmental impact of their production, as these companies make a large effort to reduce their impact and treat their workers fairly.

Extend Clothing Life

After long exposure to the elements and a certain number of washes, some clothes may have a few holes or a tear, but this doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. With just a needle and some thread, we can extend the life of our garments. Extending the life of a piece of clothing by just nine months can reduce its environmental impact by 20 to 30%! Another way to extend the life of your clothing is to repurpose it into a different clothing item. For example, a t-shirt can easily be turned into a tank top or a pair of pants can be turned into shorts.

If an article of clothing no longer fits you or your taste in style has changed, there are likely many other people that can still appreciate it. Here are a few different ways to extend the life of your clothing.

  • Give to a friend or family member
  • Participate in a clothing swap (or organize your own with friends, family or co-workers!)
  • Sell at an online secondhand clothing market or platforms such as Craigslist or Ebay
  • Donate to a thrift store or donation center
  • Repurpose into other items such as rags to clean around the house, a cloth napkin, or even stitch together into a reusable bag!

Clothing Disposal

Unfortunately, some clothing does eventually reach a stage where it cannot be passed on to somebody else or fixed. There are some brands and stores that have drop-off locations to recycle clothing. This should be the last-ditch option because recycling clothing is energy intensive and companies are only able to recycle a very small fraction of the textiles they collect for recycling.

The fashion industry has significant environmental and social impacts, but curbing our impact does not mean we have to give up clothing or sacrifice our sense of style. While it may take more effort to look for used or sustainably sourced clothing, refreshing old clothes and finding a new home or use for retired clothing, it is a process that can be fun, rewarding, and most importantly will help protect our natural resources!

2020 – 2021 Holiday Schedule & Tree Collection

Holiday Schedule

Recology San Mateo County is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so employees can enjoy the holidays with their families.

Compost, recycling, and garbage collection will be delayed by one day for Friday customers for the week of these two holidays. If your regular collection day falls on Friday, December 25th and Friday, January 1st your collection will be moved to the next day (Saturday, December 26th and Saturday, January 2nd). Please see the calendar below for schedule change.

Regular collection service by Recology will resume the week of Monday, January 4, 2021.

Tree Collection

Please remove all tinsel, lights, decorations, and stands from your holiday tree.

For single-family household residents:

Leave the tree next to your green Compost Cart and Recology will pick it up for you between January 1st and January 31st on your regular collection day.

For apartment and condominium residents:

Property Managers need to schedule a tree collection in advance between January 2nd and January 31st, on behalf of the entire complex. Please contact Recology to schedule your tree collection! Holiday trees will be collected in centrally located piles and in existing on-site compost containers for no additional charge between January 2nd and January 31st. Tree collections after January 31st, if not placed in existing compost containers, are subject to additional fees.

For more information visit our Holiday Tree page.

Dispose Of These Five Unique Items Properly

We try our best to sort our waste carefully: food scraps, food-soiled paper, and landscape materials in the green cart, clean paper and cardboard, metal cans, plastic containers and glass bottles in the blue cart, and most other objects in the black cart. But…what about those objects that don’t belong in any of the carts? Fear not! Let’s talk about how to properly dispose of five common items that don’t belong in your waste carts and how you can dispose of them responsibly.

1. Batteries

Batteries are abundant—they’re in our phones, children’s toys, even those singing holiday cards! From small to large, NO battery belongs in any of your carts. When put into the garbage and buried in landfills, heavy metals from batteries pool at the bottom of the landfill’s plastic liner. If that “garbage juice” is accidently released into the environment, all of those heavy metals contaminate soil and water. Batteries shouldn’t be put into the recycling either! Batteries that are wrongly put into the recycling are dangerous for waste sorting facilities such as our Shoreway Environmental Center. Batteries pose a significant fire hazard that can cause serious risk to employees and costly damage.

So, how should batteries be disposed of? It’s simple!

For single-family households, tape up the ends of your old batteries, and collect them in a clear, zip-top bag. When the bag is full, place it on top of your black garbage cart on your regular collection day.

For apartments/condominiums, look for an orange battery bucket in the major hubs of your complex (front office, clubhouse, etc.). If you don’t have a battery bucket, reach out to management about acquiring one from Recology. Otherwise, batteries can always be dropped off free of charge at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center.

2. Electronics

Like batteries, electronic devices also contain heavy metals that can cause contamination in our environment. Because of this, electronics do not belong in waste carts either. Electronic waste (old/defunct televisions, computers, phones, VCR’s, and even microwaves!) can be taken to the Shoreway Public Recycling Center for proper disposal—also free of charge.

3. Unwanted or expired medicine

Unwanted or expired medicine should never be thrown into the garbage or flushed down the toilet, as both of these have the potential to harm people and the environment. Return unwanted or expired medicine to local pharmacies and some police stations for the safest disposal! Luckily for us, San Mateo County has over 50 medicine disposal locations available to residents, including 31 in the RethinkWaste service area. To find locations nearest you, visit the San Mateo County Health website.

