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,, 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

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

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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5 Tips for Managing Your Recycling, Compost & Garbage

[1] The Sorting Hat

Not sure what goes where? Check out 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:

[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.

4 Tips to Reducing Waste During Quarantine

With Shelter-In-Place orders in San Mateo County and Statewide, the sudden spread of COVID-19 has caused each of us to pause before going out on simple trips to the grocery store, even leading many of us to favor services that deliver food and goods. With so much additional time spent in home, items like soft plastics associated with shipping have increased in our waste stream. While not all waste is avoidable, this time at home can be a wonderful opportunity to form better habits and learn something new about the ways we generate waste.

Here are a few waste-reduction tips to try out during quarantine:

1) Conduct a Home Waste Audit: Hold yourself accountable of the waste you generate by taking note of everything you throw into any of your 3 carts. Your audit could be for just one day or even a week’s worth of waste, but the goal is to become more aware of the volume of waste we are personally responsible for. Take note of each item, what it’s made of, and which cart it’s tossed into. At the end of your audit, reflect on what types of items were tossed the most, and consider finding at least one solution to preventing this waste. Here’s a Home Waste Audit Campaign that can help you get started. If you have children or roommates, this makes for a great group activity!

2) Ditch To-Go Disposables: As many of us turn to delivery options from our favorite local restaurants, it can be easy for unnecessary single-use plastics to pile up. A simple way to avoid excess utensils, straws, or napkins is by requesting in the “special instructions” that your order is delivered without them! Our collective actions can make a significant impact!

3) Explore Eco-Alternatives:  Support smaller businesses online and reduce trips to the store by trying out low-packaging or compostable products. Many of these products may not be available at a regular grocery store, so quarantine is a great time to browse the internet and find your new favorite eco-alternative! Some examples may be: toothpaste tablets, reusable coffee filter, bar shampoo/conditioner, bamboo dish scrubber, or a silicone baking mat.

4) Trash to Art: If you’ve got kiddos at home this one’s especially for you – exercise your creativity by turning items that would otherwise go into the landfill into a beautiful masterpiece! Whether it be a sculpture of your favorite cartoon character, a re-creation of your favorite painting, or something entirely original, this is a fun activity to give your waste a second life. If you know a 3rd-5th grader that goes to school in the RethinkWaste service area, you’re in luck! The RethinkWaste Trash to Art competition is open until May 8, and your submission might just get recognized!

With restrictions surrounding reusable cups and bags, as well as a surge in medical waste like gloves, these days we are seeing the return of single-use garbage in our environment. Although much of this waste is difficult to avoid during this time (and most of it belongs in our garbage and not the streets), it’s important that we continue to look for small changes we can make at home that will keep the zero waste movement alive. As we continue to be conscious of the items we throw out, know that the time for reusables will come again, and it will be as important as ever to enact these habits of environmental responsibility.

5 Pantry/Freezer Recipes to Try

With the current shelter in place orders, many of us are having to “shop” in our own pantries and freezers. This doesn’t mean your meals have to be boring! Below are 5 recipes you can make with ingredients that you might already have in your home, whether it be in your cupboards or the freezer. Shopping in our own kitchen is also an easy way to prevent food waste while saving yourself a trip to the grocery store (and the emissions that may come with it)! Enjoy these recipes! 

Fresh Pasta

Making homemade pasta requires few ingredients. If you don’t want to eat all the pasta at once, you can separate it into serving sizes, dust it with a bit of flour so it doesn’t stick together and then put it into the freezer on a sheet pan. Once it’s frozen, store it in a container or bag until ready to eat!

You will need:
1 large mixing bowl
1 clean kitchen towel
1 sharp knife
1 cutting board

3 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 cups all-purpose flour
1.25 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Mix eggs, flour, oil, and salt in a large mixing bowl with your hands until a sticky dough forms. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover dough with a wet towel and let rest at least 30 minutes. This allows the gluten to form!
  • Cut and roll as desired.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone soup is hearty, yummy, and a great way to use up any vegetables that might expire soon. Play with the ratios to find your ideal flavor!

