Recycling Questions

Got recycling questions? Check the list below to see if it's been asked.

If not, try searching on WhatBin.com - Recology's search engine for what goes in what bin.


Recycle (Blue Bin)

Does shredded paper need to go in a bag for recycling?

Yes, it is preferable that shredded paper be placed inside a paper bag and then in the recycling bin to prevent spillage and littering when the bins are picked up.

Can we recycle paper envelopes with the plastic window panes on them?

Yes, the envelopes with plastic windows can be recycled and go in the blue bin.

Can we recycle colored cardboard like cereal boxes or other dry packaged good boxes?

Yes, colored cardboard boxes can be recycled in the blue bin.

Why can't black plastic be recycling? Does the "no black" rule apply to black plastic items clearly marked with a recyclable symbol?

All our recycling is taken to the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos where it is sorted. The machines there cannot identify black plastic and it ends up being thrown away in the garbage. We hope improvements in the future will allow for black plastic.

What about food containers from restaurants? Some look like plastic but I've heard they can be composted.

Empty plastic food containers from restaurants are recyclable and should go in the recycling blue bin. Generally, only paper food containers (like Chinese carry-out boxes) or containers that are clearly labeled as compo stable should be composted in the green bin.

Are the half gallon milk cartons recyclable or compostable?

Milk and juice cartons are recyclable and go in the blue recycling bin.

Does tin foil used for cooking need to be cleaned?

No, the tin foil does not need to be cleaned. Shake off any food debris, crinkle the tin foil into a ball, and toss into the blue recycling bin.

Can Tupperware containers and specifically, the lids, be recycled?

All plastic containers and lids that have the symbol of the chasing arrow on them and are numbered 1-7, and are not black, may be recycled. The types of plastics used in products varies greatly and only certain types of plastic can be recycled. Check for the chasing arrow and numbers on plastic products to know whether they are recyclable.

Can large 5 gallon plastic buckets be recycled?
Yes, these buckets can be placed in the blue recycling bin. Any plastic container with a number 1-7  and the chasing arrow recycling symbol on it can be recycled in the blue bin (expect for black plastic which goes in the garbage).
I know that yogurt containers can be recycled, but does the paper wrap and foil top need to be removed before recycling the containers?

Yes, its preferable to remove the foil and wraps from yogurt containers and give them a quick rinse or wipe to prevent leakage and contamination in the recycling bin.

Some beverage bottles have shrink wrapped plastic labels. Do those need to be removed to recycle the bottle?

No, the bottles may be recycled as is. Container labels do not need to be removed.

Can I recycle wire bound notebooks?

To recycle spiral notebooks remove the spiral and then recycle the spiral and paper separately in the blue bin.

Should wax coated milk cartons, and other similar food cartons, be composted or recycled?

Cartons may be recycled or composted as long as they have no plastic components. If they do have a plastic spout or other plastic element they should be recycled. In general, Recology does not have a recommended preference whether plastic-free milk and other cartons are recycled or composted.

Can metal bottle caps be recycled?
Yes, bottle caps go in the blue recycling bin.
When I recycle soap bottles what should I do with the pump?
The entire bottle with pump can be recycled. The same goes for all lotion, spray, and other recyclable bottles.
I'm skeptical that Recology drivers will notice the small bag of batteries I place on top of the blue bin for recycling.  I think they will miss it and the big mechanical claw will place the batteries in the the recycling collection bin.

Recology drivers are trained to keep an eye out for battery collection on residential recycling cart.  They have a special compartment on trucks to store the collected batteries.  If you are still in doubt, you may hand deliver your used batteries to the collection container at City Hall or another recycling center. 

