Recycling and Composting Ordinance

color coded 3-sort waste station


Recycling and composting is now required in Palo Alto.

Approximately 70% of what Palo Alto throws away could be recycled or composted(PDF, 3MB). The Recycling and Composting Ordinance is helping us reduce our environmental impact and reach our Zero Waste goal while also complying with State recycling and composting mandates. For businesses, this means subscribing to recycle, compost, and garbage service and sorting waste into the proper containers.

Tips for Success: Palo Alto Businesses Make Zero Waste Work

Here are some tips from Palo Alto businesses to help your business implement and easily manage a successful zero waste program.

Color-coded, labeled waste station set up outside Philz Coffee

Use Colored-Coded Bins with Signage

Philz Coffee has many locations around the Bay Area including one in Palo Alto. “Being a locally founded company, Philz embraces positive change, including recycling and composting,” says Store Leader Michael Bragg. Bins at this site are blue for recycling, green for compost and black for landfill, with labels marking each. “We like consistency, so all our waste stations are color coded.”


Color-coded, labeled waste station at Live-Action's offices

Set Up Central 3-Bin Sort Stations

LiveAction is an IT company headquartered in Palo Alto. They set up their space for effective recycling and composting. “We strategically placed 3-bin stations throughout the office, so team members can discard their recycle, compost, and landfill items,” says HR Coordinator Mike Duong. “This also gets them to move a bit during a long day at the computer."



Tap Room employees in training

Train Employees Regularly

At bar and restaurant The Tap Room, bottles and cans have been recycled for a long time, but separating discards got a bit trickier with the addition of compost. “During busy times, our food runners have to make quick work of clearing tables and sorting right,” says Manager Darien Brilliott. “That’s why we do regular trainings and give frequent reminders.” Armed with a set of posters as visual aids and standing by a waste station, Brilliott's training is short and effective.


Labeled paper towel dispenser at Etz Chayim

Compost Bathroom Paper Towels

At Congregation Etz Chayim, caring for the Earth has been an important tenet since its founding. “As a faith community we want to be good stewards,” says Executive Director Ellen Bob. Her team set up color coded bins for recycling, compost and landfill around the facility, and placed bins for compostable paper towels in the bathrooms. “Most of what’s discarded in the bathrooms are used paper towels, so we compost them and just have a small additional container for trash.”


Person placing clear bags of waste in refuse bins at Dinah's Hotel

Use Clear Bags for Easy Sorting

Dinah’s Hotel has attracted Palo Alto visitors for over 60 years. Certified by the California Green Lodging program, they’ve incorporated many eco-friendly practices and embraced recycling and composting. “We want to make sure the right stuff goes in the right bin,” says Alfred Marku, Dinah’s VP of Operations. “The clear bags help our staff see quickly if it’s recycling or trash, and also notice and pick out wrong items. It’s made a big difference.”


Dinah's Hotel staff using cart equipped with 3-sort refuse collection bags

Provide a 3-Section Collection Cart

Staff at Dinah’s Hotel separate trash collected from rooms and common areas by using a cart equipped with three separate sections, each lined with clear bags. “This cart is important to ensuring that trash, compost and recycling are sorted properly,” says Alfred Marku, Dinah’s VP of Operations. “We also train our staff regularly on what to put into each bag, so our program is successful over the long term.”


4 Steps to Compliance

Everyone is now required to correctly sort their waste into the appropriate container - recycle, compost, landfill.

  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

Commercial Custodial Bag Requirements

If your business uses bags to line refuse containers, the following requirements apply:

  • Color-Coded Bags
    Transparent blue tinted bags are required for recycling containers, transparent green compostable bags are required for compost containers, and clear bags are required for landfill containers.
  • Compostable Plastic Bags for the Compost Container
    Compostable plastic bags must meet ASTM D6400 or D6868 standards of compostability or be Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified.



There are a variety of resources available to help you comply with the ordinance.

  • Technical Assistance: For technical assistance including site visits, Zero Waste best practices, educational materials (e.g., signage, labels, sample articles and emails, presentations) and on-site trainings, contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894 or
  • Signage and Other Tools: For signage, including a custom online sign making tool, service and material guides, videos and other helpful tools, visit our What Goes Where Tools page.
  • Zero Waste Facilitators: Zero Waste Facilitators can aid in back-of-house material sorting, helping to reduce contamination while providing valuable feedback. They may also enable customers to lower refuse costs, prevent contamination charges, and be in compliance with the City's Recycling and Composting Ordinance. These Zero Waste Facilitators  operate in Palo Alto.


Enforcement Program

Businesses are subject to the following enforcement program.  Residents are asked to do their best to sort properly. At this time, residential compliance will be based on an honor system.

  1. Increased Audits - Containers will be audited by GreenWaste of Palo Alto and City.
  2. Warning Notices - Businesses not in compliance will receive violation warning notices.
  3. Notices of Non-Compliance & Compliance Agreements - City will issue notices and require businesses to describe actions they will take to reach compliance.
  4. Compliance Order and/or Citation - Failure to comply with the ordinance may result in a compliance order or a citation.

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