San Francisco Bay Area Recycling Guide


 

56 Things San Francisco Bay Area Residents Throw In The Recycling Bin But Shouldn’t

I had a lot of assumptions about what to throw in the blue, recycle bin, but not a lot of facts.  So I went down to the recycling center in Alameda County to investigate Bay Area recycling. There I discovered the facts about recycling in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Some things were shocking!

A big assumption is that people think they can throw everything in the recycling bin and workers at the recycling center will sort through it for them.  Well, this is true, there are staff who get paid to sort through our recycling. However, there are some things that should not be thrown in the bin and you’d be surprised what people throw in there…

In fact, the staff working on the single stream recycling center (single stream is a method for sorting through recycling) in Alameda County generated a list of items that many Bay Area residents throw in the recycle bin, BUT SHOULDN’T. This list is from their own experiences and because they are the ones who see all our junk, and manage it, we should pay attention!

I thought I was knowledgeable about recycling since I write about sustainability for Elemental LED and Examiner, but I learned a ton after reading this.  So much in fact that Elemental LED will be using this guide to help further develop the internal recycling policy.  It takes 5 min, is pretty interesting and you will be a much better recycler because of it.  (I also inserted my commentary for the sake of amusement)

Here is an Interesting fact: Most of our recyclable items get compacted into bails, then are sold and shipped to China.  No Joke, I heard it straight from the recycling coordinator who was very up front and candid about the whole process.  Crazy how it is more cost effective to ship it, literally all the way across the world, to China than to process it here, right?  Anyway, food for thought while you read. Enjoy!

If you want, here is a PDF of the San Francisco Bay Area Recycling Guide

…. One more thing.  I inserted links at the bottom of this document that will help you find your local recycling centers and drop off locations for hazardous material.  They are sorted by county.  Hope this helps.  Happy recycling :)

Why shouldn’t I recycle….

….Plastic shopping bags
Answer: These can be recycled if you “bag your bags” and bring them to your grocery store to be recycled.  Otherwise, they clog the sorting machine and can cost up to $1000 a day in labor to clean them out.  Or they end up in a landfill.  Did you know they have to build 30ft tall fences around landfills to trap the bags that fly in the wind.  It is some poor souls job to clean the bags from the fence every day.
What should I do with it?
Reduce your need; reuse bags until they’re torn. Use old bags to pick up dog waste. Many grocery stores have a barrel for recycling old plastic bags.

….Frozen food boxes
Answer: Food service products of all materials — paper, metal, plastic, and polystyrene — are generally highly contaminated, and require cleaning before they can be processed for recycling, which can add significant costs.
What should I do with it?
Limit your need. Buy fresh food instead. Frozen food boxes should be disposed of in the garbage.  Unless of course you take the time to clean them thoroughly.  Then you can recycle them.

….Pizza boxes
Answer: This is a big one.  Pizza boxes go in the compost!  Why?  Because all paper is compostable.  And since it takes about a month for our recycling to get to China to be processed, your pizza box that you wanted to recycle has now turned into a big pile of mold, thus contaminating all the other paper it surrounds.
What should I do with it?
Compost these items either in your curbside green waste container or your home compost system.

….Napkins, Tissues or Paper Towels
Answer: Tissues, napkins and paper towels are made from a very poor quality paper with very short fibers that can’t be recycled back into anything. In addition, most tissues, napkins and paper towels are stained with food, grease or assorted bodily fluids which can’t be recycled.  Plus nobody wants to sort through snotty tissues.  So don’t throw em in there.
What should I do with it?
Compost these items either in your curbside green waste container or your home compost system.

….Food-contaminated items
Answer: Food waste can not be recycled with bottles, cans and paper materials
What should I do with it?
Compost these items, either in your green yard waste container or your home composting system.

….Paper plates or cups
Answer: Single serving cups have a plastic interior lining which prevents liquids from seeping through the paper.  Due to the plastic lining, paper coffee cups cannot be recycled.  Unless it is all paper and clean, it can’t be recycled.
What should I do with it?
Compost these items either in your curbside green waste container or your home compost system.

