Last Update: 12/27/2017
How to Recycle almost Everything
We love to recycle as much as possible. The normal stuff is easy.. (Paper, Cans, yard trimming) Over the years we have added to this list of ways to recycle more difficult items.
2017 San Francisco Improved Recycling
The following can now be recycled!
- Plastic Bags
- Unbroken Incandescent Light bulbs
- Bubble wrap
- Cling Wrap
- Packing Wrap
- Milk Cartons (Spout is ok)
- Paper Coffee Cups and lids
- Beer Bottle Caps
- Juice Boxes
- Clothes, Rags, Fabric
Plastic Recycling Problems
The US exports roughly 50% of its plastics to China every year. In 2011, we sold China $10.8 billion in metal and paper scraps for recycling. They use the plastic that they receive to create other products.
In February 2013, the Chinese Government issued tighter standards with regards to recycled plastic that is imported. This was known as Operation Green Fence. Plastic clam shells (strawberry containers, sandwich containers) known as number 1 are required to be placed with plastic 3 – 7, which are lower grade and often contaminated. They are inspecting everything and anything contaminated is not allowed into the country.
The contamination typically occurs because the plastic is not washed to remove contaminates before being recycled. Consumers need to understand that it is important to clean their plastic before recycling.
Because there is little recycling reprocessing done in the US, there is a danger that all this contaminated plastic will not be recycled as you had intended it. The products will just end up in a landfill.
You would think that the easiest to recycle items were recycle the majority of time but,.. EPA estimates for 2009 indicate that only 26% of glass containers and 51% of aluminum beverage containers were recycled.
MIT developed Trash Track to see where trash goes after you toss it. Pretty shocking that trash from NYC went as far as South Carolina!
Local Recycling Programs
Garbage companies run recycling programs that take recyclable materials, sort them, and sell them to other vendors to produce revenue. The recycled materials are typically used to make new products. Paper is recycled and exported very often to China.
Some local garbage collection companies like those in San Francisco and Portland allow customers to decide how often they place their unrecycleable trash bins out. The less they are put out, the more money you save. In a recent test in San Francisco, 50% of the 3600 homes eligible have used this option at least once. This is a great way to give people incentives to recycle more.
Single stream recycling where youpi can mix recyclable materials in a single bin is the best type of recycling. You no longer need to think about the material plus the collection guys have less bins to worry about. This was actually causing additional back injuries to garbage collection folks. Star Screen makes a commercial machine that helps sort out all the recyclable materials.
Here are some non obvious recycling tips from our local garbage carrier, Recology. They have an informative tour that showed us what happens to items once they reach their plant. Check with your local company to verify how they handle recycling as each local municipality has its own rules.
1) Rinsed coated milk and juice cartons. Plastic caps and plastic pour spouts may need to be removed before recycling. We were told to keep them on.
2) No Pizza boxes. These can be composted in compost bins. If unused, they can be recycled.
3) No black plastic – usually frozen food containers (even if it has a recycle symbol) – Black plastic recycling is more difficult than regular plastic recycling, so very few locations support it. Companies need manual labor to sort it out.
Other plastic needs to have recycle symbol with plastic number on it. No nursery plant containers – See Recycle Plastic Nursery pots – Other hard to recycle plastics include plastic hangers, toothbrushes.
4) Recyclable metal includes:
- Aerosol and spray cans (empty)
- Aluminum cans
- Aluminum foil and trays that are clean
- Paint cans (empty or dry)
- Small scrap metal
- Steel or tin cans
5) No Toys, remote controls, ceramic cups, hangers, trash cans. Try to donate them to local charities. Reuse hangers at dry-cleaning establishments.
6) Plastics that can be recycled must be numbered 1 through 7 and include:
- Clear Plastic Clam shells.
- Detergent bottles
- Shampoo and soap bottles
- Strawberry baskets
- Yogurt containers
Plastic utensils cannot be recycles. Buy compostable ones instead.
Aseptic Packaging aka Square boxes (Soup, wine, alternative milk, broth) like Tetra Pak cannot be recycled in most areas. You can visit the Carton Council’s website to help find locations that can take it.
