Zero Waste FAQs


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

Contact us at or (650) 496-5910 if you would like more information or have additional questions.


Can I recycle shredded paper?

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.

How do I dispose of appliances and furniture?

Please consider reuse options for items in reusable condition. Visit RE:Source to find reuse organizations that may be interested in your items.  If items are not reusable, the Clean Up Day program provides you with curbside collection.

What can I do with unusable old clothing?

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

Which plastics are accepted for recycling?

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, and laundry baskets). Film plastics must be bundled together inside a clear plastic bag. There are some exceptions such as foam plastic (e.g., STYROFOAMTM) that belongs in the landfill.

Learn more about What Goes Where

Why can't I recycle foam plastic (e.g., STYROFOAM)?

Although it is technically possible to recycle foam plastics, there are no viable, cost-effective markets currently available for this material. There are no recycling markets for other types of plastic foam. 

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

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.

Do we need to rinse our bottles and containers?

No, you do not need to wash or rinse your recyclables – you just need to pour out liquids, scrape out food, and wipe out oily or sticky residue. 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. View our Residue video for more information

Can I recycle juice boxes/pouches and other aseptic containers?

Although it is technically possible to recycle juice boxes and other aseptic containers, we do not accept them in our program because it is not economically feasible at this time. Only a few paper mills are capable of recycling them. If we were to add aseptic containers to our recycling program, Green Waste would have to either separate them out at their sorting facility (which requires special machinery and storage space) or the containers would get included into the mixed paper. If they were in the mixed paper, GreenWaste would have to limit their marketing options to only those mills capable of recycling aseptic containers instead of marketing it to get the best price.

Are our recyclables even getting recycled given the changes in China and other countries accepting materials?

Yes, our recyclables are getting recycled. We have worked closely with GreenWaste to make sure there is an actual market for the material we accept. So please continue to recycle as per our program rules. We have also asked GreenWaste to prioritize domestic markets. They have them for all of our materials except film plastic and mixed paper.

Although we do have a market for all the recyclables we collect in our program, some materials are more desirable than others and have more stable markets. Plastics definitely have issues, but all materials have environmental impacts associated with them. The best thing we can do is to try to reduce the amount of waste we create – for recycling, composting, and landfill. Recycling is good but reducing and reusing is MUCH better. That is why we are asking people to consider how they can reduce, by purchasing things in less- or no-packaging and repairing things instead of buying new items. Don’t get overwhelmed, just pick one thing and see what you can do.



Residential Food Scraps Collection

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/containers in your green cart.

Can I put paper products, including tissues and food and beverage cartons, 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.

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 put 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. By placing your food scraps in your green compost cart you:

  • Reduce 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.
  • 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. Food scraps collected in the green carts will produce energy and then become compost, a valuable soil amendment that improves soil structure and helps plants thrive.

Can I pour fats, oil, and grease into my green cart?

Yes, small amounts of oil or grease from household cooking are allowed. Use paper towels or other compostable items to absorb them and place them in your green compost cart. Bring large amounts of unwanted cooking oil to the Household Hazardous Waste Station.

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. 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 your 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 your 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 prevent smells and bugs?

There are a number of different ways you can make compost collection easy and convenient without smells or bugs. Palo Alto residents have shared their tips on what works for them on our Residential Food Scraps Collection page. Here are a few tips for indoor storage:

  • Empty your kitchen bucket into your green compost cart regularly – about every two to three days. 
  • Line 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.
  • Sprinkle baking soda or spray vinegar inside the bucket to reduce odors. 
  • Wash your bucket with soapy water or in your dish washer. 
  • Place your bucket (or other preferred collection container) in your freezer to avoid food from decomposing before placing the materials into your green compost cart for collection.

Can I use compostable plastic bags?

Yes, you can use compostable plastic bags. When purchasing them, 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 catalog

Where can I purchase compostable plastic bags?

You can find compostable plastic bags at a number of local stores. The most common brands 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

If you prefer to buy online, many e-commerce websites offer a wide range of certified compostable bag brands in bulk.

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 or containers (e.g., milk carton, ice cream carton). They will keep the food scraps contained and reduce the odors emitted from the food scraps.


Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Station

When is the HHW Station open?

The HHW Station is open every Saturday from 9am-11am and on the first Friday of each month from 3pm-5pm. The HHW Station is located at 2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto.

What wastes are accepted at the HHW Station?

Unwanted hazardous household products such as used or expired medication, paints, solvents, fuels, cleaners and pesticides are accepted. A larger list of accepted items is available on our Hazardous Waste Program page.

What wastes are NOT accepted at the HHW Station?

No large gas cylinders over 5 gallons in size (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. A larger list of accepted items is available on our Hazardous Waste Program page.

How much waste can I drop off at the HHW Station?

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 the HHW Station.

Where can I take my hazardous waste if I am a Palo Alto business?

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.

Where can I take my household hazardous waste if I am not a Palo Alto resident?

