Recycling and Composting Ordinance
Recycling and composting is now required in Palo Alto.
Approximately 70% of what Palo Alto throws away could be recycled or composted. 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. Please view Ordinance Summary Sheet.
Tips for Success: Palo Alto Businesses Make Zero Waste Work
4 Steps to Compliance
Resources: There are a variety of free resources available
Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 5.20
Frequently Asked Questions
Palo Alto Businesses Make Zero Waste Work
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.”
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."
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Everyone is now required to correctly sort their waste into the appropriate container - recycle, compost, landfill.
- Subscribe to recycle, compost and garbage service. Contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up collection service.
- 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.
- Train and educate tenants, residents, employees, contractors and janitors about how to properly sort their waste and to ensure requirements are met.
- 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.
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 email@example.com
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.
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.
- Increased Audits - Containers will be audited by GreenWaste of Palo Alto and City.
- Warning Notices - Businesses not in compliance will receive violation warning notices.
- Notices of Non-Compliance & Compliance Agreements - City will issue notices and require businesses to describe actions they will take to reach compliance.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.
What are the Ordinance requirements?
- 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 solid waste (i.e. trash, garbage, landfill), blue for recycle (e.g., plastic, glass, metal, paper), and green 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 contract hauler.
- All building tenants, including renters and owners in multifamily complexes, must have access to solid waste, recycle, and compost collection containers.
- All locations where a business’ customer, employee, or visitor may need to discard materials need to have containers for solid waste, recycle, and compost. Examples include: in a dining room area for a fast-food restaurant, and a kitchen or lunchroom in an office building.
Will the City provide internal containers?
- The City and GreenWaste will provide kitchen food scraps collection buckets for residents of multifamily complexes.
- City staff and GreenWaste 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 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 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 solid waste, recycle, and compost containers will be done by the drivers during collection. City staff or GreenWaste staff may perform periodic checks to determine if the 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 solid waste 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.