7) Cardboard boxes like detergent ones cannot be recycled unless they are thoroughly cleaned.
8) Recology recycles single use batteries if you place them in a plastic bag on top of recyclables. Best Buy has recycling bins for rechargeable batteries.
Earth911 can help you find local battery recycling. Earth911.com has a new iRecycle iPhone App that helps you find recycling locations on your iPhone. Access to over 100,000 recycling and disposal locations for over 200 materials and get directions to them from your current location. Best of all, it is Free.
9) Wax paper, Food contaminated or dirty paper cannot be recycled, but they can be composted. Thermal fax paper, stickers, plastic laminated paper, and dog food bags cannot be recycled.
10) Aluminum ready-meal containers and catering trays, pie cases, kitchen foil can all be recycled if you clean off any and all debris.
11) Paper that can be recycled includes:
- Cardboard (non-waxed)
- Computer paper, office paper
- Egg cartons
- Envelopes (plastic windows are okay)
- Junk mail
- Milk and juice cartons
- Soft Cover Paperback Books
- Shredded paper (place in the paperbag)
- Wrapping paper (not metallic)
12) Do not recycle items constructed with multiple materials.
13) ReCork America is leading an effort to recycle wine corks such as those used in wine bottles. Drop off locations include Whole Foods markets in Northern California and many wineries.
You could alternately compost wine corks. Chop them up to make them decompose faster.
14) Flags are to be burned when they are soiled or tattered. They should not be thrown in the garbage. This is a patriotic rule.
15) Starbucks beverage cups are not recyclable. Trash them, because they contain paper and plastic. These are not compostable nor recyclable.
16) Coffee bags made entirely of paper can be recycled in paper recycling bins after use. Coffee bags that are coated with polypropylene film or aluminum cannot be recycled because the mixed materials cannot be separated independently.
17) Not recycleable
- Plastic Gloves
- Fluorescent Light bulbs
- Condiment packets
- Potato Chip Bags
- Most Plastic coffee Bags
- Cat Litter
- Dog Poop
- Disposable Razors
- Broken Glass
Recycling Styrofoam aka Polystyrene
Styrofoam (EPS or expanded polystyrene foam) is bulky and very hard to find recyclers. It never degrades. We have encountered lots of it in electronics packaging or to go food containers. Little round bits of styrofoam drift away and hurt animals in search of food. Here are some resources to recycle it and some specific data on the San Francisco area.
52 communities in California have curbside programs to pickup styrofoam aka polystyrene for recycling including Sacramento and Los Angeles. San Francisco is not participating.
EPS Packaging or the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers has a link to Recycling Info Resources on their website. Most of these places do not take consumer waste. The one listed in the San Francisco area, FP International, does not take consumer styrofoam any more!
Green Citizen recycles it, but charges money. $5 per 30 gallon bag.
You can contact these folks to recycle styrofoam:
(May have closed)
2357 Industrial Blvd
Hayward, CA 94545
Newby Island Resource Recovery Park, Milpitas California offers free recycling to consumers.
Universal Waste Management in Oakland also recycles Styrofoam.
Earth911 has recyclers listed. Be sure to enter styrofoam. If you enter polystrene, you will get people that only recycle #6 polystrene bottles.
Kentucky has a EPS recycling place.
Using acetone or limonene to shrink small amounts of styrofoam is possible but these chemicals need to be used with care.
The cost to ship big pieces of styrofoam is so high, most people will just trash it. A big problem..
It is far more difficult to recycle styrofoam cups and trays. Try to avoid them at all costs. Styrofoam packing peanuts can be recycled at most shipping locations including UPS stores.
Waste to Waves has some recycling places.
Plastic Loose Fill Council has locations that take packing peanuts
More recycle locations have turned up around the USA.
Styrofoam peanuts and packing materials can be recycled at most local UPS store.
Harder to Recycle Items
Plastic film, especially plastic bags need to be recycled correctly. They can wrap around recycling machine parts and cause damage. Most supermarkets have bins that recycle plastic bags such as newspaper bags or shrinkwrap. (Remove any stickers or else you might be contaminating everything.)