You will need:
1 large pot
1 knife
1 cutting board
1 can opener
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking

Olive oil
Onions, diced
Garlic, diced
Canned beans or other protein
Vegetables, cut into small pieces (examples are carrots, celery, potatoes, or chard stalks – anything that requires a bit longer to cook)
Tomato sauce (this is a great way to use up any half-jars of sauce, though a whole jar is best)
Stock (if you don’t have stock and are a meat-eater, browning the meat + using water instead is a good substitute)
Leafy greens (spinach, chard leaves, etc.)
Cheese (optional, dairy-free, or vegan)
Salt & pepper, to taste

  • If using meat – Add olive oil to a stock pot and brown the meat.
  • Add onions and sauté until almost translucent.
  • Add garlic and cook until both onions and garlic are fragrant and translucent.
  • Add your vegetables that take longer to cook (carrots, celery, chard stalks, etc.). Cook until soft.
  • Add tomato sauce and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • When finished simmering, add any leafy greens and/or canned beans. Let simmer for a few minutes.
  • Add cheese and stir.
  • Taste your soup and add any salt or pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Tomato Stew

An easy, filling dish that goes great with rice. Any protein will do, but if you’re using canned beans make sure to let them stew for a while so they absorb the flavor.

You will need:
1 large pot
1 knife
1 cutting board
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking

Olive oil
Onion, diced
Garlic, diced
Canned tomato sauce and/or fresh tomatoes, salted
Protein (if using pork or beef, cut into 1” cubes)
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste

  • Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent.
  • Add tomatoes or tomato sauce & bayleaf. Simmer until tomatoes soften & cook down.
  • Add protein into simmering sauce.
  • Season with 2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce & soy sauce.
  • Cover and let simmer until meat (or other protein) is tender and cooked through.
  • Taste your stew and add any salt or pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Fried Rice

Day-old rice is best, but if you don’t have any on-hand, cook some rice and let it sit out for a bit. Feel free to add any other spices or sauces that you like!

You will need:
1 large pan
1 cutting board
1 knife
1 spoon or spatula
1 fork

Onion, diced
Garlic, diced
Frozen or wilting vegetables, diced
Cooked meat, cut into small pieces
Egg (leave out if vegan)
Soy sauce

  • Sauté onions and garlic in a pan until translucent.
  • Add your vegetables and cook until soft.
  • Add your meat and stir.
  • Add your rice and mix thoroughly.
  • If adding an egg, make a small well in the middle of the pan. Crack the egg into the hole and either cook until sunny-side up OR scramble with a fork.
  • Add a few dashes of soy sauce and/or other sauces that you like. Stir and let cook until the rice is to your desired doneness.


Casseroles are an easy, one-dish meal that serves as a tasty way to clean out your fridge.

You will need:
1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking
1 oven-safe baking dish
1 can opener
1 knife

Canned cream of mushroom soup
Milk, alternative milk, or water
Thyme, rosemary, or other herbs
Uncooked pasta
Chicken (uncooked or cooked then shredded) or other protein
Mushrooms (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Mix canned soup, stock, milk (or alternative milk or water), thyme, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add uncooked pasta, protein, and mushrooms. Give it another good stir.
  • Pour into an oven-safe baking dish. Cover with foil.
  • Put in the oven and let bake for 35-40 minutes or until pasta and chicken are cooked through.

These meals are meant to be adaptable to your palate, so have fun with them! If you like your casseroles a little spicier, add some red pepper flakes. If you like herbs in your pasta, fold in some basil! This can also be a fun activity for kids if you want to pretend you’re in a cooking competition.

Whether you use these recipes or not, it’s always important to think about minimizing food waste. If food waste is sent to landfills, it becomes a source of methane emission, which is a greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change. Even if food waste is composted, there is still water, land, emissions, and labor that is wasted. By shopping our own pantries and freezers while being creative about our cooking, we can all make a difference! 

How You Can Stop Food Waste

Did you know that one of the most environmentally conscious choices you can make is to not waste food? Food waste affects many aspects of our daily lives: transportation, the environment, the economy, and even our wallets. It’s estimated that in the United States that food waste represents 30-40% of the food supply, and yet 1 in 3 children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. The good news is you have the control to lessen your food waste and here are easy tips on how!

