Zero Waste Frequently Asked Questions


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

Contact us if you would like more information or have additional questions.

Quick Links

""Residential Food Scraps Collection
""Household Hazardous Waste
""Collection Services - Residential
""Collection Services - Commercial/Multi-Unit Complexes
""Miscellaneous Questions


Q: Can I recycle shredded paper?
A: 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.

Q: How do I dispose of appliances and furniture?
A: Residents are encouraged to donate items that are reusable. If items are not reusable, you can contact GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 to schedule your annual clean up day.

Q: What can I do with unusable old clothing?

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

Q: Which plastics are accepted for recycling?
A: 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, laundry baskets and container caps/lids). There are some exceptions such as expanded polystyrene (STYROFOAMTM). Additionally, film plastics must be bundled together inside a clear plastic bag.

Q: Why can’t I recycle expanded polystyrene (STYROFOAMTM)?
A: Although it is technically possible to recycle expanded polystyrene, there are no viable, cost-effective markets currently available for this material.

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

A: 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.

Q: Do we need to rinse our food containers?

A: No, some remaining food residue in your container is fine. 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.

Q: Can I recycle multi-layer juice boxes/pouches and other aseptic containers?
A: No. If we were to add aseptic containers to the accepted item list for your curbside collection container, Green Waste would have to either separate them out at their sorting facility or they would have to limit their material marketing options. Under the current sorting mechanisms at the Green Waste sorting facility, aseptic containers would end up with mixed paper. Only a few paper mills are capable of recycling them. Therefore, instead of marketing their mixed paper to get the best price, Green Waste would have to go with only those mills capable of recycling aseptic containers. Neither of these options are economically feasible at this time.

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Residential Food Scraps Collection

""What Goes Where - Sorting Related Questions
""Kitchen Bucket Care - Logistics in Homes
""Compostable Plastic Bags
""Green Cart Care

What Goes Where

Q: Can I put food scraps in my green cart?
A: 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 in your green cart.

Q: Can I put paper products, including tissues and food and beverage cartons,in my green cart?
A: 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. They can be placed directly in your green cart.

Q: Can I put compostable plastic products in my green cart?
A: 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.

Q: Can I send my food scraps down the kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal?
A: We strongly discourage using your kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal to dispose of your food scraps. Placing your food scraps in the green cart instead of using a kitchen sink grinder/garbage disposal:

  • Reduces 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.
  • Reduce citywide energy use. Removing organic wastes from wastewater at the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant requires a significant amount of energy. The Plant uses more energy than any other facility in the City. Ultimately, sending food scraps down the drain results in 8 times more greenhouse gas emissions than collecting food scraps in the green cart.
  • 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. The food scraps sent down the drain, after being treated by the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant, are incinerated and sent to a landfill in Nevada. Food scraps collected in the green carts will produce energy and then becomes compost, which will provide nutrients to the soil for growing plants.

Q: Can I pour fats, oil, and grease into my green cart?
A: Only small amounts of leftover oil or grease from household cooking should be placed into the green cart. For appropriate disposal of large quantities of fats, oil, and grease, visit this website.

Q: Is backyard/home composting still a good idea?
A: Absolutely. Backyard composting provides an on-site sustainable solution for many types of food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings and ends. 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 the 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 the 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.

Q: What happens to the materials I put in my green cart?
A: 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.

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Kitchen Bucket Care

Q: How do I get started at home?
A: Each household will receive a kitchen bucket and a brochure containing information about the new program and sorting system. You can keep your kitchen bucket under the sink, on the counter, or even in the freezer – wherever is most convenient for you – to collect any food scraps and soiled paper when you prepare meals and clean up.

Q: Do I need to use the kitchen bucket?
A: No, you do not need to use the kitchen bucket. Paper milk cartons, ice cream cartons, and paper to-go food containers are also great receptacles to collect food scraps temporarily before placing them all into your green cart. Plastic garbage bags or single use plastic bags are not accepted and will contaminate the compost.

Q: How to prevent my kitchen bucket from getting smelly or overridden with fruit flies?
A: Empty your kitchen bucket into your green cart regularly – about every two to three days. Consider lining 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.
You can sprinkle baking soda or spray vinegar inside the bucket to reduce odors. Wash your bucket with soapy water or in your dish washer. You can also place your bucket (or other preferred collection container) in your freezer to avoid food from decomposing before placing the materials into your green cart for collection.