Ziploc storage bags are very handy. They help extend the shelf life of many foods. Kids bringing brown bag lunches generate an average of 67 pounds of waste per school year. Washing and reusing the bags should be exercised as much as possible. Recycling the bags is slightly tricky although Terracycle can help.
These are made from Polyethylene Plastic Resin #4, which is recyclable in many communities. The key is to wash the inside of the bag and cut off the zipper before recycling. You can recycle these Ziploc bags where you recycle plastic bags.
And even more eco-alternative: Ziploc Evolve ultra-light bags are made with 25 percent less plastic and manufactured using wind power.
Wrapping sandwiches in reusable containers, bento boxes, cloth napkins, or compostable wax paper and string are more eco friendly alternatives.
Recycling Plastic Bags, Dry cleaning bags, and shrink wrap
Shrink wrap is the clear film that protects everything from foods to software boxes to even boats. Can you recycle shrink wrap?
Yes you can. Shrink wrap falls into category 4: LDPE Low-Density Polyethylene. So recycle it as you recycle other plastic bags, usually in a grocery store. No need to throw it away. These are the items you can do in store:
- #02, #04 plastic shopping bags
- Dry Cleaning Bags
- Newspaper bags
- Shrink Wrap – Boats generate a ton of shrink wrap (low-density polyethylene)
You cannot recycle:
- Cellophane bags
- Food or Cling Wrap
- No prepackaged food bags (frozen food, prewashed salad)
- No film that has been painted or has glue
- No compostable plastic bags
Recycle CFL – compact fluorescent light bulbs at home improvement stores or hardware stores such as Home Depot.
TerraCycle makes affordable, eco-friendly products from a wide range of different non-recyclable waste materials. They recycle many items you cannot recycle curbside. Capri Sun – Honest Kids juice pouches can be recycled by Terracycle as can Candy Wrappers, Starbucks Coffee bags, Zip Loc Bags, pens, Cookie Wrappers, Colgate toothpaste, and more. Yes this is more involved, so try to get your local community or school involved.
Recycle Clothes by donating them to worthy causes.
Recycle Carpet, do not just throw it away.
Cell phones and Electronics can be readily recycled or donated. Recycle Appliance also, especially when you purchase new ones.
Earth911 has recycling options for other products.
Recycling Tetra Pak Packaging
Tetra Pak is finding its way all over the grocery store. Milk, wine, soup, and many other items are using it. It weighs less than glass and keeps products fresh. We had to look into how recyclable it is.
Tetra Pak addresses recycling and has many regions already recycling the product, including ours. We feel better about buying products using this now. Always rinse containers out before putting them in recycle bins.
Recycling Eyeglasses and Sunglasses
Got old eyeglasses laying around? Prescription changed, frame outdated, etc.. time to put the old glasses back to work with those less fortunate.
Unite for Sight helps take unwanted eyeglasses and sunglasses and distributes them to people in Africa. They find people with vision needs in the same ballpark as your glasses and gives them away. Any eyeglass, for most of these folks, is better than no glasses, even if the prescription is not exactly the same.
Lion’s Clubs also recycle eyeglasses. They have donation boxes in Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs with vision centers.
Eco Friendly – Green Reusable Drinking Straw
Isn’t it wasteful using a plastic straw and tossing it in the garbage a little while later? Think of how many straws get tossed at fast food outlets. Many straws end up as plastic swirling in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The San Francisco Zoo does not give out straws as they are a choking hazard to animals.
Time to get green eco friendly straws. Reusable Stainless Steel Drinking Straws are available for about $2.50 each. These straws are pretty stylish too.
Recyclable Eco Friendly and Green Mailers
We received an item in the mail that was packaged in a tear proof mailer. Our first thoughts were, is it recyclable? Yes!, it was made with Polyolefin and was recyclable. U-line makes several mailers that are recyclable. Many also have recycled content. It’s great they put their url and model number on each item. They should also put a recyclable graphic on the back of the mailers.
Be sure to donate unwanted items.