Should cardboard boxes be broken down before being recycled? 
It is not required, but it is helpful to have the cardboard boxes broken down to save room in the collection containers.
Can those plastic basket containers that the strawberries come in (at the farmer's market), go in the recycling bin?
The best option is to bring a reusable container, such as a jar, to store the strawberries and leave the green plastic basket.  Another option is to return the plastic basket to the farmers stand and ask if they can reuse them.
Are the plastic caps to big bottles (e.g. liter soda bottles, lemonade bottles) recyclable?
Yes, they are recyclable as long as the cap is not black plastic.
  • greenlid If it isn't black, please leave the cap attached to the plastic container and toss it in the recycle bin.
  • blacklidIf the cap is black, please discard in the trash since the machines at the Shoreway Environmental Center cannot identify black plastic.
Which bin do I put the air freshener canisters, the pump kind or spray that one finds in a bathroom?
If they are completely empty, they can go in the recycling.
Egg cartons, paper bags without food residue - we had been putting in the recycling bin, but it seems like they can go in either compost or recycle bin?  What would the City or Recology prefer?  What is best from the reduce/reuse/recycle perspective?
If they are clean, Recology prefers them to be recycled into a new product. If they are soiled, then they should go into the compost bin where they can break down.
Are the foil-covered plastic, single-use contact lenses recyclable if the foil top is removed?
Yes, if the plastic part has a recycling logo then the packaging can be recycled if the foil top is removed.
How can I dispose of a bottle of oil, container of mayonnaise, peanut butter, and similar items that haven't been used for a long time?
  • To dispose small amounts of kitchen oil, absorb it with a paper towel and compost the towel, then recycle the empty bottle.
  • For larger amounts of kitchen oil that you cannot recycle or reuse, pour the old oil into a non-recyclable sealable container and dump in the trash.
  • If you have motor oil, recycle it at a collection center or recycle it at the curb.
  • For containers of mayonnaise, peanut butter, and similar items, those would have to be emptied first before placing it in the recycling bin. They can be wiped out with a paper towel then composted. If necessary, they can also be rinsed in the drain as long there's no oil or grease.
Can I recycle aluminum foil pans?
Yes, please put empty aluminum foil pans in the recycle bin.
Are plastic red party cups (red plastic outside, white plastic inside) recyclable?
Yes, they can be recycled.
Are plastic clam shell containers accepted for recycling?
clamshellplasticcontainerYes, these containers are accepted in the blue recycling bin.

Compost (Green Bin)

Does the composting of the green bin contents produce methane?
In composting, waste goes through aerobic (with oxygen) decomposition which produces carbon dioxide. In landfills, waste goes undergoes anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition which produces methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas emission that is 26 times stronger than carbon dioxide. That's why it is important to divert food and yard waste away from landfills and into composting.
Should paper towels be recycled or composted?
Compost paper towels and napkins. The fibers in the paper towels are too small to be recycled.
What should I do with cooking oil?
Recology recommends that small amounts of grease should be wiped up with a paper towel and put in the compost bin. Cooking oil should be stored in a container and dropped off at the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. Containers of up to 15 gallons can be dropped off. In general, Recology does not accept oil or grease in any bins. Grease should never be poured down the drain.
Can newspapers be used as lining in the compost bin?
Yes, newspapers make a great lining in compost bins.
Are tissues, paper napkins, and paper towels compostable?
Yes, all those paper products are compostable and should be composted in the green bin. Paper plates and paper cups are also compostable.
Can I start a composting service if I live in an apartment building?
Individual residential units may start a composting service, but its best to encourage the building owner to start composting for the entire building. Composting services cost less than garbage services, so the owner may find cost savings in composting. Contact Recology at 650-598-8239.
Where do the paper wrappers from butter go?
Paper wrappers can go in the compost bin.
Where should I put the transparent paper that delis put over cold cuts before they wrap them in paper? 
If it is not plastic, it can go into the compost bin.
Are to go coffee cups compostable? How should I dispose of the lid?
The cup and sleeve can go in the compost. If the lid is not black plastic, it can go into the recycling bin as long as it has the chasing arrows (recycling symbol) on it, which most do. If the lid is black plastic, it goes in the black garbage bin.


