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Frequently Asked Questions about Recycling

After several years of maintaining a list of "Resources for Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling" Andy has received many questions about what can be recycled and what cannot. The following information will answer most of these questions. Please note that different municipalities have different recycling policies, but we have found this information to be true in most cases.

The following items should not be placed in curbside recycling:

  • Plastic bags! (unless you're in San Mateo County)
  • Light Bulbs!
  • Juice boxes
  • Styrofoam
  • Ceramics
  • Coat Hangers

For more information, see the following three categories of recycling below.

Paper Plastic Glass


Paper Recycling

The average American uses nearly 700 pounds of paper a year. Paper products
make almost 40% of the nation's solid waste, yet only about a third of it is recycled. Paper can be recycled up to 7 times, depending on how long the fibers are to
begin with. Here's a great source of statistics and information about all aspects of paper reuse and recycling.

Place in Paper Recycling

Do Not Place in Paper Recycling

Magazines and catalogs

Junk mail (labels are OK)

Envelopes (plastic windows are OK)

Cereal Boxes and other Cardboard Paper Packaging

Paper Egg cartons

Brown Paper Bags

Reports and Term Papers (staples are OK)

Colored and white paper

Phone Books

Paperback Books


Solid Wood

Bound or Spiral Notebooks

Gift wrap, Wrapping Paper (source)

Tissues (source)

Paper Towels (source)


Toilet Paper

Tissue Paper (source)

Thermal Fax Paper

Soiled Paper

Carbon Paper

Paper Cups and Paper Plates

Bubble Envelopes

Hardcover Books (see note below)

Wax Paper

Waxed Cardboard

Pressed Wood, Particle Board


Paperback books can be placed in paper recycling. Hardback books must have their bindings removed before they can be placed in paper recycling.

Plastic Recycling

Note that since April 2002, San Francisco now accepts all plastic bottles (any container where the neck is smaller than the rest of the bottle) for recycling. Also, any plastic, including tubs and lids, with a 2, 4, or 5 can be recycled regardless of their shape. San Francisco even accepts plastic cups, plates, and utensils for recycling (source).

Some people think that any plastic container with the "chasing arrows" recycle symbol can be recycled. This is not the case. The chasing arrow contains a number that helps to identify the type of plastic it is.

For more information, see these articles about plastics and plastic recycling (1), (2) from the Berkeley Ecology Center.

Glass Recycling

The following items should not be placed in glass recycling, because they don't melt at the same temperature as bottles.

  • Window glass (panes)
  • Drinking glasses
  • Mirrors
  • Pyrex (including baking dishes and coffee pots)
  • Light bulbs (fluorescent light bulbs are considered hazardous waste)
  • Crystal
  • Ceramics

In some cities, window glass is collected and used in fiberglass, but we are not aware of this happening in the Bay Area.


Many cities now have commercial composting facilities. This means that residents can place a lot more than yard waste in their green bins. Items that can also be composted in these facilities include food-soiled paper, tissues, paper towels, pizza boxes, food scraps, used coffee filters, clearly marked compostible plastics (more info), QTIPS with no plastic parts, etc. This is a great way to save a huge amount of matter from landfill, so please be aware of composting policies in your area. (Source)




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