Beyond Recycling: The Other “R’s” Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste and Recology San Mateo County held a webinar on June 30, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted. If you have more questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

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

1. What happens to the compost collected and is the volume from households and businesses trending up?

Compost collected in the RethinkWaste service area is sent to either Newby Island in San Jose or Blossom Valley Organics in Vernalis. Compost volume in the RethinkWaste service area is trending up. There was a 1.7% increase in overall compost collection from 2018-2019, and residential, business, and apartments all saw increases in compost collected.

2. Are the items that we place in our blue recycling carts really getting recycled? I know consumers should avoid buying these items in the first place but is there anything else (aside from cleaning better) that we can do? Are the cardboard milk cartons actually recyclable?

Plastics #3-7 are currently not being recycled as there is no market for recycling them. These are items like to-go containers and yogurt cups. Other than being contractually bound to collect 3-7 plastics, a market could come back so we do still collect them. The best steps would be to focus on reducing waste, cleaning the best that you can, and supporting policies that reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastics available to consumers in the first place. Cardboard milk cartons, if from the refrigerated section at the grocery store go in your recycling cart. If they are shelf-stable, they are aseptic containers and are made of mixed material, so they go in the garbage.

3. What is being done to bring back Recycling Buyback?

For those unfamiliar, Recycling Buyback refers to California’s redemption program for bottles and cans. Whenever you buy a bottle or can, you pay an extra 5 or 10 cents depending on size and what qualifies. There is currently one open buyback facility in our service area – J&D Recycling in San Mateo. Note that our Shoreway Public Recycling Center was a buyback location for many years, but last year after RePlanet closed all their locations, we saw a huge backlog of cars on Shoreway Road, making it difficult for Recology trucks and our trucks to get in and out of the facility to collect, drop off, and move off site your recycling, compost, and garbage and causing a nuisance to our neighbors on this narrow road. Therefore, we closed the Shoreway buyback center and have not found a safe way to open it back up. RethinkWaste and Recology are not required by State law to have a buyback center.

4. Are there places to giveaway unwanted but still useable items?

Check with NextDoor, freecycle.org, your family members or friends. If you don’t find success through those options, bring items to local donation centers.

5. Should we put shredded paper in paper or plastic bags?

Put shredded paper in a closed paper bag labelled “Shredded Paper,” to avoid it from flying around and becoming litter.

6. What is the smallest size for a ball of tinfoil that is accepted? Does clean aluminum foil ball go to recycle? What about food soiled aluminum foil?

Combine small pieces of clean (free of food) tinfoil together so they make a larger tinfoil ball. Clean aluminum goes into your recycling cart. If foil is food-soiled, try your best to empty the crumbs or food remnants in the compost, and then ball up the foil, food side on the inside to ensure any leftover food stays inside to not soil the rest of your recycling.

7. Do plastic net bags for onions and potatoes go in the recycling cart?

No, plastic net bags for produce go into the garbage.

8. Can old lightbulbs be put in my orange battery bin?

No, lightbulbs do not belong in the orange battery bucket. If you have an incandescent lightbulb, they can be thrown in the garbage. If you have a fluorescent lightbulb, these lights container mercury and must be brought to a local drop off location such as a hardware store where it can be disposed of properly. You can find drop off locations for fluorescent lights and LED lights at RecycleStuff.org.

9. Are spiral bound notebooks recyclable?

Yes, spiral bound notebooks can go in the recycling cart.

10. Are small plastic sauce containers that are from restaurants and have the #1-7 recyclable?

As long as the plastic containers have a chasing arrows sign with the number 1-7 on it, it can go in the recycling.

11. What do I do with the bubble wrap envelopes? Also, what’s the best way to get rid of styrofoam?

Sometimes bubble wrap envelopes have a “Store Drop-off” label on it, which usually means you can bring it to a participating store that takes it back to get recycled. If it does not have that label, it goes into the garbage.

