Single Family FAQs

This page highlights frequently asked questions for single-family households. Select one of the below topics to get started. Don’t see the answers you’re looking for? We’d love to help! Drop us a line and send us your question using our contact form.

Questions about what is accepted, not accepted and hard to recycle items

Questions about compost

Questions about Service and billing

Questions about rates



Why Can’t Plastic Bags Go in the Recycling Cart?

RethinkWaste does not accept plastic bags in the recycling cart because they often get caught in the machinery at the Shoreway Environmental Center, risking damage to the facility and endangering our workers. Check your local grocery store to see if they take back plastic bags or visit RecycleStuff.org for a list of drop-off locations. You can check the most updated list of locations in the RethinkWaste area that accept plastic bags here.

How Can I Recycle an Old Mattress Or Box Spring?

Residents can drop off up to five (5) of their mattresses free of charge in one visit, through the Mattress Recycling Council’s Bye Bye Mattress program at the Shoreway Environmental Center’s Transfer Station. Click here to see which mattresses and box springs qualify for recycling. For more information on how to recycle mattresses and box springs, visit this page.

When is the Next Shredding and/or E-Scrap Collection Event?

Check our events page for the next shred/e-scrap event in your city or town. Shred and E-Scrap events are held annually by RethinkWaste and on behalf of our participating Member Agencies.

E-Scrap is accepted year-round at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center in San Carlos.

How Do I Recycle My Used Household Batteries and Old Cell Phones?

Simply place your household batteries or cell phones in a clear, zip-top bag and place the bag on top of your black Garbage Cart on your collection day. Lithium batteries must be taped with clear, household tape and cell phones must be wrapped in paper before being placed in the zip-top bag. Visit this page to learn more about proper battery disposal and why it’s important.



Can I Recycle Used Motor Oil and Oil Filters Curbside?

Yes, Recology San Mateo County offers curbside collection of used motor oil and used oil filters for recycling at no additional cost. Upon request, Recology San Mateo County can provide residents with up to five one-gallon plastic jugs for your used motor oil and up to five plastic bags for your used oil filters at a time. Or you can use your own clear one-gallon jugs with sealable lids for motor oil and zip-top bags for oil filters. Place your used motor oil and filters next to your blue Recycle Cart on your collection day. Motor oil and oil filters are also accepted at the Public Recycling Center at Shoreway Environmental Center.

How Do I Schedule a Bulky Item Collection Pick-Up?

Residents can schedule two On-Call Bulky Item pick ups annually with Recology for no additional cost. Simply contact Recology San Mateo County at (650) 595-3900 to schedule your pick up or visit Recology San Mateo County’s website.

Why Aren’t Shelf Stable Containers such as Soy Milk Containers Recyclable?

Shelf stable containers (such as soy/almond/oat milk and soup broths) are usually Aseptic or Tetrapak containers, which means they are made up of different materials, such as foil, paper and plastic. Juice pouches and cylindrical chip containers are other examples of multi-material items. The materials are glued very closely together and our facility does not currently have the capacity to separate the various components to be recycled, so they must be placed in the black Garbage Cart.

Are Old CDs and DVDs Recyclable?

No. If you are unable to donate or reuse old CDs and DVDs, these items go in the black Garbage Cart. Old records and cassette tapes can also go in the black Garbage Cart if they cannot be donated. However, they can be dropped off at Green Citizen in Burlingame for a small fee ($1.00/lb. to recycle).

Why Can’t Black Plastic Go in the Recycling Bin?

Black plastic does not belong in the recycling bin. The optical scanners that sort plastic at the  Shoreway Environmental  Center cannot read black plastic. Additionally, black plastic is a lower quality plastic and does not have a market to be sold to. If you cannot reuse it, black plastic belongs in the garbage bin/cart.

Does the Chasing Arrows Symbol Mean that an Item is Recyclable?

Not necessarily, the chasing arrows symbol simply indicates that the item is made of plastic, not that the item is readily recyclable. We only accept plastic materials with a number that ranges from 1-7.  The numbers indicate the type of plastic material the item is made of. Learn more here. Right now, plastics labeled #3-7 do not have a market to be recycled into something new and therefore these plastics are currently being landfilled.

Are All Plastics Recycled After Being Collected?

Plastics, along with any item collected for recycling, must have a downstream or end market where it can be turned into something new to be recycled. Without a destination (or an end market) where materials can be made into something new, “recyclables” wouldn’t be actually “recycled.” Right now, plastics labeled #3-7 do not have a market, and therefore these plastics are currently being landfilled. Visit this page for more information about how plastics are recycled in the RethinkWaste service area.

Where Can I Dispose of Cooking Oil?

You can dispose of cooking oil at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center, free of charge. Residents can drop off up to 15 gallons of cooking oil per visit.

How Can I Dispose of Old Paint?

  • Empty paint containers with no hazardous product remaining can go in the trash or recycling bin. Fully empty paint containers can go in the recycling bin. If there’s a layer of hardened paint, then it’s trash.
  • If you still have paint in the can, you have several options to dispose of paint:
    • Schedule a Household Hazardous Waste drop-off appointment with San Mateo County: Click here to make an appointment.
    • Drop off the latex and oil-based paint at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center.
    • Many paint stores now take back paint, stain and varnish year‐round for free during their regular business hours as part of the PaintCare program. Find locations here.