….Animal feces
Answer: The single-stream process is not designed to sort biological materials.  Did you really expect people to open up poop bags, look to see what was in there, then empty the poop in the compost, clean the bag, and recycle the bag?  C’mon!
What should I do with it?
It is possible to compost this material in specialized septic composting systems. It is not recommended for green bin collection. Please put this material into the garbage.

….Diapers
Answer: Disposable diapers were not designed for recycling. They contain many different materials (paper, plastic, absorbent material) and are contaminated with human waste.  Once again, people on the line don’t want your poop. or your baby’s poop, or the poop in your grandma’s Depends.
What should I do with it?
Limit your need; consider cloth diapers.  Used diapers should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Metal hangers
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective, thus costing lots of money to untangle.
What should I do with it?
Return wire hangers to dry cleaners or reuse them. These can be recycled at metal scrap yards. Find your location at the bottom of this document.  In fact, if you need hangers (like if you just moved to a new place), just ask your dry cleaners and they will give you some. A little trick I learned while I was broke.

….Shredded paper
Answer: By shredding paper you cut the tiny fibers that join together to make a sheet of paper. The fibers have to be a certain length to be able to join together, if they aren’t the right length the paper can’t be recycled again.  We realize shredded paper has confidential material and you don’t want your identity stolen. But there is a solution.
What should I do with it?
Put shredded paper into the compost.  No identity thief is gonna sift through rotting tomatoes and dog poop just to string together your shredded tax forms that have now been completely soiled and unreadable anyway.  If you are a large corporation, send paper to commercial facility for shredding.

….Automotive batteries or household batteries
Answer: Batteries are household hazardous waste because they may contain corrosive chemicals that can cause burns as well as toxic heavy metals like cadmium.
What should I do with it?
Please bring these to a household hazardous waste facility.  Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Blankets, sheets, shirts, pants, dresses, tapestries etc.
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective, thus costing lots of money to untangle.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift or animal shelter. Or to your little brother or sister.

….Boots, shoes, sneakers, hats etc.
Answer: The single-stream process is not designed to sort out clothing or accessories.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Once again, or to your little brother or sister

….Fluorescent tubes & bulbs
Answer: These lights contain mercury vapor that may be released to the environment when they are broken. Mercury is a toxic metal that can cause harm to people and animals including nerve damage and birth defects. If mercury is released into the environment it can contaminate the air we breathe and enter streams, rivers, and the ocean, where it can contaminate fish that people eat.
What should I do with it?
Please take these to a household hazardous waste facility. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Electronic appliances (including LED lights)
Answer: Cables and cords wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective. Also, these devices often contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, copper, and chromium.
What should I do with it?
Electronics recyclers will accept these. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Light bulbs (incandescent)
Answer: The melting point and chemical composition of non-bottle glass is different. If included in the recycling bin, it will create weak points in the new glass containers produced making them unsafe to use.
What should I do with it?
Burnt-out light bulbs should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Electronic toys
Answer: Toys are not made to be recycled.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Bowling balls
Answer: Who tries to recycle a bowling ball  Really!?  These are too heavy for our equipment and it is hard for our glove wearing workers to stick their fingers in the holes. Not to mention, bowling balls are not made to be recycled.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Ceramics not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Cables (electronic)
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective, thus costing lots of money to untangle.
What should I do with it?
Electronics recyclers will accept these. For more information, see the recycling links at the end of this document.

….Candy wrappers
Answer: Many candy wrappers have a lot of chemicals in them that makes them stain and water resistant, but which also makes them difficult to recycle.   It also makes it difficult to understand why there are so many chemicals in our food wrapping!? What the hell?  Many candy wrappers are not actually paper and/or are stained with various food residue.
What should I do with it?
Limit your need. Purchase candy in bulk or candy with more sustainable packaging.  Otherwise, throw in the garbage.

….Ceramic, China plates, dishes or cups
Answer: Ceramics and porcelain contaminate glass as the ceramic doesn’t melt with the glass.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift or give them back to your grandma.  Ceramics not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Chain
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective, thus costing lots of money to untangle.
What should I do with it?
Metal scrap yards may accept these for recycling. Find your location at the bottom of this document.  If they are tire chains you can donate them.

