Progress Report


Our community is working hard toward its goal of Zero Waste. 

All sectors of our community – residents, schools, businesses and nonprofits – have taken action to help. We’re all reducing our impact on the environment and paving the way for a Zero Waste future. This section provides information to keep you up to date on our community’s progress and perhaps even help you find more ways to join in the effort.

How Are We Doing?

We use Diversion Rate (i.e., material diverted from landfills through waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting efforts) as our metric to know how we are doing on our waste reduction and resource conservation goals. 

In 2020 Palo Alto's diversion rate was 84%

Although participation in our recycling and composting programs is crucial to reducing our waste, it’s even better to prevent waste from being created in the first place. Reduce your waste by purchasing in bulk, reusing and repairing items, or eliminating junk mail through opt-out lists. Find more information on ways to reduce your waste and your impact on our environment.

Chart showing annual diversion rate percentage from 2007 to 2020  


Waste Composition

What's in your garbage?

A new waste composition study was done for Palo Alto in 2017. It found that we have been able to reduce the amount of recyclables in our garbage, but there is room for improvement. Approximately 32% of what the community throws in the garbage is recyclable! Another large section of our waste stream is compostable - approximately 35%. 

2017 Waste Characterization findings:

  • Approximately 67% of what is being thrown in the garbage is recyclable or compostable
  • Food Waste is the single largest component of the garbage at 21.5%. 
  • Diapers have made it into the top six most prevalent items, making up 6.6%. 
  • Recyclable paper makes up 7.3% of the garbage. 

View our 2017 Waste Characterization Study(PDF, 3MB)

It's up to us to work together to achieve Zero Waste, and maximizing our current recycling program is an excellent way to start. Go to our What Goes Where Tools to learn more about our recycling and composting programs and figure out "What Goes Where."

Palo Alto's Garbage Composition 2017
These items were all found in the garbage - NOT the recycling or compost.

Pie chart for 2017 garbage composition. 32% recyclables, 35% compostables, 31% problem materials


Palo Alto's Garbage Composition 2013
These items were all found in the garbage - NOT the recycling.
View our 2013 Waste Characterization Study(PDF, 2MB).

Pie chart for 2013 garbage composition. 32% recyclables, 39% compostables, 29% problem materials


Palo Alto's Garbage Composition 2005
These items were all found in the garbage - NOT the recycling.
Pie chart for 2005 garbage composition. 43% recyclables, 29% compostables, 28% problem materials