Santa Clara County Household Hazardous Waste Program
Phone: (408) 299-7300
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).
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.




Collection Services - Residential

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

If you find this occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto's Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 or 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 blue recycle cart. Additional cardboard should be flattened and cut into pieces no larger than 2’x 3’,tied and placed next to your blue cart.

What if I have more yard trimmings than will fit in one cart?

If you find this occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto's Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 or to order a larger green compost 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 compostable container, such as 30 gallon Kraft paper bag, cardboard boxes or in bundles (no larger than 2’x 4’) next to your green cart. These containers/bundles may not exceed 40 pounds and will not be returned.

Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?

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 plate number and description and report it to the police department immediately at (650) 329-2413.

What is a mini-can?

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 of Palo Alto's Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 or

Why was my landfill/recycle/compost not collected?

To ensure collection of your landfill (i.e., garbage), recycle and compost, place carts curbside by 6 AM on your collection day, close all lids - please do not overfill and place front of cart facing the street. 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 GreenWaste of Palo Alto's Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 or


Collection Services - Commercial/Multi-Unit Complexes

How do I start refuse collection services - recycle, compost, and landfill (i.e., garbage)?

Contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894 or to start refuse services. If you need assistance with recycling, composting, or other zero waste measures, a GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinator (EOC) can assist you, at no additional cost. Assistance includes:

  • Establishing service levels, conducting site visits and waste audits
  • Planning for special events
  • Educating employees on how to properly sort their waste with EOC on-site training and meetings
  • Posters and stickers
  • Tours of our processing facilities

My landfill (i.e., garbage)/recycle/compost bin is overfull. Will GreenWaste take all my extra materials?

All material should be sorted properly and placed inside the appropriate service containers. If you occasionally have extra material, please do not stack it on the ground, call GreenWaste to schedule an extra collection. If you regularly have extra material, please call GreenWaste to increase the size of your container or frequency of pick-ups. Please also note that lids must close on your containers at all times or you may incur extra charges. By keeping all material inside the appropriate containers, you are also helping to keep Palo Alto clean and litter-free, which helps prevent litter from getting into our local creeks and the Bay.

My compost bin is smelly, what can I do about that?

To keep your compost and garbage bins odor free, remember to bag and tie the materials when you take them to your outdoor bin. You can also request bin wash service from GreenWaste (for a fee).

Can I combine food scraps and yard trimmings in the same container?

Yes, both are compostable. Here is a detailed list of accepted materials or contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto's Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 or The exception to this rule is Yard Trimmings debris box service where only yard trimmings are allowed.

How can I reduce my garbage bill?

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 reusable 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.

Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?

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.


Recycling and Composting Ordinance

What are the Ordinance requirements?

The Ordinance requirements are:

  • 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 landfill (i.e., garbage), blue carts/bins for recycle (e.g., plastic, glass, metal, paper), and green carts/bins 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 contracted hauler and processor.
  • All building tenants, including residents of multifamily complexes, must have access to landfill (i.e., garbage), recycle, and compost collection containers.
  • Businesses shall set up color-coded and labeled containers in convenient locations for patrons, employees and residents. Examples of common areas include: in a dining room area for a fast-food restaurant, a lobby, and a kitchen or lunchroom in an office building.

Will the City provide internal containers?

The City and GreenWaste of Palo Alto will provide kitchen food scraps collection buckets for residents of multifamily complexes. Additionally, City staff and GreenWaste of Palo Alto's 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 of Palo Alto 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 Environmental Outreach Coordinators (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 landfill (i.e., garbage), recycle, and compost containers will be done by the drivers during collection. City staff or GreenWaste staff may perform periodic checks to determine if 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 landfill (i.e., garbage) 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.


Deconstruction and Construction Materials Management

General Questions

What is deconstruction?

Deconstruction is the systematic and careful dismantling of a structure, typically, in the opposite order it was constructed, to maximize the recovery of materials for reuse and recycling.

What is the difference between deconstruction and demolition?

Deconstruction is an environmentally friendly alternative to demolition, it involves buildings or structures being systematically taken apart thereby allowing materials to be kept unbroken and separated, making it easier to reuse and recycle. This differs from traditional demolition, where an excavator knocks down a whole building with all the materials within the structure being smashed and combined into a container.

Why is the City of Palo Alto requiring deconstruction?

Despite Palo Alto’s already high recycling rate for construction projects, approximately 44% of what Palo Alto sends to the landfill comes from construction and demolition projects. The City is requiring deconstruction to recover valuable building materials that would have been destroyed by traditional demolition. Deconstruction attains a higher end use for building materials, reduces the amount of waste going to landfills, conserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and encourages Zero Waste.

What is reuse? And what materials are typically salvaged for reuse?

Reuse is further or repeated use of materials or items in their current form, including sale or donation of items. It is different from recycling which is breaking down used items to make raw materials for the creation of new products. Some materials commonly salvaged for reuse include lumber, fixtures, doors, cabinets, appliances, and bricks.