….Charcoal briquette bags
Answer: Dust from these bags goes into the air, clogging our equipment and making unhealthy air for our staff.
What should I do with it?
Dispose of these in the garbage.

….Christmas and holiday lights
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Electronics recyclers will accept these. Find your location at the bottom of this document. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Concrete, rock and brick
Answer: It is a funny to imagine someone loading the blue bin with slabs of concrete, but I guess it happens.  These items are too heavy for our equipment. They damage equipment and are unsafe for our staff to handle.
What should I do with it?
Still usable building materials can be donated. Building materials not suitable for reuse may be recycled.  Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Copper tubing
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.  Not to mention, copper is worth a bunch of money, so why are you trying to recycle it.
What should I do with it?
Metal scrap yards may accept these for recycling. Find your location at the bottom of this document.  Or try to sell it.  I heard that stuff is worth good money.

….Engine oils
Answer: Engine oils are household hazardous waste.
What should I do with it?
Please take these to a household hazardous waste facility. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Engine parts
Answer: These items are too heavy for our equipment. They damage equipment and are unsafe for our staff to handle.  Sorry, no mufflers or pistons in the bin.
What should I do with it?
Metal scrap yards may accept these for recycling. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Extension cords
Answer: These wrap around our machines causing them to become ineffective
What should I do with it?
Electronics recyclers will accept these. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Film, cassette tapes, VHS tapes
Answer:  If you are still using film, then you are either an artist, or 90 yrs old.  Not to mention you are wasting valuable memories by trying to recycle your film.  Cassettes and VHS are still in circulation, so that is more common.  Regardless, the tape from the cassettes and VHS clog the machine, thus costing lots of money in time and labor to untangle.
What should I do with it?
These items should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Foam peanuts
Answer: Polystyrene has to be densified or baled to get a sufficiently concentrated volume to make transportation over long distances cost-effective.
What should I do with it?
Take these to a packaging store for reuse. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Garden hoses
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Glass mirrors
Answer: The melting point and chemical composition of non-bottle glass is different. If included in glass recycling processes, it will create weak points in the new glass containers produced making them unsafe to use.  Plus you will get 14 yrs of bad luck.
What should I do with it?
Dispose of these in the garbage.

….Golf balls, soccer balls, tennis balls etc.
Answer: These are not made to be recycled.
What should I do with it?
Still usable sporting equipment can be donated to a variety of programs. Sporting equipment not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Green waste
Answer: Green waste can not be recycled with bottles, cans and paper materials.  Which is why there are green bins.  Duh!  (people get confused)
What should I do with it?
Compost this material, either in your green yard waste container or your home composting system.

….Wood / Building materials.
Answer: These items are too heavy for our equipment. They damage equipment and are unsafe for our staff to handle.
What should I do with it?
You could dispose of old wood or building materials by giving it away, for free, via the freecycle network, or sell it to friends.  Building materials not suitable for reuse may be recycled.

….Hardcover books
Answer: Book covers and glues used in book bindings lower the quality of the recycled paper fiber used to create recycled paper. This reduces the value of the paper we sell to the paper recyclers.  Plus it reduces the amount of knowledge historians can find out about us 500 yrs from now.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Household hazardous waste
Answer: This material, including batteries, household cleaners and fluorescent bulbs, include dangerous substances which are not safe for our staff to handle.
What should I do with it?
Please take these to a household hazardous waste facility. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Hypodermic needles of any kind
Answer: These are too dangerous for our sorters to handle safely.  And dude…  Who wants your old needle?  Do you think your heroin or insulin can get turned into water bottles?
What should I do with it?
Although not recommended, it remains legal to dispose of sharps waste packaged in leak proof puncture resistant containers in your household garbage. Please bring these to a household hazardous waste facility. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Laboratory glassware
Answer: The melting point and chemical composition of non-bottle glass is different. If included it will create weak points in the new glass containers produced making them unsafe to use.
What should I do with it?
For all you closet chemists out there throwing your science tubes in the recycling bin.  Shame Shame!!! Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Liquids
Answer: Liquids, like food waste, contaminate materials, making it necessary to wash them before they are able to be recycled.  Mountain Dew or beer left in containers should be consumed in their entirety before thrown away.  They’re delicious.
What should I do with it?
Non-hazardous liquids can be put down the sink. Hazardous liquids should be brought to a household hazardous waste facility. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Mini propane, camping tanks
Answer: These are too dangerous for our sorters to handle safely. They explode in our equipment, causing hazards for our employees.  (Yikes)
What should I do with it?
Metal scrap yards may accept these for recycling. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Oven glass (pyrex)
Answer: The melting point and chemical composition of non-bottle glass is different. If included in glass recycling processes, it will create weak points in the new glass containers produced making them unsafe to use.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Pet pharmacological supplies
Answer: Hydration bags and tubing wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Dispose of these in the garbage.  I can’t believe all the pet pharmacologists out there are disposing of their hydrogen bags incorrectly!  Who do they think they are!?  And, what are they doing to our pets with those hydrogen bags anyway?  Cuz I want in!