12. Can you talk about thin plastic?

Thin, flimsy plastic refers to cling wrap, zip-top bags, or other crinkly plastics like plastic bags. These plastics DO NOT go into the recycling cart because they jam the machines at the Shoreway recycling facility. If you cannot reuse them, they go into the garbage.

13. Are rubberbands recyclable?

Rubberbands are not recyclable but they can be reused.

14. How much of the good plastic you take in is actually recycled and used in products again? What percentage of plastic is just going to landfills?

About 83% of the material that comes to our recycling facility goes on to get recycled, including plastic mixed paper, cardboard, glass, and metals, leaving 17% of the remaining material going to landfill. We currently do not have a breakdown of how much of the total plastic that comes through the facility is recycled versus going to landfill.

15. Where do plastic and metal bottle caps go?

We ask that you keep plastic and metal bottle caps attached to their bottle and put the whole item in the recycling. If bottle caps are loose in your cart, they are likely to get littered into the street when your carts are being serviced.

16. What do you advise as best option for disposing of e-waste?

You can bring select electronic waste to GreenCitizen in Burlingame at no charge or hold onto it until the Shoreway Public Recycling Center is open for free disposal.

17. Where does wood go?

If the wood is clean, untreated wood, it can go into the compost cart as long as it is cut down to fit inside the cart so the lid can close. If the wood is treated or has paint on it, it must go in the garbage.

18. Is waxed cardboard recyclable?

Waxed cardboard goes into your compost cart.

19. Are receipts recyclable?

No, receipts are made up more than one material and contain BPA chemicals, so they go in the garbage.

20. Where do tissues used to wipe wet hands go?

Tissues used to wipe wet hands are soiled paper so they can go into the compost.

21. Are there any other items that you commonly see recycled or composted that shouldn’t be?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and masks, along with plastic bags and film have been found in all three carts, but they belong in only the garbage cart.

22. Does 100% cotton scrap fabric go in the compost?

Textiles of any type are not accepted in any of your three carts. You can find places to donate unwanted textiles at RecycleStuff.org.

23. Can flimsy plastic go in the plastic shopping bag containers at the grocery stores?

Yes, if grocery stores are accepting plastic bags to recycle, you can bring them there to get recycled.

24. Where do I start? What will help me reduce the most amount of waste?

Start small, by switching out one single-use item with a reusable one. For example, start with saying no to straws, and once that becomes a habit, move to utensils. Try doing a waste audit to see what you throw out the most. Check your recycling bin too, as reducing items you throw into the recycling also has a very positive impact. Also try examining items around your house, and start with an item that you feel that you can reduce your use of/repair/replace with a reusable option.

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

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The Importance of Recycling and Composting

Every day we face the choice of properly sorting our waste into our three carts. With proper sorting, there should be more items in your blue recycling and green compost carts than in your black garbage cart. But why does this matter? Recycling and composting have important environmental benefits and understanding why they matter goes a long way in keeping us motivated to sort correctly!

Recycling saves energy and conserves resources

One great thing about recycling is that it has been pivotal in reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfill. From 1999 to 2018, the annual amount of waste sent to the landfill in San Mateo County dropped by 32% despite an 8% increase in population size and significant economic growth.

Material that is sent to the landfill stays there forever, whereas material that is recycled can be turned into new products. By making new products from recycled materials, we also reduce demand for virgin materials, which is important because we live on a planet with finite resources! By reducing demand for virgin materials, we also save the energy that would have been used to extract and process those resources from our environment.

Even with the energy needed to process our recyclable materials at our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and energy needed to turn our recyclables into new products, there is still a net energy saving from recycling! Saving energy means less CO2 emissions, which contribute to climate change by acting as a heat trapping blanket in our atmosphere. Here are some of the energy savings from different materials:

  • Recycling one 20 oz plastic bottle = energy to power one CFL lightbulb for 10.3 hours
    • Recycling one ream of printer paper (500 sheets) = energy to power a typical laptop for 49 hours

Recycling glass and aluminum is especially important because they can be recycled over and over again!

