Zak Zero loves reducing waste. Excited about the new food scraps collection program, he simply had to do a little research to see how it was going.
Zak found that a majority of residents are already participating, but we can get even closer to zero waste by placing more of our meat, bones and soiled paper to the green compost cart.
Zak Zero salutes Palo Alto resident Lisa A. for composting.
Why collect food scraps?
Food scraps are resources, not waste
“It is so much more logical to turn your food scraps and soiled paper into compost and renewable energy, rather than dispose of them in a landfill where they’ll emit greenhouse gases. I salute your efforts!” — Zak Zero
Approximately 50% of residential 'garbage' is comprised of food scraps and soiled paper. By participating in this program, you’ll help divert that material from landfills to more sustainable options. The material collected in your green cart will be taken to the Zero Waste Energy Development Company (ZWED) in San Jose, where it will be anaerobically digested and composted. This process yields both renewable energy and compost to enrich our soil.
Additionally, this program will reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by over 1,140 metric tons of CO2 equivalent each year.
Help our community achieve its goals of Zero Waste and Climate Protection, put your food scraps and soiled paper in your green cart.
Food Scraps Collection Program Results: Zak's Discoveries
1. Food Scraps Are Resources, Not Waste
Meat, bones, dairy & soiled paper are compostable!
“My Zero Waste Detector shows high levels of composting activity throughout Palo Alto. That’s so exciting! But the data also shows that we can optimize results by adding meat, bones and soiled paper to the green cart.” — Zak Zero
2. A Majority Of Residents Participate
It's part of what we do in Palo Alto!
“I’m a Zero Waste Block Leader, and I’m proud to say my community has embraced the food scraps program.” — Linda C.
3. Residents Love To Share Their Tips For Success
Find out what goes where.
“I took a few moments to learn more about how to use the program. I visited www.cityofpaloalto.org/foodscraps to see what I could put in the green cart. After I did that, composting was easy. It's worth the effort." — Lisa A.
Keep the smelliest scraps in the fridge or freezer until collection day.
“We use biobags and keep them in the freezer until it's time to place them in the green cart." — David P.
Line the bucket you use to collect food scraps.
“We use a larger can, so I line it with newspaper on the bottom, a compostable plastic bag, and some more newspaper. Occasionally, I sprinkle in some baking soda. These steps help to absorb liquids or odors.” — Vickie M.
Venus Flytraps like to eat fruit flies.
“I put a small Venus flytrap plant on my counter and haven't seen a single fruit fly since. And the kids love it.” — Amie N.
You can place loose yard trimmings, food scraps, soiled paper and compostable plastics in your green cart. You may contain your materials if you choose to do so, but it is not required. Please see the Collection Tips in the section below for containment ideas.
Can I put food scraps in my green cart? Yes! All food scraps should be put in your green cart including bones, meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, dough, coffee grounds and filters, teabags and other plate scrapings. You can place food scraps and soiled paper loose or bagged with compostable bags in your green cart.
Can I put paper products in my green cart? Yes! Soiled paper products can be put in your green cart including paper towels, napkins, tissues (yes, even your used tissues can be composted), pizza boxes, paper plates and cups, paper take-out containers, food and beverage cartons , and food soiled paper/cardboard packaging. They can be placed directly in your green cart.
Can I put compostable plastic products in my green cart? Yes! You can place compostable plastic products that are clearly labeled ‘Compostable’ in your green cart. This includes clamshell containers, cups, utensils and bags. Products that are labeled ‘Biodegradable’ are not accepted because they do not break down fast enough during the composting process.
Can I send my food scraps down the kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal? We strongly discourage using your kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal to dispose of your food scraps. Placing your food scraps in the green cart instead of using a kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal:
Reduces sanitary sewer system blockages and expensive repairs resulting from sewer backups into homes or onto streets. Food scraps sent down the drain often contain fats, oils, and grease that are the cause of most residential sanitary sewer backups.
Conserve water. Several gallons of water are required to flush food scraps down the drain. In Northern California, where water resources are scarce, this is not the best use of water.
Reduce household energy use and maintenance costs. Grinders/disposals require and electrical connection and, like any other machine with moving parts, may break down and require professional repair.
Reduce citywide energy use. Removing organic wastes from wastewater at the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant requires a significant amount of energy. The Plant uses more energy than any other facility in the City. Ultimately, sending food scraps down the drain results in 8 times more greenhouse gas emissions than collecting food scraps in the green cart.
Generate energy. Food scraps collected in the green carts will be anaerobically digested, creating methane that is then combusted to generate electricity.
Create a usable product. The food scraps sent down the drain, after being treated by the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant, are incinerated and sent to a landfill in Nevada. Food scraps collected in the green carts will produce energy and then becomes compost, which will provide nutrients to the soil for growing plants.
