Recology Tour: Knowing what you can recycle + compost

I finally got to visit the San Francisco Recology Transfer station which services the entire city and county of San Francisco to help us achieve zero waste by sorting, recycling and composting all that they can. It is an impressive place to visit to see all they do to help to drive San Francisco to Zero Waste by 2020. We are very lucky in San Francisco to have a very high quality facility that produces high quality bales of paper and plastic. We also can recycle + compost more items than many other municipalities. Not all facilities are created equal so I highly recommend at a minimum visiting your local waste collection facilities website to understand what you can compost + recycle. Recology has found places to send certain items that other municipalities cannot recycle.

Before thinking about recycling, focus on the first 3 R’s:

  1. Refuse– Just say no thank you to give aways and freebies. Refuse to use items wrapped in plastic, especially single use. Opt for items in glass or tin. 
  2. Reduce– Reduce your overall consumption. Do I really need another pair of jeans? We have so much stuff! Reduce your overall plastic usage as well.
  3. Reuse (+repair)- Use reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, utensils, shopping bags, produce bags and even switch to cloth towels, napkins and handkerchiefs. Check out Marleys Monsters for some great usable cloth options for throughout your home.  
  4. Recycle- After you have refused, reduced and reused, recycle what you can
  5. Rot- Compost, Give it a try!

I think the biggest learning from my tour at Recology is they want you to remember “loose, clean + dry!”

Loose- The items you put into the recycling bin should not be placed in a plastic bag but rather you should empty that plastic bag into the recycling bin and throw the plastic bag into the trash bin or reuse it. The plastic bag and all “soft plastics” can end up jamming up the machines and ultimately cannot be recycled. There is one exception to this rule. If you have soft plastics including bubble wrap that have not been in contact with food, you can collect those in a larger plastic bag, tie that closed and place that in the recycling bin. I use a paper bag to take recycling down to the garage and then I empty that and reuse the same bag multiple times.

Clean– Ideally they want you to remember to rinse out your items before putting them in the bins. Residual sauces, yogurt, peanut butter can contaminate the supply, especially the paper products. I am trying to be diligent to rinse whenever possible. If you don’t have access to clean it out, then still place it in the bin.

Dry– Since you cleaned it, you want it to dry. I place the items that I washed in our recycling bag without their lid. There is usually a few days before we take it out so should dry naturally.

When asked what we are as residents of San Francisco doing wrong, they said we can:

  • Reduce our plastic usage overall
  • Avoid single use plastics
  • Stop “wish” or “hope” recycling. Putting everything in the recycling bin hoping it is recyclable is not the best option. This can lead to contaminating the supply so it is important to know what you can recycle and what you cannot recycle. When it doubt, look it up or put it in the landfill bin.

There are 5 key categories of what can be recycled:

  1. Clean Paper- cardboard, paper, magazines, envelopes
  2. Paper cups, milk and juice cartons, Tetra packs for almond milk and broths. Recology has found a company that can strip off the thin plastic layer so this is very specific to Recology and San Francisco. The tetra packs actually have 7 layers and Recology has also found a way to recycle those!
  3. Glass bottles + glass jars
  4. Soup cans, soda cans, balled up tinfoil
  5. Hard Rigid plastic that holds its shape. If you can drop it and it holds its shape then you can recycle it. This includes the trays for berries + coffee cup lids.


Things notes that should not be recycled and should go to landfill:

  • Soft plastics especially that have come into contact with food. So items like soft plastic bags for various snacks, candy wrappers, salad bags, deli meat and cheese bags should all go in the black bin and are landfill. If you have a hard plastic with a soft plastic cover, remove the soft plastic and place that in the trash
  • Mixed or composite bags like many of the amazon bags you may get
  • Pet Waste
  • Textiles + dryer lint
  • Disinfecting wipes (method and greenworks wipes are compostable!)
  • Broken plates and glasses. These have a different density and cannot be recycled and therefore should go in the black landfill bin
  • Hangers- These can jam up the machines. We return these to the dry cleaner. You should too! Also ask your dry cleaner to note on your file not to use the plastic bag to encase your clothes that they typically do
  • Zip lock bags- Switch to reusable Stasher bags or use alternatives like tins and glass containers to store and carry food. It will save you money in the long run
  • Plastic Straw- get reusable straws, paper straws or Hay Straws
  • Plastic 6-pack holders- Maybe buy the larger size in a cardboard box to avoid the 6 pack holders
  • Styrofoam- just avoid this material all together! It’s awful!


Composting! If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. I was so worried about it smelling in our kitchen. We have a nice stainless steel bin with a charcoal filter and compostable bags. We take it out every 2 or 3 days and have never had any foul smell. Our Recology facility is top notch and once again we can compost things like avocado pits and bones which many other municipalities can’t.

So what can you compost?

  • Leftover food
  • Soiled paper products
  • Napkins
  • Egg cartons
  • Bones from animals or fish
  • Avocado pits
  • Coffee Grounds and coffee filters
  • Wine corks
  • post it notes
  • Shredded paper
  • Cue tips for ears made of cardboard and cotton
  • Flowers + any yard plants
  • Pizza Boxes! I didn’t know that an thought that was great to hear!


As Recology says “No one person can do everything. Everyone can do something!” Let’s all do a little more each day to be part of the solution and support Recology’s effort to be zero waste by 2020.

Recology – What goes where


If you enjoyed my blog, please use the link to the right to follow me. You will get an email update each time I post anything new. It’s not that often so don’t worry about being inundated with emails. I  would also love to hear from you! How is your plastic free journey going? I hope to have inspired you!


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