Q: What should I do if I don’t need or want the provided kitchen bucket?
A: Contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894 to arrange a pickup of the kitchen bucket. There are also other kitchen buckets on the market, you can purchase them at stores or online.

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Compostable Plastic Bags

Q: Can I use compostable plastic bags?

A: Yes! When you are purchasing compostable plastic bags at the stores, 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.

Compostable in Industrial Facilities

For a comprehensive list of certified brands and products, visit the BPI’s catalog

Q: Where can I purchase compostable plastic bags?
A: Local stores:
The most common compostable bag brands found in local stores 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

There are a number of local stores selling compostable plastic bags:

  • Palo Alto - Country Sun, Hassett Ace Hardware, Mollie Stone’s, Piazza’s, Safeway in Midtown, Walgreens on University Ave, Walgreens on El Camino Real, Whole Foods
  • Menlo Park - Ace Hardware, Draeger’s, Walgreens on Santa Cruz Ave, Willows Market
  • Mountain View - Costco, Orchard Supply Hardware, Target

Online Options
If you prefer to buy online, many e-commerce websites offer a wide range of certified compostable bag brands in bulk. The local stores listed above may periodically run out of stock of certain brands and sizes, so buying online gives you access to any brand, size, and pack count at any time. 

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Green Cart Care

Q: How do I keep my green cart clean?
A: 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.

Q: Will the green cart attract animals?
A: 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. The compostable bags will keep the food scraps contained and reduce the odors emitted from the food scraps.

Q: What if I need a larger green cart?
A: If you need a larger green cart to accommodate all of your food scraps, soiled paper and yard trimmings, please call GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894 to schedule a cart exchange.

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Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)

Q: When is the next HHW event?
A: Events are held every Saturday from 9am-11am and on the first Friday of each month from 3pm-5pm. The events are held at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) located at 2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303.

Q: What wastes are accepted at HHW events?
A: Unwanted hazardous household products such as used or expired medication, paints, solvents, fuels, cleaners and pesticides are accepted.

Q: What wastes are NOT accepted at the HHW event?
A: No gas cylinders (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.
Q: How much waste can I drop off at the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) event?

A: 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 an event.

Q: Where can I take my household hazardous waste if I am a Palo Alto business?
A: 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.

Q: Where can I take my household hazardous waste if I am not a Palo Alto resident?
A: Santa Clara County Household Hazardous Waste Program
Phone: (408) 299-7300
Web site  (search “household hazardous waste”)
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).
Web site 
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.

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Collection Services - Residential

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

A: If you find this occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 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 recycling cart. Additional cardboard should be flattened and cut into pieces no larger than 2’x 3’,tied and placed next to your cart.

Q: What if I have more yard trimmings than will fit in one cart?
A: If you find this is occurring regularly, contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 to order a larger yard trimmings 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 biodegradable container, such as 30 gallon Kraft paper bag, cardboard boxes or in bundles (no larger than 2’x 4’) next to your wheeled cart. These containers/bundles may not exceed 40 pounds and will not be returned.

Q: Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?

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

Q: What is a “mini-can?”
A: 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 Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

Q: Why was my garbage not collected?

A: To ensure collection of your garbage, recyclables and yard trimmings, make sure it is set out at curbside the night before, follow the set out instructions in this booklet and make sure lids are closed. 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 Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

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Collection Services - Commercial/Multi-Unit Complexes

Q: How do I start collection services for recyclables and compostables?
A: GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators (EOCs) can assist you, at no additional cost. Contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894 to reach an EOC.

Assistance includes:

  • Establishing service levels, conducting site visits and waste audits
  • Planning for special events
  • Education: on-site trainings and meetings, posters and stickers, processing facility tours

Q: What types of containers are available for collecting recyclables and compostables, how frequently will they be serviced, and what are the costs?
A: Service for the collection of recyclables and compostables is available in wheeled carts or bins. Service is available multiple times per week. See Collection Services tab of this guide for details. For rate information, visit or contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

Q: Can I combine food scraps and yard trimmings in the same container?
A: Yes, both are compostable. Here is a detailed list of accepted materials or contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894. The exception to this rule is Yard Trimmings debris box service where only yard trimmings are allowed.

Q: How can I reduce my garbage bill?

A: 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 recyclable 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.
        • Participate in the compostables collection program for yard trimmings and food scraps.

Q: Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?
A: 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.

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Miscellaneous Questions

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

A: 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.

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