Zero Waste Frequently Asked Questions

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

Contact us if you would like more information or have additional questions.



Household Hazardous Waste
Collection Services - Residential
Collection Services - Commercial/Multi-Unit Complexes
Miscellaneous Questions


Q: Can I recycle shredded paper?
A: Yes. Place your shredded paper in a clear plastic bag, tie it securely and place it in your blue recycling cart. You may also use a paper bag.

Q: How do I dispose of appliances and furniture?
A: Residents are encouraged to donate items that are reusable. If items are not reusable, you can contact GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 to schedule your annual clean up day.

Q: What can I do with unusable old clothing?

A: Goodwill and Salvation Army accept unusable clothing (e.g., torn, stained clothing). They sell it to a cloth recycler to be made into rags.

Q: Which plastics are accepted for recycling?
A: Most types of plastic, with or without a number, are accepted in your blue recycling cart. This includes bottles, containers, film plastics (e.g., plastic bags, dry cleaning bags and bubble wrap) and rigid plastics (e.g., broken toys, shelving, laundry baskets and container caps/lids). There are some exceptions such as expanded polystyrene (STYROFOAMTM). Additionally, film plastics must be bundled together inside a clear plastic bag.

Q: Why can’t I recycle expanded polystyrene (STYROFOAMTM)?
A: Although it is technically possible to recycle expanded polystyrene, there are no viable, cost-effective markets currently available for this material.

Q: Why do I need to bag my film plastics and plastic bags?

A: Loose plastic film and plastic bags get tangled in the sorting equipment at the recycling facility. Placing it in a clear bag makes it easier to spot and pull off the conveyor belt at the beginning of the process.

Q. Do we need to rinse our food containers?

A. No, some remaining food residue in your container is fine. A rule of thumb is if you turn over your container and shake it a bit (opening facing down) and nothing comes out, it’s clean enough for your recycling cart.

Q: Can I recycle milk/juice cartons, juice boxes/pouches and other aseptic containers?
A. No. If we were to add cartons to the accepted item list for your curbside collection container, Green Waste would have to either separate them out at their sorting facility or they would have to limit their material marketing options. Under the current sorting mechanisms at the Green Waste sorting facility, cartons would end up with mixed paper. Only a few paper mills are capable of recycling cartons. Therefore, instead of marketing their mixed paper to get the best price, Green Waste would have to go with only those mills capable of recycling cartons. Neither of these options are economically feasible at this time.

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Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)

Q: When is the next HHW event?
A: Events are held every Saturday from 9am-11am and on the first Friday of each month from 3pm-5pm. The events are held at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) located at 2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303.
Q: What wastes are accepted at HHW events?
A: Unwanted hazardous household products such as used or expired medication, paints, solvents, fuels, cleaners and pesticides are accepted.
Q: What wastes are NOT accepted at the HHW event?
A: No gas cylinders (camping & BBQ propane tanks are ok); radioactive wastes; wastes containing body tissues or body fluids; controlled substances; electronics; motor oil; antifreeze; car batteries; explosive wastes (marine flares); and ammunition.
Q: How much waste can I drop off at the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) event?

A: Residents can only transport up to 15 gallons or 125 pounds of household hazardous waste at any time. However, residents can make more than one trip to an event.

Q: Where can I take my household hazardous waste if I am a Palo Alto business?
A: Businesses or non-profit organizations located in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Stanford, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills that generate less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month can participate in Palo Alto's Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator Program. Please call (800) 433-5060 for more information.

Q: Where can I take my household hazardous waste if I am not a Palo Alto resident?
A: Santa Clara County Household Hazardous Waste Program
Phone: (408) 299-7300
Web site: (search “household hazardous waste”)
Participating Cities: Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Stanford University, and Sunnyvale.

San Mateo County Household Hazardous Waste Program
Phone: (650) 372-6263 or (650) 363-4718 (automated number).
Web site:
Participating Cities: Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Atherton, Colma, Hillsborough, Portola Valley, and Woodside.