What is changing under the new requirements?

Demolition will no longer be allowed. Projects where structures are being completely removed (previously referred to as “demolition”) are required to conduct a survey designating the materials to be salvaged for reuse, deconstruct the structure, and source separate materials for reuse and recycling.

When do the ordinance requirements go into effect?

Deconstruction, salvage for reuse, and source separation requirements are effective July 1, 2020. Building permit applications submitted on or after this date will be subject to these new requirements.

What are the new deconstruction ordinance requirements?

The new deconstruction ordinance requires projects where structures are being completely removed to conduct a survey designating the materials to be salvaged for reuse, deconstruct the structure, and source separate materials for reuse and recycling.

What projects are affected by the deconstruction requirements?

Residential and commercial projects where structures are being completely removed, formerly known as demolition, must comply with the requirements.


Source separation of materials for reuse and recycling

What needs to be source separated?

All deconstruction materials are required to be sorted onsite into specific categories.

  • Materials for reuse – These materials were designated as salvageable in the Salvage Survey. They are to be packaged and delivered to a City approved reuse facility by the project contractor.
  • Materials for maximized recycling – These materials are to be separated into specific categories (e.g., obtain separate containers provided by GreenWaste of Palo Alto for sheetrock, clean wood, etc.) and delivered to one of the City approved materials recovery facilities listed in Green Halo.

What are the specific categories for source separation of materials for recycling during deconstruction?

Some of the categories for source separation of material include: 

  • Concrete (e.g., asphalt pavement, bricks/stones, gravel, porcelain, etc.)
  • Wood Waste (e.g., unpainted wood/ lumber, yard clippings/ landscaping, etc.)
  • Sheetrock
  • Asphalt shingles
  • Carpet/padding
  • Metals

For more information on ordering containers, visit

Where can I find the deconstruction ordinance requirements or more information on what’s being required?

For detailed information about the deconstruction requirements, visit, or refer to Palo Alto Municipal Code 5.24.

How is this salvage survey different from the previous requirements?

Previously, all residential whole structure removals were required to obtain a salvage survey to identify materials that were salvageable for reuse – the choice to salvage those materials was optional. The new requirements expand the salvage survey requirement to both residential and commercial whole structure removals and require certification from the reuse facility that the items listed on the salvage survey were salvaged. The salvage survey itself has not changed.

Who can perform the salvage survey for my projects?

Currently, The Reuse People is the only organization allowed to perform the salvage survey and accept salvageable materials. Contact them at or visit for more information.

Will the list of approved reuse organizations be expanded?

The list of approved reuse organizations may be expanded in the future. Staff chose to remain with the currently approved reuse organization for the launch of the new deconstruction requirements. Once there is a better understanding of the program needs and material flows, additional reuse facilities may be approved.


Hauling Requirements

What are the hauling requirements?

All deconstruction and construction projects are required to utilize GreenWaste of Palo Alto for the collection of all materials if using containers (bins or debris boxes) at project sites. Contractors can continue to self-haul material by using trucks but must still deliver materials to one of the City approved processing facilities listed in Green Halo. More information can be found at

What projects are affected by the hauling requirements?

All projects using bins or debris boxes at any deconstruction or construction site are required to obtain these containers through the City’s hauler, GreenWaste of Palo Alto. Bins and debris boxes are available in multiple sizes and can be ordered on an on-call basis or as a scheduled weekly service. To request containers, contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894 or email Additional information can be obtained at

Can I continue to self-haul materials?

Yes, self-haul of materials may continue if using trucks, but materials must be source separated and delivered to City approved processing facilities listed in Green Halo. More information can be found at

Use of any containers not provided by GreenWaste of Palo Alto is not allowed.

What processing facilities can I take materials to?

All materials are to be delivered to one of the City approved materials processing facilities listed in Green Halo. More information can be found at


Compliance Process

What happens if I don't deconstruct?

Compliance with the City's Municipal Codes on deconstruction, refuse collection, and waste sorting requirements is expected. Non-compliance will result in violations and fines and may also lead to project delays.



Are there plans to expand these requirements to other construction related projects in the future?

Expanding these requirements to other construction related projects is likely, but not yet established. These new requirements help the environment and will support the City’s Zero Waste and Sustainability & Climate Action Plan goals by increasing reuse and recycling, conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is considered hazardous waste at a deconstruction project? How should this waste be managed properly?

Construction waste containing asbestos, lead, PCB, etc. is considered hazardous, such hazardous waste should be identified by a qualified professional prior to the commencement of the project. Abatement by a qualified contractor must be performed to properly remove and dispose of the identified hazardous waste. During deconstruction, if additional hazardous materials are identified, additional abatement must be performed. More information can be found at


Miscellaneous Questions

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

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. Learn more about Zero Waste Party Packs.

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.