To donate bicycles and related gear, visit wocinternational.org
CNBC’s Trash Inc: The Secret Life of Garbage helped remind us that garbage is everyone’s problem and needs us to be more responsible.
Recycle Plastic Nursery Pots
Recycling Plastic Nursery Pots takes some effort. Most residential curbside programs do not take nursery plant containers. Contact your local nursery and see if they take them back. Many only take back certain sizes.
Recycleworks has a list of places that take them in the San Francisco Peninsula.
Recycling Tyvek products, Tyvek Envelopes
Tyvek Envelopes are made of a special rip proof high density polyethylene that can be recycled. Tyvek is also used in home construction. You can mail the envelopes to Dupont and they will recycle them. Waste Management also recycles them. Not convenient, but better than nothing.
Tyvek is also used in shoe covers, boot covers, hoods, lab coats, aprons, sleeves and pants, which can be recycled here.
We recently got an REI item shipped to us in a big plastic envelope. It was not Tyvek and lacked a recycling plastic number on it. We did verify with REI that it is recyclable.
Recycle Gift Cards
Gift cards made from the toxic plastic PVC are used all over the place, and are now filling up our landfill. It is time that more people recycled them. Refill gift cards if possible. Look for gift cards made from biodegradable materials such as corn. Support businesses that use these eco-friendly, green gift cards.
Earthworks will take your old cards and recycle then. Collect a big batch and sending them to:
Earthworks c/o Halprin Ind.
25840 Miles Rd.
Bedford, Oh 44146
Recycling by Mail
Some folks live far away from recycling centers. Think Green From Home is a service from Waste management that allows you to recycle everything from CFL’s to Batteries to Bottles by mail. Unfortunately, it does cost money to purchase a recycling kit, relegating this to probably only more dedicated green folks. $16.95 to recycle 13 CFL’s is a lot.
Get Paid to Recycle – Recycle Bank
How do you get people to recycle more? Pay them! Gamification. RecycleBank gives points for recycling products. Turn these points into Rewards at over 1500 local and National retailers. They record the amount your recycle through the use of a special recycling bin. The service is only available in about 20 select states right now, primarily in MA, NE, NJ, PA, VA. Request service for your area if you are not covered.
Mandalay Bay Las Vegas and Recycling
We saw this interesting poster in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. It is good to know that they take recycling seriously and help their guests do it. Plastic Water bottles are all over the place. Now if they could go easy on all the lights and gaming machines… Solar panels all over the place anyone?
Remember how long it takes for items to decompose:
Paper: 2 – 5 months
Plastic Bags: 10 – 20 years
Plastic Containers: 50 – 80 years
Aluminum Cans: 200 – 500 years
Charitable Automobile Recycling
Every year in the U.S.A. almost 15 million automobiles become inoperable and get a one way ticket to the junkyard. Every part of the automobile can be recycled with the proper resources. When a car is donated to a charitable car donation organization it is first determined if it is operable or if it can be repaired at a reasonable cost. If not, every part of the car is removed and refurbished for further use; this includes the doors, bumpers, engine, transmission, and even the radio and floor mats! The steel in the vehicle is perhaps the most recyclable, and each year over 14 million tons of steel from defunct automobiles gets recycled, this is enough to make almost 13 million new cars!
It is interesting to note that steel is one of the few materials that can be recycled indefinitely without losing its strength, this means that the steel in your car could have been used in numerous cars before and may be used in numerous vehicles to come. In addition, car recycling is beneficial because motor oil that may otherwise be dripping into the soil from a vehicle in a junkyard or another unused vehicle is safely removed, filtered, and reused in cars, schools, homes, and businesses. Charitable car recycling is an easy, no hassle way to help the environment and local charities while getting rid of that clunker sitting in your driveway, not to mention it’s a great tax write off!
Stealing Items from Recycling Bins
Thieves have been stealing the contents recycling bins within several major San Francisco Bay Area towns. They are taking containers and collecting five or 10 cents a piece by recycling them at centers. The problem is that the local trash collector company counts on this revenue to help pay for disposal service. Less revenue would cause monthly collection rates to increase. Neighbors need to keep an eye out for thieves and to alert the authorities.