4. Motor oil and filters

Motor oil is a toxic substance that should never be thrown into the garbage or put down a drain for disposal, and can be collected and burned for fuel use or cleaned to be new oil! If poured down a drain, “one gallon of motor oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of freshwater” (Earth911). Motor oil should be placed in a clear plastic container, like a milk jug, and placed next to your blue recycling cart for pickup on your regular collection day. Contact Recology to request up to five one-gallon jugs for your used motor oil. Additionally, used oil filters can be placed in a clear, zip-top bag and put next to your blue recycling cart for collection. For those who don’t reside in single-family households, motor oil and used oil filters can always be dropped off at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center for disposal—free of charge!

5. Aerosol cans

Aerosol cans are yet another tricky item. They’re typically made of metal, so many folks mistakenly think these cans are recyclable. However, the design of the cans make it hard to completely empty, and the pressurization can cause harm when crushed in a recycling facility if not completely empty. Aerosol cans like spray paint, hairspray, and air fresheners (no food grade cans, like cooking spray), are accepted through San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program. County residents can schedule a free HHW drop-off appointment at www.smchealth.org.

Reminder that the Shoreway Public Recycling Center in San Carlos is open to residents for free drop-off, with COVID-19 safety precautions. Face masks must be worn while at the facility. Go here for a full list of what is accepted the Public Recycling Center.

Learn more about items accepted through San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste program.

For more information on how to dispose of other tricky items, visit recyclestuff.org.

Food, Too Good to Waste Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a webinar about food waste on August 27, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Starting with what we can do as individuals in our own homes is one part of the equation in stopping food waste. When individual actions are combined, we can then make collective action within our broader community, including pushing for changes in policy or systems. But it begins with individual day to day actions!  

We hope you find the following resources helpful in your personal journey to stop food waste.

To view a recording of the webinar and the live Q&A, click the recording below.

1. Are there any new/innovative ways to encourage (maybe even mandate or control) usage of the green bins? I saw that in Korea, they charge people to dispose of food waste to discourage waste. It may be too extreme for the U.S. Has San Mateo County improved the percentage of organics in the landfill from the last statistic?

In California we have state laws that are helping increase the availability of the green compost bin. AB 1826 requires businesses and multi-family dwellings (MFDs) to have organics collection services if they generate 4 or more cubic yards of combined garbage, recycling, and compost weekly, while SB 1383 aims at reducing the tonnage of organic waste in the landfill by setting a goal of 75% organic waste diversion by 2025. As we increase the number of businesses and MFDs with compost services, we will get closer to these goals as long as everyone uses these programs and composts correctly. If you live in a MFD that doesn’t have compost service and would like it, reach out to your Property Manager to contact Recology to set it up.

2. How do you motivate friends/family to compost and be intentional about reducing food waste?

Consider making it into a game where you have to cook a meal with just the items available in your refrigerator! You can emphasize the resources and money that goes into producing that food item. Motivations will vary between people so try to find what factors are most important to your loved ones.

3. Do you know of any non-recipe uses for food scraps? For example, using orange peels in potpourri.

Cinnamon or orange peels can be boiled to produce a nice scent in a house and lemon or orange peels soaked in vinegar can be used as a household cleaner. A natural hairspray for a “soft hold” can be made with lemon or orange (depends on hair color) and vodka. Watermelon peels can be used on your face to eliminate oil and to clean pores. Egg shells are great for soil to grow plants. Coffee grounds can also be used to make an exfoliating facial cleanser. Avocado peels and pits can be boiled to use as natural dyes.

4. Do you happen to have good suggestions on storing tofu? It’s one of the foods that goes bad most regularly in my fridge.

Take the leftover tofu, drain the water out, put in a tightly sealed container, add new water in the container and change the water every 2 days. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use it right away, you can freeze it. Before freezing, you can cut it up to how you’ll use it later so it will be easier to manage when it’s frozen.

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Why Recycling is Not the Same Everywhere

If you pay close attention to recycling, you’ve probably noticed that what’s accepted one place is not necessarily accepted in the next town over. For example, in the RethinkWaste service area (Burlingame to East Palo Alto) we do NOT accept plastic bags in the recycling, while in San Francisco they do.

It may be easier for residents if recycling was standardized, but there are reasons why it’s not the same everywhere. Two of the main reasons for the variation in recycling are: markets and community differences.


Markets dictate what can and cannot be recycled. When you put something into your blue recycling cart, there are multiple steps in the process before an item can actually get recycled. First, recyclables head to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). While at the MRF, all recyclables are separated by material type (i.e. glass, metal, cardboard, paper, etc..). After being separated, each individual material is marketed and sold to different companies, both domestically and internationally. It’s at these facilities that recycling actually occurs, and items are transformed into something new and useful.

Without a destination (or an end market) where materials can be made into something new, “recyclables” wouldn’t be actually “recycled.” Markets are dependent on many factors including location, time, and material type, just to name a few. Markets change from location to location because manufacturing companies have put factories in different places. For example, if there are several paper mills in Arizona, but none in Michigan, it’s going to be much more difficult for MRFs in Michigan to find a market for their paper.