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Collection Services - Residential

Q: What if I have more recyclables than will fit in my cart?

A: If you find this occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 to order a larger recycling cart at no additional cost. If this only occurs on occasion, you may place your additional recyclables in a paper bag next to your recycling cart. Additional cardboard should be flattened and cut into pieces no larger than 2’x 3’ and placed next to your cart.

Q: What if I have more yard trimmings than will fit in one cart?
A: If you find this is occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 to order a larger yard trimmings cart. Up to 3 carts are available to residents for no charge; additional carts will be available for a nominal fee. If this only occurs on occasion, you may place your additional yard trimmings in a biodegradable container, such as 30 gallon Kraft paper bag, cardboard boxes or in bundles (no larger than 2’x 4’) next to your wheeled cart. These containers/bundles may not exceed 40 pounds and will not be returned.

Q: Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?

A: Scavenging recyclables at the curb is prohibited by City ordinance. If you see someone other than GreenWaste employees collecting your recyclables, obtain the vehicle’s license number and description and report it to the police department
immediately at (650) 329-2413.

Q: What is a “mini-can?”
A: Residents who generate minimal waste may be able to save money by reducing their garbage service level to the 20 gallon mini-can. If you are interested in subscribing for mini-can service, please contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

Q: Why was my garbage not collected?

A: To ensure collection of your garbage, recyclables and yard trimmings, make sure it is set out at curbside the night before, follow the set out instructions in this booklet and make sure lids are closed. Sometimes your garbage may be picked up later due to substitute drivers, traffic or route changes. If your garbage is still not collected by 4 PM on your normal collection day, please contact Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

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Collection Services - Commercial/Multi-Unit Complexes

Q: How do I start collection services for recyclables and compostables?
A: GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators (EOCs) can assist you, at no additional cost. Contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 to reach an EOC.

Assistance includes:

  • Establishing service levels, conducting site visits and waste audits
  • Planning for special events
  • Education: on-site trainings and meetings, posters and stickers, processing facility tours


Q: What types of containers are available for collecting recyclables and compostables, how frequently will they be serviced, and what are the costs?
A: Service for the collection of recyclables and compostables is available in wheeled carts or bins. Service is available multiple times per week. See Collection Services tab of this guide for details. For rate information, visit or contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

Q: Can I combine food scraps and yard trimmings in the same container?
A: Yes, both are compostable. Click here for a detailed list of accepted materials or contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894. The exception to this rule is Yard Trimmings debris box service where only yard trimmings are allowed.

Q: How can I reduce my garbage bill?

A: Reducing the total volume of materials set out for collection by using the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle/compost) is the best way to reduce your bill.

  • Reduce – Eliminate disposables and purchase items with no or recyclable packaging.
  • Reuse – Give, donate, or sell reusable items utilizing local reuse organizations and internet resources.
  • Recycle – Participate in the recyclables collection program.
  • Compost:
        • Reduce the amount of yard trimmings generated on your property by replacing high maintenance landscape (e.g., turf, landscape requiring constant trimming) with native plants.
        • If possible, compost on your premises.
        • Participate in the compostables collection program for yard trimmings and food scraps.

Q: Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?
A: Scavenging recyclables is prohibited by City ordinance. If someone other than GreenWaste is collecting your recyclables, obtain the vehicle license number and description and contact the Police Department immediately at (650) 329-2413.

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Miscellaneous Questions

Q: What is a Zero Waste Party Pack and how can I borrow one?

A: Zero Waste Party Packs are FREE and available for residents to borrow. Party packs come with complete table settings for 24 people - that’s plates, bowls, tumblers, utensils and cloth napkins.

You can borrow a party pack from a Zero Waste Block Leader near you. Zero Waste Block Leaders are neighborhood ‘experts’ available to answer your recycling and reuse questions, supply information on ways to reduce household waste and foster neighborhood waste reduction efforts. Most block leaders have party packs available for you to borrow. If they don't, they'll get you in touch with a block leader who does.

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Last Updated: Mar 18, 2015