Recycle Ready


We'll Take the Jar, Hold the Mayo

While we love a good sandwich with all the toppings, food and liquids can ruin the recycling. Make sure you're recycle-ready!

clean versus dirty mayo jar comparison

How To Be Recycle-Ready

To be recycle-ready, bottles and containers need to be empty of food and liquid. Paper needs to be clean and dry. Only then are your recyclables in good enough condition to be recycled into new materials. The rest are sent to landfill.

1. Check What Goes Where

What Goes Where sorting guide flyer  



Put only accepted items in your blue recycle cart. Learn What Goes Where





2. Empty Bottles, Cans & Containers

You still don't need to rinse your recyclables (let's continue to conserve water), but please be sure to do the following:

Pouring out liquids from bottle Pour out liquids.

Scraping vegetables out of container Scrape out food.

Wiping out a container with a paper towel Wipe out oily or sticky residue.

3. Compost Soiled Paper

Soiled paper examples - pizza box, milk carton, napkin, paper cup, and paper plate Greasy, grimy, wet or gooey paper goes in your green cart. Learn more about soiled paper.

No Need To Rinse

Let's continue to conserve our precious water. Here's a video about how clean your recyclables need to be.

New Recycling Market Challenges

China, historically the largest recyclable scrap importer in the world, has made it clear that they want to improve their environment by increasing the recycling of domestic recyclable materials and restricting the importation of foreign recyclables. This has happened through a series of policies that are known collectively as “National Sword.”

In 2018, China imposed a number of restrictions on imported recyclables, banning some items and creating tougher contamination standards for what they do still accept. Imported recyclables may now only contain 0.5% of any type of contaminant. For example, food bits in a recyclable container such as a plastic salad bowl is considered a contaminant.  

The policy changes in China have caused a significant increase in recyclables material imports to Southeast Asian countries. Without the inspection or processing capacity to meet the huge flow of materials diverted to their ports, countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have begun to enact bans and inspection standards similar to those in China. 

State Response

CalRecycle is committed to using their limited resources to support recycling markets and help build a more robust materials processing infrastructure in order to reduce the state's reliance on global markets for recyclable material. Some of their programs include: Greenhouse Gas Grant and Loan Programs, Recycling Market Development Zone Program, and Packaging Material Management. Learn more at CalRecycle's State Response and Resources page.

Palo Alto Response

Palo Alto is addressing this issue with a multi-pronged approach. The City is conducting additional outreach campaigns and developing policies to encourage waste reduction and discourage disposables.  Palo Also has directed the City’s refuse hauler (GreenWaste) to improve materials separation, utilize domestic markets when available, and to determine where, exactly, the City’s recyclables are ending up; and whether environmental or social issues are occurring there, or elsewhere along the way.

Palo Alto and GreenWaste created this RECYCLE-READY outreach campaign to reduce the level of contaminated recyclables being placed in the blue recycle containers. The campaign is encouraging people to pour out liquids, scrape out food, and wipe out oily or sticky residue. Food and liquids contaminate the paper. There is still no need to rinse out containers, as we want to continue to conserve water. The City is asking that chunks of food and liquids not be left in containers. This is not a new requirement, as food and liquids have always been discouraged in the blue containers. Here’s a video explaining how clean your recyclables need to be. 

Direction to GreenWaste
The City’s hauler and recyclables processor (GreenWaste) is helping the City encourage proper separation of materials, and especially with keeping food and liquids out of blue recycle containers. GreenWaste has outreach coordinators that, at no additional cost, provide businesses with employee training on material sorting, presentations, waste audits, as well as posters, signs and guides on what goes where. For more information check out GreenWaste's video on sorting.  GreenWaste is also helping the City with the new zero waste enforcement program for commercial businesses, to ensure businesses are properly sorting their waste. Their drivers are scrutinizing material as they collect it, especially for food service facilities, and businesses are charged additional fees when contamination or sorting issues are found. 

GreenWaste has always performed far better than industry standards in maintaining low contamination rates. In reaction to ever heightening standards, the GreenWaste Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in San Jose, where recyclable materials are manually and mechanically sorted by material type, has added staff to the sorting line and slowed down throughput. MRF workers are inspecting loads as they come in and reporting on any contamination issues found to the hauler. Although GreenWaste meets the Chinese contamination standards much of the time, they do not meet it all of the time. At least for now, domestic markets have been found for all plastics except film plastic and mixed paper, which are going overseas to Asian countries.

In an effort to reduce the use of disposable plastic foodware items, the City has created a multi-phase Foodware Packaging Reduction Plan. The first phase of the Disposable Foodware Items ordinance includes the following:

  • Banning the use and sale of disposable plastic foodware items including utensils (forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks), straws, stirrers, and beverage plugs;
  • Requiring businesses to use compostable replacements; and,
  • Requiring businesses to only offer disposable items upon request.  

Subsequent phases will look at requiring the use of reusable foodware items (e.g., cups, plates, utensils) for dine-in, charging for disposables, and for new food service establishments the installation of a dishwasher. With these policy changes we hope to encourage the Palo Alto community toward using more reusables, resulting in less waste and greenhouse gas reductions.

Other Waste Reduction Programs
The City supports a number of other programs that encourage waste reduction (i.e., not making the waste in the first place, which is better than recycling and composting).

  • Zero Waste Party Packs – a set of reusable dishes you can borrow for free
  • Repair Café Palo Alto – repair your items instead of replacing them with new ones
  • Share Faires – exchange things you no longer need for things someone else no longer needs
  • Citywide Yard Sale - whether you buy or sell, giving old items new life keeps them out of the landfill
  • Junk Mail Reduction - recycling your unwanted mail is good, but stopping it in the first place is much better