  • Recycling one 12 oz glass bottle = energy to power one CFL lightbulb for 5.3 hours
    • Recycling one aluminum can = energy to power a typical laptop for 5.8 hours

Composting prevents climate change and improves our soils

Composting also plays an important role in diverting waste from our landfill, and actually plays an even bigger role than recycling in our service area. In 2018, the Shoreway Environmental Center received 120,000 tons of organic material, which was about 50% more in weight than the amount of recyclable material received.

Furthermore, diverting organic material is arguably even more important than diverting recyclable material because when organic material enters the landfill, it breaks down and releases a gas known as methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change in the same way that CO2 does, but has a warming effect 34 times stronger than CO2! Composting just one ton of organic waste has the same emission reductions as taking a car off the road for two months, which means that in 2018 the RethinkWaste service area composted enough organic waste to reduce emissions equivalent to taking over 22,000 cars off of the road.  In addition to diverting waste from landfills and reducing harmful emissions, finished compost has many environmental benefits as a soil additive, including reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, improving soil water retention, and assisting in erosion control.

While recycling and composting play only a small role in protecting our planet, everyone can contribute to taking better care of it by taking full advantage of these wonderful systems we have in place.

So next time when you go to sort your waste, remember that diverting compostable or recyclable items from the landfill helps us use our wonderful resources to their full advantage. You can also remember the energy you can save by turning your items into new ones when you recycle right or that composting your organic waste will help improve our soils to grow our next meals!

To learn more about energy savings and emissions reductions from recycling and composting, check out these resources:

·        https://www.epa.gov/warm/individual-waste-reduction-model-iwarm-tool

·        http://www.stopwaste.co/calculator/

5 Tips for Managing Your Recycling, Compost & Garbage

[1] The Sorting Hat

Not sure what goes where? Check out WhatBin.com to learn what materials belong in each cart. Think you’re a master sorter? Test out your skills with our Interactive Carts Game.

[2] Let’s Break It Down

Optimize space in your blue recycling cart by keeping recyclables loose (not bagged) and breaking down boxes.

Remember that you are able to place all recyclables in the same cart—this includes cardboard, clean paper products, glass bottles and jars, metals, and plastics containers #1-7. Shredded paper may be placed inside a paper bag labeled “shredded paper.”

Please make sure lids are completely closed to prevent items from falling out of your cart.

[3] Bag Your Garbage Before You Toss It

Do your part to keep drivers safe and reduce litter. Garbage should be secured in bags to prevent unwanted critters and materials from blowing onto the street. Make sure all garbage fits inside your cart, with the lid completely closed.

[4] Save Your Donations

Put reusable items aside for now. Once Shelter-In-Place restrictions are lifted, donate reusable goods to a local charity, non-profit, family or friend. They will appreciate the donation, and it won’t go to the landfill. You can also find a location for your donatable items at: RecycleStuff.org

[5] Roll Out!

Place residential carts out by 6:00 a.m. on your service day. Drivers may pick up carts earlier or later due to temporary routing changes. Carts should be put away within 24 hours of service. Remember to position carts two feet apart to allow automated trucks to collect carts efficiently.

Five Composting Questions Answered

A few months ago we posted about the top five compost misconceptions from a survey we administered. Since then, we continue to receive more composting questions and wanted to answer the top five questions here.