….Plastic sheeting or tarp
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Plastics #6
Answer: Polystyrene also has to be densified or baled to get a sufficiently concentrated volume to make transportation over long distances cost-effective.
What should I do with it?
Limit your use. There are some recycling programs for styrofoam. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Propane tanks
Answer: These are too dangerous for our sorters to handle safely.  Hank Hill could handle it
What should I do with it?
Intact propane tanks can be reused. Single-use propane tanks (the small green ones) should be brought to Household Hazardous Waste facilities.  Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Rope and string
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Stuffed animals
Answer: Stuffed animals were not designed for recycling. They contain many different materials (textile, stuffing, plastics) and clog up machinery.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse (i.e. loved to pieces by your child, infested with your child’s head lice or covered by other unsavory elements) should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Styrofoam
Answer: Polystyrene has to be densified or baled to get a sufficiently concentrated volume to make transportation over long distances cost-effective.
What should I do with it?
Limit your use. There are some recycling programs for styrofoam.  Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Tires, Tire tubes
Answer: These items are too heavy for our equipment. They damage equipment and are unsafe for our staff to handle.
What should I do with it?
Contact your hauling company for a bulky pick up. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Toilet seats
Answer: These are too large and heavy for our equipment. They are not made to be recycled.  I wanna know how many toilet seats they find… Per hour
What should I do with it?
Still usable building materials can be donated. Building materials not suitable for reuse may be recycled at Davis street’s construction & demolition recycling facility.

….Wading pools   (with or without the jello?)
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Electronics recyclers will accept these. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Waxed cardboard
Answer: Paper with any sort of contamination or plastic layers can not be recycled. Plastic laminated paper is bad for recycling plants.
What should I do with it?
Limit your need. Waxed cardboard must be disposed of in the garbage.

….Wigs
Answer: These are not made to be recycled.  I don’t know why they are complaining about wigs.  If I were them, I’d keep every wig I found.
What should I do with it?
Reuse is best. Donate still usable items to a community thrift. Items not suitable for reuse should be disposed of in the garbage.

….Wires
Answer: These wrap around our machines, causing them to become ineffective.
What should I do with it?
Electronics recyclers will accept these. Find your location at the bottom of this document.

….Your Car
Answer: no, your car will not fit into the recycling bin.
What should I do with it?
Donate your car to the Wheels for wishes program and help children with life threatening illnesses.  http://sanfrancisco.wheelsforwishes.org/about-make-a-wish-car-donation

Bay Area Hazardous waste drop-off facilities and recycling center links are below.  If you don’t know how or where to recycle something, contact them.

Hazardous waste facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area

Alameda County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

San Francisco County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

San Mateo County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Contra Costa County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Marin County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Santa Clara County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Salono County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Napa County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Sonoma County hazardous waste drop-off facilities

Recycling centers in the San Francisco Bay Area

Alameda County recycling center

San Francisco County recycling center

San Mateo County recycling center

Contra Costa County recycling center

Marin County recycling center

Santa Clara County recycling center

Salono County recycling center

Napa County recycling center

Sonoma County recycling center