Recycle My Old Fridge
Recycle My Old Fridge is run by the Energy Star Folks and shows you how much you can save by purchasing a new Energy Star rated refrigerator.
My old fridge costs $186 per year to run. A new $500 refrigerator costs $45 a year to run, so break even point is about 4 years. When buying a new refrigerator, look for a top freezer model that is Energy Star certified as they are more energy efficient.
If your refrigerator was made before 1993, a new model will use half the energy.
Luckily, most utility companies have refrigerator recycle programs, where you actually can get money back for turning in an old refrigerator. Check with your local electric or gas utility.
If you have other appliances to recycle, most retailers will haul the old one away when you purchase a new one. Alternatively, You can also donate large and small appliances that are still in working condition to some local Goodwills, Habitat for Humanity Re store, or the Salvation Army.
Local Utilities Such As PG&E have Energy Efficient Appliance Rebates.
Recycling Paperback Books
Recycling Paperback Books is typically done by tossing them in your recycle bin or donating them to a local organizations such as Goodwill. If the book still has value, you can only sell it on craigslist or half.com.
An alternative is to donate them to Operation Paperback. Since 1999 they have been redirecting gently used paperback books and sending them to military members and organizations deployed all over the world. This organization also needs help in providing for shipping costs.
Reading Tree also takes books, DVDs, and CDs and give them away to needy children, libraries, and schools.
Books for America takes books, DVDs, CDs, and laptops for those in need in Washington DC.
Be sure to read our article on the eco-friendly, green aspects of the Kindle book reader.
We have some old carpet that needs recycling, so we decided to research recycling methods. Discarded carpet is one of the top ten waste materials in landfills. Between 3% and 5% of the waste in the landfill and it remains there for a VERY long time! When you recycle your old carpet, you are playing an important role in diverting the carpet from the landfill.
Jerry Brown signed a new bill, the Carpet Stewardship Bill (AB2398) that requires carpet manufacturers to set up or participate in recycling programs. A five cent fee per square yard is charged to consumers buying new carpet to help pay for the recycling program. Be sure to ask your carpet dealer if they recycle old carpet.
Carpet Recycling Resources
Usable rugs can be donated to charities like St.Vincent de Paul.
Carpet Recyclers of Oakland accepts use carpet, but charges a fee.
Carpet America Recovery Effort has a list of Carpet Recycling companies.
Locally: SF Carpet Recycling is one of the few places that recycles carpets. Unfortunately they do charge for recycling. Rolled carpet in cars, vans, or box trucks: $7.00/cubic yard.
Recycling Plastic Bags
Recycling plastic bags is painful but very necessary. Yes, the goal is not to have any in the first place. We have to gather them up and recycle them at our local grocery stores as there is no curbside recycling of them in our location. No one wants to add to the plastic soup of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean.
What is recyclable?
Plastic grocery bags Type 2 (high-density polyethylene film – HDPE) and Type 4 (low density or linear-low density polyethylene film – LDPE/LLDPE)
Newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, bread bags, produce bags, toilet paper, napkin, and paper towel wraps, cereal box liners, diaper wrap, case wrap (water bottles, snacks)
Zip lock bags (Remove hard components)
Shrink Wrap or electronic wrap
Clean and dry bags thoroughly before recycling, making sure they are empty of any and all debris.
What is not recyclable?
Plastic bags that are dark in color or bags that have handles or drawstrings. Remove handles and drawstrings to recycle the rest.
No prepackaged food bags including frozen food bags (e.g., prewashed salad bags)
Film that has been painted or has excessive glue
Bio-based or compostable plastic bags. Compost them!
Plastic food packaging and plastic food or cling wrap (Saran wrap).
Type 7 plastic bags
Plastic Bag Industry’s Influence
(No this did not happen in China) — California schools included environmental curriculum sending positive messages about plastic shopping bags due to lobbying efforts by the American Chemical Council. An eleventh grade textbook called “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags” had the title and sum of the text inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the Chemistry Council. This is obviously pretty disheartening to hear and shows the power of lobbyists.