Only buy what you need

Plan your meals out for the week by making a shopping list and buy only from that list. Feel the satisfaction when you realize you bought the perfect amount of food for the week!

Stay organized/store food properly

It may seem surprising to know that a huge reason we end up wasting food is the way it was stored! Keep food that should be eaten sooner at the front of the fridge and try to use air-tight containers. Additionally, temperatures and humidity levels in your fridge vary from spot to spot. Stash items in the proper section and they’ll last longer.

Only take what you can eat

This may seem like a simple one but too often we fill our plate with a bunch of food we do not actually have the appetite for, which ends up getting wasted. Start off with a smaller portion and you can always go back for seconds.

Bring a reusable container when you go out to eat

Always keep a reusable container handy when dining out. If you have any leftovers, you can slip it into your container to take home. You’ll be reducing food waste AND a take-out container from the restaurant. Double win!                      

Freeze food

Remember the great benefits of having a freezer! Nearly every meal can be frozen and eaten at a later date. Portion it into smaller servings and remember to label it.

Taking mindful steps to lessen our food waste ensures that the resources and time that were put into making the food does not go to waste. When you consistently make conscious decisions about how to buy and store your food, it will eventually become habit and you’ll be rescuing food from being wasted in no time! Americans waste an average of one pound of food per day. Let’s get that to zero.

For more food waste tips, visit

Easy Ways to Reduce and Reuse

We’ve all heard them – the 4 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. But did you know that the 4 R’s are actually a hierarchy?  

Recycle and Rot are a part of the solution, but they are not THE solution. Reducing and reusing are far more impactful when it comes to how much waste we generate. After all, if we never used that plastic container in the first place, then we wouldn’t have to worry about where it goes after we use it!

Here are a few easy ways YOU can reduce the amount of waste you are producing and how to reuse the things you already have.

Make your reusables easily accessible. Store your reusable container, cup, utensils, produce bag, and/or grocery bags in a location that you can easily access on the go. In your backpack, purse, your desk drawer at work, the trunk of your car, wherever is most convenient for you. That way, you’ll always be ready whether you’re eating out, grabbing some coffee, or perusing the bulk section at the grocery store.

Learn how to repair.
If you have a broken item, consider if it’s repairable first. There are local repair and fix clinics where you can bring your items to be brought back to life and many resources online. Fixing items reduces what goes to the landfill, plus you may learn a new skill or two. It’s a win-win! 

Reuse containers.
Although we all try our best to reduce the number of containers we get, it happens. Containers are sometimes hard to avoid when picking up your favorite pasta sauce or ordering in for take-out. The good news is that you’re still in control of what you throw away! Consider reusing containers to hold household items or keep using it to store your food.

Borrow, rent, or refill.
Going on a snowboarding or camping trip but don’t have gear? Have no fear! Borrowing is here! Asking your friends or family if you could borrow gear is a great option to avoid buying something you’ll only use seasonally. Just make sure to take good care of their gear, so you can return it in pristine condition. There are also local sporting goods retail stores that have renting and refilling programs for sporting gear and propane tanks.

Taking a minute to rethink your options before immediately buying or throwing something away is all you need to come up with another solution that is better for the environment.

It definitely calls for some creativity and thinking outside the box to make something new from something old, or reusing something that could’ve been thrown away. But it also empowers you as an individual to be innovative, to learn how to fix, and to tap into and strengthen your community relationships when you borrow and lend your belongings.

Remember that you have the power to contribute to a healthy environment by making simple changes to reduce your waste and to reuse what you have! Share your ideas with us and we’ll share them with our community!

Five Green Resolutions to Make Today

With 2020 just days away, what better way to start the new year and decade with some practical ways to make your life more sustainable?

There are a lot of tips and information out there, but these are some of the ones the staff at RethinkWaste practice and we wanted to share them with you to help you start a new year with new sustainability goals.

1. Invest in reusables and vow to use

We likely all have reusable bags and use them all the time, but let 2020 be the year you invest in reusable produce bags, utensils, or a cup/mug AND not to give yourself excuses if you haven’t brought them with you. Produce bags are easy to find nowadays at the store yourself or online, and come in multiple sizes. Just remember to stash them along with your reusable bags so you always have them handy. Same goes for utensils and your cup!