How Do I Recycle My Holiday Tree?

Once you’ve removed all the tinsel, lights, decorations and stands from your holiday tree, you can leave the tree next to your green Compost Cart and Recology will pick it up for you between January 2 – 31 on your regular collection day. Please make sure trees are 8 feet and under. If your tree is taller than 8 feet, cut the tree into lengths of 8 feet or less. After January 31st, trees must be cut up and placed inside the Compost Cart for collection. If you require assistance or your tree has not been picked up, call the Recology customer service line at (650) 595-3900 or utilize the ‘Contact Us’ form on the Recology San Mateo County Website.

What Can I Do With Treated Wood Waste?

Treated wood waste needs to be disposed of at a specific facility that handles this waste. Check the Department of Toxics Substances Control website for more information on where to take this waste.

What is Wish-Cycling?

Wish-cycling is placing something in the recycle bin “wishing” it will be sorted and recycled. Before you need to sort your waste, please check out WhatBin.com to see where the item correctly belongs or use RecycleStuff.org for items that don’t go into any cart or bin. Check out this sorting game to test your waste knowledge!

Does aluminum foil with food on it need to be cleaned?

No, the aluminum foil does not need to be cleaned. Shake off any excess food, crinkle the foil into a ball (food-side in), and then place in your blue Recycle Cart.

Where can I dispose of my hazardous waste (Latex and oil-based paint, fluorescent lights, cleaners, aerosols cans, propane tanks, pesticides, and motor oil/filters)?

San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program helps residents responsibly dispose of their hazardous waste for free. Residents MUST schedule an appointment at smchealth.org/hhw or by calling (650) 363-4718 (select option 3).  County residents can drop off a full range of HHW, including aerosol cans and household cleaning products. For more options and information on hazardous waste disposal, visit our household hazardous waste page.

The Shoreway Public Recycling Center also accepts select hazardous waste such as paint, fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, motor oil and filters for free drop-off. Find a list of accepted items at our Shoreway Public Recycling Center page.

Where can I recycle clothes?

Recology of San Mateo County does not recycle textiles. Most thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army participate in textile recycling and can take old or unwanted clothing in good condition. Some stores also accept worn clothes for recycling. North Face, H&M, and Madewell collect used apparel and shoes and provide discounts to customers that bring items in. Also, check your local pet shelter, such as Peninsula Humane Society as they may take old linens as bedding for animals.

Does shredded paper need to go in a bag for recycling?

Yes. Please place shredded paper inside a paper bag labeled “Shredded Paper” and then into the recycling cart to prevent spillage and littering when carts are picked up.

How clean do my recyclables need to be before they go into the blue cart?

Recyclables like hard plastic and glass jars and bottles need to be about 90% clean before they go into the recycling. It’s important to ensure that liquids don’t end up in the recycling so paper products don’t get contaminated.



Why Can’t I Use Plastic Bags in My Kitchen Pail or Compost Cart?

Plastics of any kind, including bags, are not accepted in the Compost program, as they are not made of organic material and will not break down in an industrial compost facility.  You can use items such as newspaper or paper bags to wrap your food scraps in before placing them in the Compost Cart. You can also use Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) compostable bags to line your kitchen pail or Compost Cart to collect food scraps. These bags can be found at many local retail locations. Visit this page for more information about how to line your kitchen pail or Compost Cart without a compostable bag. 

Where Can I Get Free Compost?

RethinkWaste offers free compost at our Shoreway Transfer Station in San Carlos, for all residents within our service area. Visit our Compost page to learn more.

Where can I get a countertop kitchen compost pail?

You can request your own kitchen compost pail for free via Recology San Mateo County through their website on the contact us page or by calling (650) 595-3900.

How do I reduce odor from compost?

Empty the contents of your kitchen pail every few days to prevent odors. Every household may be a little different depending on how quickly you fill it up and what kind of food scraps you compost. Freezing compost also helps to reduce odor as well as placing a dish of baking soda nearby to absorb odor,  just be sure to change the dish monthly. You can also purchase a countertop bin with a charcoal filter that helps reduce odor.

How should I clean my compost kitchen pail?

Rinse your countertop kitchen pail with hot water and let soak for a few hours with dish soap. Once your pail is done soaking, let dry and scrape out any food remnants. You can alternatively scrub your pail as you would any dish and the kitchen pails given by Recology are even dishwasher safe. Check here for more tips about how to keep your kitchen pail clean!

What materials can go in the compost cart besides yard waste and food scraps?

Food and beverage soiled paper, including paper takeout containers, wooden utensils like chopsticks and popsicle sticks, and greasy cardboard pizza boxes belong in the compost. A full list of acceptable items can be found here.

What is Senate Bill (SB) 1383 and how will it affect me?