Can I pour fats, oil, and grease into my green cart? Only small amounts of leftover oil or grease from household cooking should be placed into the green cart. For appropriate disposal of large quantities of fats, oil, and grease, visit this website.
Is backyard/home composting still a good idea? Absolutely. Backyard composting provides an on-site sustainable solution for many types of food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings and ends. Soiled paper such as paper towels, coffee filters, and tea bags are also suitable for home composting. Food scraps that are not appropriate for backyard composting, like meats, cheeses, eggs, oils, and bones, can be placed directly into the green cart. Soiled paper products such as paper takeout containers, paper plates, and used tissues, which are not appropriate for backyard composting, should go into the green cart.
Free home composting workshops are offered by Santa Clara County. Palo Alto residents that attend one of these workshops can receive a free compost bin. Learn more on our Home Composting page.
What happens to the materials I put in my green cart? The compostable material collected in your green cart is taken to the Zero Waste Energy Development Company (ZWED) in San Jose, where it is anaerobic digested and composted. This process yields both renewable energy and compost which is used to enrich the soil.
How do I get started at home? Each household will receive a kitchen bucket and a brochure containing information about the new program and sorting system. You can keep your kitchen bucket under the sink, on the counter, or even in the freezer – wherever is most convenient for you – to collect any food scraps and soiled paper when you prepare meals and clean up.
Do I need to use the kitchen bucket? No, you do not need to use the kitchen bucket. Paper milk cartons, ice cream cartons, and paper to-go food containers are also great receptacles to collect food scraps temporarily before placing them all into your green cart. Plastic garbage bags or single use plastic bags are not accepted and will contaminate the compost.
How to prevent my kitchen bucket from getting smelly or overridden with fruit flies? Empty your kitchen bucket into your green cart regularly – about every two to three days. Consider lining your kitchen bucket with a compostable bag, wrapping messy food scraps in newspaper or utilizing used paper towels to soak up moisture before placing in the bucket. You can sprinkle baking soda or spray vinegar inside the bucket to reduce odors. Wash your bucket with soapy water or in your dish washer. You can also place your bucket (or other preferred collection container) in your freezer to avoid food from decomposing before placing the materials into your green cart for collection.
What should I do if I don’t need or want the provided kitchen bucket? Contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894 to arrange a pickup of the kitchen bucket. There are also other kitchen buckets on the market, you can purchase them at stores or online.
Yes! When you are purchasing compostable bags at the stores, look for bags that are clearly labeled “Compostable” or “BPI certified” (Biodegradable Products Institute.) Bags labeled as simply 'Biodegradable' are not accepted because they do not break down fast enough in the composting process. Plastic garbage bags and single-use plastic bags are not accepted.
For a comprehensive list of certified brands and products, visit the BPI’s catalog
Where can I purchase compostable plastic bags? Local stores: The most common compostable plastic bag brands found in local stores include: BioBag, If You Care, Ucan Untrash, Glad compostable, Bag-to-Nature, and EcoSafe.
These bags are generally available in 3 sizes:
2.5 to 3 gallons – these fit in your kitchen bucket
13 gallons – these are the standard ‘tall kitchen trash bag’ size
30 to 40 gallons
There are a number of local stores selling compostable plastic bags:
Palo Alto - Country Sun; Hassett Ace Hardware; Mollie Stone’s; Piazza’s; Safeway in Midtown; Walgreens on University Ave, Middlefield Road and El Camino Real; Whole Foods
Menlo Park - Ace Hardware, Draeger’s, Walgreens on Santa Cruz Ave, Willows Market
Online Options If you prefer to buy online, many e-commerce websites offer a wide range of certified compostable bag brands in bulk. The local stores listed above may periodically run out of stock of certain brands and sizes, so buying online gives you access to any brand, size, and pack count at any time.
How do I keep my green cart clean? Here are some tips to keep your green cart clean:
Use newspaper, paper milk cartons, compostable bags or other compostable items to containerize your food scraps before placing them into your green cart.
Place food scraps in between layers of yard trimmings within the green cart.
Sprinkle baking soda into your green cart.
Keep the green cart in the shade on hot days.
Rinse out your green cart as needed. Pour dirty water onto grass or gravel. Never pour the dirty water on your driveway or down the storm drain. The dirty water going down the storm drain flows directly to our waterways and could negatively impact fish and other wildlife in the creeks and Bay.
Will the green cart attract animals? Placing food scraps in the green cart is no different than placing food scraps in the black cart as garbage. The green carts are made from a heavy-duty plastic and are designed to remain upright. If you have additional concerns, place the food scraps in compostable bags. The compostable bags will keep the food scraps contained and reduce the odors emitted from the food scraps.
What if I need a larger green cart? If you need a larger green cart to accommodate all of your food scraps, soiled paper and yard trimmings, please call GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 to schedule a cart exchange.