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! 

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.

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.

Are you Disposing Your Batteries Properly?

Do you have a laptop, sneakers that light up or a key fob at home? Do you know all these items contain batteries? When these items no longer work, you need to dispose of them responsibly and not toss them in any of your carts or bins!

Batteries are a type of hazardous waste containing toxic chemicals, that when tossed in the trash or recycling can cause a lot of harm to the environment and recycling facilities.  In the garbage, batteries can leach chemicals into the landfill and in the recycling, they can be crushed by sorting machines and potentially cause a fire. That’s exactly what happened at our Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. On September 7, 2016, our recycling facility suffered a catastrophic fire that caused nearly $8.5 million in damages and all due to a lithium-ion battery.

So little, yet so destructive!

Next time you have a device that no longer works, check to see if it has a battery in it and dispose responsibly. There are lots of options!

Residents in single-family homes can place bagged batteries in a clear zip-top bag and place ON TOP of the black garbage cart on collection day. Residents in apartments or condos can see if they have an orange bucket and placed bagged batteries in there. You can also bring batteries to the Shoreway Environmental Center’s Public Recycling Center for free or you can drop off batteries at a dozen locations in the RethinkWaste service area. Get more information about the above services here.

Holiday tree pickup begins

Collectors eases process for those looking to recycle their former holiday centerpiece

Disposing of a holiday tree is becoming easier than returning unwanted gifts placed under it.

For customers of RethinkWaste, which services most of the Peninsula, undressed trees 8 feet or shorter can be left on the curb during regular trash pickup day throughout January and they will be taken for free, said Executive Director Joe La Mariana.

Read the full story by Austin Walsh in the Daily Journal here.

Important change made to battery disposal on collection day

As of Sept. 3, a program allowing residents of local single-family households or in apartment buildings with four units or less to dispose of household batteries and cellphones on collection day re-launched with an important change.

Instead of putting batteries and cellphones into clear zip-top bags and placing them on the blue cart, which is the recycling cart, the program now requires residents to place them on the black cart, or the trash cart.

It’s an important safety change involving a local recycling center.

“Currently, the RethinkWaste-owned Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos finds on average 13 batteries per hour on the recycling sort line,” officials said. “Batteries are helpful in everyday life, but when batteries are improperly disposed of and end up in a facility with lots of heavy equipment, this can lead to a bad combination. On September 7, 2016, the Shoreway Environmental Center experienced a four-alarm fire that was likely called by a lithium-ion battery. Thankfully all staff were evacuated safely, but it cost $8.5 million in damages.”

Read the full story on Climate Online Redwood City here.