SB 1383 is a California-wide law that aims to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, which is released when organic material ends up in the landfill. The law mandates composting services and edible food recovery programs throughout the state. If your single family dwelling already has a green Compost Cart, SB 1383 will not affect your services, but proper sorting of materials among the three waste streams is now mandatory. Your carts may be inspected randomly for proper sorting in the future. For more information on SB 1383, visit this page.



How Do I Get a Bigger/Smaller Cart?

Residents can request smaller or larger Recycle, Compost and Garbage carts by contacting Recology through their website or call them at (650) 595-3900. Please note that changing the size of your black Garbage Cart will affect your garbage bill as rates are based on the size of your Garbage Cart. There is no charge or change in your garbage bill if you change the size of your blue Recycle or green Compost cart.

Can I Get Additional Recycle or Compost Carts?

Yes, you can rent additional carts from Recology San Mateo County for a monthly fee. Contact Recology at carts@recology.com or call (650) 595-3900. The ‘Contact Us’ form on the Recology San Mateo County website also includes an option to request additional carts.

Is There Backyard Service?

Special Handling Service: Residents who are physically unable to place their carts curbside or roadside for service can request the Special Handling Service from Recology for no additional cost.

Backyard Collection Service: Residents who do not wish to leave their carts out curbside or roadside can request Backyard Collection Service. Recology will make arrangements to service your carts from a mutually designated area for an additional fee, dependent upon the distance and elevation from the curb. Contact Recology at carts@recology.com or call (650) 595-3900 for more information.

What Do I Do If I’m Having Issues With My Service?

Please contact Recology San Mateo County at carts@recology.com, call (650) 595-3900, or fill out the ‘Contact Us’ form on the Recology San Mateo County website if you experience any issues so that they may be resolved. If you are unable to resolve a service issue with Recology to your satisfaction or would like to report exceptional service provided by the company, please visit this page to contact RethinkWaste.

How Do I Pay My Bill?

You can mail in a check with your bill or pay online through Recology San Mateo County’s website. You can even set up automated billing through Recology’s website to receive bills via email you can then pay online. You can also drop off your payment at Recology’s offices at 225 Shoreway Road in San Carlos. Due to current safety precautions related to COVID-19, payment must be sent online or mailed.


Questions about your garbage rates and Shoreway facility rates

What’s Included in My Garbage Rate?

Your garbage rate covers a lot more than just picking up your garbage. While each of the 11 RethinkWaste Member Agencies set the rates to address their own community’s unique needs, the garbage rate you pay is set to cover the costs for the following items in most cases:

  • weekly recycling (blue cart) collection
  • weekly compost (green cart) collection
  • curbside used battery and cell phone recycling
  • curbside used motor oil and oil filter recycling
  • twice annual bulky item collection program
  • disposal fees at the landfill
  • processing fees for recycling
  • processing fees for composting
  • street sweeping (in some cities)
  • county fees, local fees, landfill closure fees and household hazardous waste fees

What’s the Process to Set the Garbage Rates?

Each year, RethinkWaste works with its Member Agencies to prepare a rate report that specifies how much revenue each agency must raise to cover the cost of service and fees through setting garbage rates for the next calendar year. This report is available in September each year. Each Member Agency then begins their individual rate setting process. This consists of determining what rate adjustments, if any, are needed for their specific community and then the Proposition 218 Notice of Public Hearing process is initiated.

Through Proposition 218, residents are notified of the maximum rate adjustment being considered for that community, giving residents the opportunity to review all the information. Residents are also given instructions on how to provide public input and testimony on the rates being considered.

A public hearing date is set during a city council or other governing board meeting to allow the public the opportunity to provide input, and based on the outcome, the governing body will consider adoption of the proposed rate adjustments. Once approved, the new rates are effective on or after January 1st of each year.

Why Are My Hillsborough Garbage Rates Different Than My Friend in Foster City? We Both Have a 32-Gallon Garbage Cart, So Shouldn’t They Be the Same?

Each of the 11 Member Agencies set their own rates annually based on their specific community. Each agency also includes its own unique fees, such as street sweeping or franchise fees, but each one makes these decisions as to what fees to include on their own.

In addition, the cost for providing the services varies based on factors such as housing density and having hilly neighborhoods. These factors are also taken into account for the rates and each community is different.

Where Does the Money From the Recyclables Go?

The money received from marketing the recyclables is used to help keep the fees for solid waste and organics lower than they otherwise would be. This has a positive impact on garbage rates. Therefore, it’s important for residents and businesses to set out as much recycling as they can for pick up, because it ultimately is used to help keep rates lower.

How are the rates at the Shoreway Transfer Station set?

The public disposal rates at the Shoreway Transfer Station are set by RethinkWaste (aka South Bayside Waste Management Authority) as the owner of the facility. Rates are set annually to offset the cost of the operations of the entire site. Starting in 2024, as a result of a required governmental agency procurement process, there is a new operator of the Shoreway facility where costs were significantly higher than the previous operator due to more labor and prevailing market costs to operate the Shoreway facility.  In addition, recent increased disposal costs (i.e. the cost to send materials to the landfill, compost processing facilities, etc..) have also caused rates to increase.


Don’t see the answers you’re looking for? We’d love to help! Drop us a line and send us your question using our contact form below.