  1. Meat bones and dairy – Meat and fish bones that won’t be eaten can be placed into your green Compost Cart.  Uneaten dairy products that are not liquid, like cheese and yogurt can also be put into your Compost Cart. Remember that liquids don’t go into any of your three carts!
  2. Disposable paper take-out containers – Make sure these items are completely made from paper (they should be easy to tear) and if they are, they are considered ‘food-soiled paper’ and would go into your green Compost Cart.
  3. Moldy food – All food, moldy or not, can be placed into your green Compost Cart.
  4. Bioplastics – This is a complicated question as there are many types of products that make this claim. Ultimately, the best bet is to make sure items are “certified compostable” by the Biodegradeable Plastics Institute (BPI). These items have been tested to be able to be processed in industrial compost facilities. However, even though that is the case, try your best to avoid these materials to begin with. Compostable containers and utensils still take a lot of energy to make and can be replaced by using reusable items instead.
  5. How do I get composting at my apartment/condo? – If your apartment or condo complex doesn’t have access to a composting on site, there are two options:
    • Start a worm composting bin at your apartment where you would put certain organic waste in, worms eat it, and it becomes rich compost. For more information, the County of San Mateo’s Office of Sustainability has a page dedicated on how to get started. They also offer rebates if you buy a worm bin through them.
    • Reach out to your property manager and inquire about getting food-waste composting collection started at your apartment complex. Most likely there are other residents that have inquired as well, so finding support will only better your chances! You can also contact Recology directly and they can assist in getting compost started at your apartment.

For more tips and tricks about compost, visit RethinkCompost.org and for more common questions and answers, check out the “Ask the Expert” page. Or ask your question below!

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Why Do You Compost? Share Your Story!

Do you compost at home? What are some of the reasons you compost? We want to to hear from you! Inspire friends, family, and your local community by sharing your story and the reasons that matter most to you!

Below are a few of our recent stories RethinkWaste residents have shared with us.

“I compost because the very thought that organics can be turned into something as beneficial as compost amazes me! Knowing that there’s a whole world of micro-organisms in there, breaking down all the material is something I never thought of until I learned more about composting.”
– Mike, San Mateo

“I compost in my backyard to help my fruit trees and garden grow. We collect our vegetable and fruit scraps and egg shells in our kitchen pail and then put it all in a backyard bin. When the compost is ready, we feed this to our apple, pear, plum, and other fruit trees to help add valuable nutrients for them to grow. It makes us feel good to not have waste and keep the composting cycle going.”
– Jenny, Burlingame

“In a world where the ocean is filling up with plastic, glaciers are melting, forests are burning, and everything seems to be quickly going down a toilet—I compost because it’s the only real way I feel like I help make a positive impact. It puts the control back on me and it makes me feel that maybe the world isn’t doomed after all.”
– Charlie, Redwood City

“When I compost, I’m putting less stuff into my garbage can! This means I can save money on my garbage rates, but it’s also one of the easiest contributions to helping our environment. A win-win!”
– Elizabeth, Foster City

Inspired to share your own story of why you compost? You can write your compost story here and we will share with our RethinkWaste community.

Top 5 Compost Misconceptions

Do you know what is and is not accepted in our compost program? We recently surveyed people in the RethinkWaste community to find out what they know. And we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 compost misconceptions.

  1. Pizza boxes – 43% of those surveyed knew which bin pizza boxes go in. While pizza boxes are made of cardboard, most end up with oil or cheese remnants. Cardboard that’s come in contact with food is now ‘food-soiled paper,’ which means pizza boxes go into the COMPOST.
  2. Disposable paper coffee cups – Only 56% of those surveyed knew where to correctly put their paper coffee cups. This item when completely made from paper is also considered ‘food-soiled paper’ and goes into the COMPOST.
  3. Pet waste – About 59% of those surveyed thought that they could throw pet waste into their compost cart. We send all of our compost to industrial composting facilities that sell the finished product to farmers, landscapers, and vineyards, and they do not want pet waste in their soil. Some of the finished product even gets sent back to the Shoreway Environmental Center, where residents can pick up compost, at no cost! So, remember to put pet waste in the GARBAGE.
  4. Food-soiled napkins and paper towels – One may think these items go into the recycling since they are paper, but food-soiled napkins and paper towels go into the compost cart! Only 67% of those surveyed knew where these items go. Remember all paper products that come in contact with food is ‘food-soiled paper’ and belongs in the COMPOST.
  5. Produce stickers – Although produce stickers seem like they would break down into compost, they do not because there is plastic in the sticker. Remember to peel those produce stickers off and throw them in the GARBAGE!

Have a question about what does or doesn’t belong in your green compost cart? Shoot us a note below!

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