Markets also change over time and can have larger global shifts, such as China’s National Sword policy, which has had a major impact on the recycling industry. Additionally, some materials simply have more stable markets than others. For example, plastics #1 and #2 (water bottles, laundry detergent containers, etc.) tend to have very consistent markets, while other plastics have more unstable markets meaning they may not get recycled. Plastic #1 & #2 have a variety of markets and can be made into carpet, clothing, rope, construction materials, toys, recycling bins, and of course bottles. These variations in markets make it difficult to accept the same materials for recycling everywhere.

Community Differences

In addition to markets, community differences also contribute to the variation we see in recycling.

Everything that makes our communities distinct can also have an impact on the waste system that develops. One major factor that must be considered is the size of the community. For smaller, more rural communities there can be serious barriers hindering a recycling program. While larger, more urban communities tend to have more robust recycling systems. With a smaller community comes a less dense population making curbside recycling less fiscally sound. Typically smaller, rural communities rely on recycling drop off, which usually results in lower participation rates.

Along with less funding, is a lack of local markets. Typically, rural communities are further away from markets and transportation can be an expensive barrier for the community. Trucking costs vary by weight, the heavier the material the more costly it will be to transport. Where it may be possible to truck plastic 400 miles to be recycled, it might not be the same for glass, which is much heavier.

In addition to funding and markets, communities may also focus on different priorities. In the RethinkWaste area (and greater Bay Area), many believe that environmental protection should be a top priority, but that does not always hold true for the rest of the nation. These differences in population size, funding, and values play a large role in if items can be recycled.

What does this mean for you?

Now you know that recycling is not always equal. Whenever you travel or relocate, be sure to look for your local recycling guides (you can find ours here). Don’t be afraid to seek help or ask questions and reach out to local organizations if you are confused about what goes where.

Remember, recycling may not always be easy, but it is always worth it!

9 Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, planning ahead is even more important. Not only can planning ahead help keep us prepared, it can also help reduce waste. This can apply to many types of waste, but today our focus is on food waste. According to the 2018-19 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Report, 71% of waste landfilled in San Mateo County is made up of organics. If you want to help lower this statistic, here are some tips we’ve found useful in preventing food waste.

  1. Recognize your schedule. It’s important to realize how busy your schedule is and how that might prevent you from doing certain tasks like grocery shopping and cooking. You may even underestimate how often you get take-out and end up overbuying groceries, which usually causes wasted food. Remember to plan your schedule accordingly and it may reduce the number of trips you make to the store.
  2. Keep a regular list of groceries you usually buy. Having a list of ingredients you consistently buy can help you keep track when you run out. To make it easier to access, keep it on your smartphone as a checklist, so you can have it at your fingertips. Your list could also include ingredients that last longer, like flour and sugar, and when you run out, it’s as simple as unchecking it on your digital list to remember for your next grocery trip. If using a smartphone isn’t for you, paper lists work as well! Leave a notepad and pen attached to your refrigerator so that when you run out of something, you can immediately add it to the list. Just make sure to bring the list when you go to the store!
  3. Conduct an inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before grocery shopping. Now that you have your list, before you leave for the grocery store, do one last check to ensure your list is up to date. This can be helpful in case you used up an ingredient while you were cooking and forgot to update your list in that moment.
  4. Plan your meals for the week. If you plan out what meals you’ll be cooking up during the week, you will know what groceries you’ll need when you go to the store. For new recipes, check the ingredient list and make sure to add any new items you may need.
  5. Don’t shop while hungry. Going grocery shopping while hungry somehow makes you think you need to buy things you don’t need! Remember to have a snack before heading out on your next grocery shopping adventure.
  6. Buy some shelf-stable foods. While fresh produce is great, having some shelf-stable foods handy (jarred or canned items) can help reduce food waste as they last longer. Just note that some shelf-stable foods may be high in salt, so be sure to balance it out or consider diluting it so you’re getting the right amount of nutrients.
  7. Know which groceries will go bad first. When trying a new recipe, you might have to buy an ingredient you don’t use often or doesn’t last long before going bad. By being mindful of how long ingredients will last, you can plan your meals smarter and more ingredient-efficient. When it comes to leftovers, try and eat the oldest dish first to ensure you eat it before it spoils.
  8. Preserve it by pickling. Fresh produce may not last very long, but you can make them last longer by pickling. Find a pickling solution recipe you like and enjoy your pickled veggies when you’re running low on produce or if you haven’t been to the store recently.
  9. Save it by freezing. Whether you’re cooking a large portioned meal (i.e. a huge lasagna for two) or with expiring ingredients, freeze the leftovers if you don’t think you’ll eat the rest right away. This way, you can give your future selves a break by having something ready immediately. 

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to stopping food waste in your home! It can be challenging at times and you might still throw away some food, but trust that as long as you keep trying, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.