2. Bring your own container

If you eat out, especially if you’re coming from home or the office, grab a reusable container with you just in case you may not eat all your food. If you’re pressed for space, try a collapsible container that can fit easily into a backpack or purse. If you do end up getting your own container, vow to clean it and reuse it again!

3. Reduce paper towel use

While used paper towels can go into your green compost cart, paper towels can be wasteful and expensive (according to a 2018 report, Americans spend $5.7 billion annually on paper towels!) . Start by swapping out paper towels in one of the many applications you may use it for during the day, including after washing your hands, eating or cleaning up after a meal. These instances can be replaced with a reusable napkin. Try keeping a reusable napkin at your desk or with your reusable utensils, so you always have it handy.

4. Reuse it first – it’s better than recycling

Find new ways to reuse instead of just recycling or trashing first. Instead of tossing that glass jar into the recycling, see how you can reuse it to hold your bulk items. Cardboard boxes can also be reused for storage. Single-sided printed pages can be used for scratch paper. Find new homes for clothing and linens, or use them for cleaning rags.

5. Repair and repurpose

Similar to the above tip, consider repair and repurpose for old, broken, or worn out items like clothes or small appliances, especially if only part of the item or device is not working. Only use recycling as a last resort.

We hope you’ll consider some of these ideas for your 2020 green resolutions. One action can really make a difference in helping reduce your overall waste footprint, but also your local community in keeping waste from our landfills.

Sustainable Gift Guide

For this holiday season, you can find many different ways to be more sustainable when gifting presents to loved ones, from gifting experiences, being more mindful of the gifts you purchase, and wrapping those gifts sustainably.

Gifting Experiences

Gifting experiences is a great way to reduce waste this holiday season! Instead of buying more material things, you can gift an experience your loved ones will never forget!

  • Sports events tickets
  • Movie Tickets
  • Ski Resort Passes or Tickets
  • Museum Memberships or Tickets
  • Gym Memberships
  • Escape Room Tickets
  • Donations to Charities
  • Time Together
  • Restaurant Gift Certificate
  • Theater Tickets
  • Adopt a Whale, a Seal, or a Bat
  • Amusement Park Passes
  • Homemade Coupon for Dinner, a Car Wash, or Babysitting
  • Train or Bus Passes
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride
  • Woodworking Classes
  • Online Subscriptions for Music, Video, Games, Newspapers, E-books, or Newspapers/Magazines

Mindful Gifting

This year when you’re buying gifts for your loved ones, be sure to gift something you think they need or will be very useful to them. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what your friends and family are interested in receiving this year. You want to make sure the gift you get is something they will like and not something that will end up going to the landfill.

  • Repurpose or upcycle it! If you have something you aren’t going to use anymore, try repurposing it in a gift for someone else. Or upcycle some old shirts to make a reusable bag, or a broken garden hose to make a gift basket.
  • Take the taboo out of thrifting a gift! Check out your local thrift store to put together a custom curation of gifts or something unique that you wouldn’t find in a department store.
  • Make it reusable! Build a reusable kit to encourage reuse and eliminate single-use items. Your kit can include reusable utensils, straws, silicone bags, produce bags, shopping bags, collapsible containers, reusable food wrap, etc.
  • Consumable gifts like baked goods, wine, fair trade chocolate, soap, shampoo bar, coffee or tea are great gifts that help to fill tummies or shelves!
  • Support local businesses this year when purchasing your gifts! Go into a local shop you haven’t been to before and look for a unique gift for your friends and family.
  • Get it clean! If are purchasing a gift, try looking for organic or ethical items this time. This can apply for clothes, consumables, you name it!

Sustainable Wrapping

Find more sustainable ways to wrap presents this year!

  • Instead of using wrapping paper, try using an old magazine or newspaper to wrap your gifts instead.
  • If you do get wrapping paper, try to get the ones that are paper based and do not have a shiny coating. Shiny or glitter-coated wrapping paper is not recyclable.
  • If you don’t feel like using wrapping paper, a paper bag and tissue paper also get the job done!

No matter if you adopt one of these tips or all of them, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season this year!