Recycling and Composting Ordinance

Recycle and compost is now required in Palo Alto.

Approximately 70% of what Palo Alto throws away could be recycled or composted. That means items like glass, plastic, metal, paper, and food scraps end up buried in a landfill instead of being recovered and recycled into new materials or composted.

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Why An Ordinance? 
Who Will Be Affected? 
4 Steps to Compliance 
Frequently Asked Questions 


Why an Ordinance?

Approximately 70% of what is thrown away in Palo Alto can be recycled or composted. That means items like glass, plastic, metal, paper, and food scraps, end up buried in a landfill instead of being recovered and recycled into new materials or composted. That’s a tremendous waste of resources that helps contribute to global climate change.

The Recycling and Composting Ordinance will help us reduce our environmental impacts and reach our Zero Waste goal while complying with state recycling and organics mandates. 

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Who Will Be Affected by the Ordinance?

Everyone in Palo Alto, whether resident, worker, shopper, or visitor, is required to place their discards into the appropriate container – recycle, compost, or garbage. 

Residents are asked to do their best to sort properly. At this time, residential compliance will be based on an honor system.

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4 Steps to Compliance

  1. Subscribe to recycle, compost and garbage service. Contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894 or to set up collection service.
  2. Set up color-coded and labeled containers in convenient locations for patrons, employees and residents. Dining areas of take-out restaurants, building lobbies and other common areas also must have color-coded and labeled bins.
  3. Train and educate tenants, residents, employees, contractors and janitors about how to properly sort their waste and to ensure requirements are met.
  4. Sort waste into proper containers. Compliance includes using containers correctly. Use our What Goes Where Tools to learn how to sort properly. Enforcement will be based on contamination, which happens when items are not placed in the designated container.
    Fees and fines may be incurred in cases of non-compliance.

If you have any questions, contact Zero Waste Palo Alto at

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

What are the Ordinance requirements?

  • Everyone in Palo Alto is required to place their discards in the correct container designated for that type of material – black carts or tan bins for solid waste (i.e. trash, garbage, landfill), blue for recycle (e.g., plastic, glass, metal, paper), and green for compost (e.g., yard trimmings, food scraps, soiled paper).
  • Any entity with garbage service in Palo Alto also must subscribe to recycle, and compost collection service from GreenWaste of Palo Alto, the City’s contract hauler.
  • All building tenants, including renters and owners in multifamily complexes, must have access to solid waste, recycle, and compost collection containers.
  • All locations where a business’ customer, employee, or visitor may need to discard materials need to have containers for solid waste, recycle, and compost. Examples include: in a dining room area for a fast-food restaurant, and a kitchen or lunchroom in an office building.

Will the City provide internal containers?

  • The City and GreenWaste will provide kitchen food scraps collection buckets for residents of multifamily complexes.
  • City staff and GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators (EOCs) will work with businesses to identify the optimal locations for internal solid waste, recycling, and compost containers and provide signage, but will not provide internal containers.

If my tenants do not sort properly, am I responsible?

The entity that pays for refuse service is responsible for the material found within the collection containers. The City and GreenWaste will work with property managers and landlords to provide training and appropriate signage to help tenants sort their discards properly.

How can I prevent people from placing items into my collection containers when it is located in a public area?

If you are experiencing problems with other people using your collection containers, they can be equipped with locks to eliminate the ability for anyone other than the key holder to use the collection containers. 

What is the threshold of contamination to receive an additional fee?
There is no specific or numeric threshold to determine contamination. Sorting waste perfectly can be challenging. Contamination will be monitored by both GreenWaste truck drivers as part of regular collection and GreenWaste EOCs through random site visits. If the GreenWaste truck driver or EOC identifies obvious contamination, the container would be considered contaminated. Contaminated containers will be addressed in a multi-step procedure, fees and fines may be incurred.

Is someone going to be looking in my garbage?

Regular monitoring of contamination in the solid waste, recycle, and compost containers will be done by the drivers during collection. City staff or GreenWaste staff may may perform periodic checks to determine if the customers are in compliance with the ordinance.

How do I keep internal compost containers in my lunchroom, kitchen, cafeteria, etc. clean?
Compostable plastic bags provide the best defense against compostable materials from becoming an odor or bug issue. Be sure to empty internal compost containers at least every two to three days. Rinse your internal compost containers periodically as needed. 

How do I minimize the risk of getting rats/bugs in my outdoor compost collection containers?

The material in the compost containers has always been a component of your waste. If you did not have issues with vectors when you put compostable materials, e.g., food scraps or paper towels, into the solid waste containers, you should not have issues with moving that same material to a different colored container. It may help to contain compostable materials in a compostable plastic bag. Make sure to keep the lids of the collection containers closed at all times. Should the compost collection containers need to be cleaned, GreenWaste offers a bin wash service for a small fee.  

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Last Updated: Nov 15, 2017