Are disposable drink cups from fast food outlets (i.e. paper outside and wax coating on inside) compostable or recyclable?
These drink cups are compostable.
Ice cream containers have a waxy coating on the outside but appear to be made of paper. Can they be composted or recycled?
Ice cream containers are similar to Starbucks or Peet’s coffee cups. They can go into the compost bin.
Are wine corks compostable? I have some that seem natural and others that seem synthetic
Natural wine corks can be placed in the compost. The plastic coated ones would be considered garbage.
Should plain tissue paper from gift bags/boxes go in the recycling bin or in the compost bin?
It is best to place these in the compost bin.
Can I recycle pizza boxes?
No, most people think that these boxes can go into the recycling since they are cardboard. But due to the food residue and grease, they must go in the compost bin (or trash if no compost bin available).
I heard that the green compostable bags aren't really compostable.  Is that true?

The green compostable bags that are most commonly used come from a company called BioBag. Their bags are certified compostable which means that they can be consumed by micro-organisms in an industrial setting and meets specifications found in the ASTM D6400. This means that if you throw a compostable bag in the green bin, it will turn into compost eventually because the compost facility at Recology can reach temperatures high enough to break down the bag (i.e. 50 degrees Celsius). However, if you were to compost a compostable bag in your backyard, it is likely that the temperature of the environment would not be high enough to break apart the bag, therefore the bags aren’t really compostable in a home compost bin. For more information about BioBag’s compostable bags, please visit their FAQs.

Landfill (Black Bin)

Can Styrofoam by recycled?
Styrofoam needs to go in the black garbage bin or could be recycled by Green Citizen for a small fee.
I've been hearing a lot about straws lately. Can they be recycled?
Drinking straws cannot be recycled and need to go in the black garbage bins. You may be hearing about straws in the news because they are a popular trash item on our beaches and in our oceans. Some cities and countries are exploring ways to avoid straw waste.
I came across a package of transparencies and am wondering the best way to dispose of it?
The transparencies are considered garbage and go in the black bins. However, before you throw them away, consider donating them to a school or resource center. Check out these places for craft/school donations:
I use a lot of printer labels. Can the paper holding the labels be recycled?
No the back of any sticker rolls, including labels, is garbage and cannot be recycled.
Is chewing gum compostable?
Chewing gum is not compostable due to the plastics/rubber used to make the gum. Gum goes into the black bin as garbage.
Can empty medical inhaler units be recycled?
Since inhalers are made of mixed materials - plastic and metal - they cannot be recycled and have to go in the garbage. Recology recommends checking whether the inhaler manufacturers have a recycling return program.
We have white packaging material (think polystyrene) from our TV purchase. It has a ''6'' in the recycling triangle stamped on it. Can I recycle it?
Unfortunately, no. Recology San Mateo does not recycle packaging bags or any styrofoam. Styrofoam can be taken to Green Citizen for recycling.
Can I recycle my Brita water filters? I think they are plastic and contain charcoal.
Brita filters cannot be recycled by Recology. However, Brita has a partnership to recycle their products with TerraCycle. Sign up to receive a FREE shipping label and send old Brita filters to be recycled.
Can wire clothes hangers be recycled in the blue bin?
No, they cannot be recycled, but they may be returned to most dry cleaners.
Can lint go in the compost bin?
No, lint cannot be composted since dryer lint often contains synthetic fibers from fabrics that cannot break down in compost. However, instead of putting it in the garbage bin, consider leaving it outside (such as in a bird suet cage) for birds to use to fluff their nests.
Can dog feces go in the compost bin?
No, all animal waste must go in the garbage and cannot be composted due to parasite dangers.
Do you have any suggestions for fabric recycling?  I often have clothing, or linens that aren't good enough to donate because of wear.
Recology of San Mateo does not recycle textiles. However, worn out clothing and linens could be taken to Goodwill. Most thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army participate in textile recycling. In fact, only about 20% of clothes that are taken to these thrift stores end up being sold, the rest is sold to textile recyclers.

Some stores also accept worn clothes for recycling. North Face, H&M, and Madewell collect used apparel and shoes and provide discounts to customers that bring items in.

Another option is to contact the Peninsula Humane Society - they often take old linens as bedding for animals.
If I have a plastic item, and I don't know if it's recyclable, is it best to throw it in the blue recycling bin or the regular trash bin?
It is best to put it in the trash.
Are the Keurig K-Cups recyclable?
No, please put K-Cups in the black garbage bin.
What should I do with juice packs?
Juice packs (made by Tetra Pak) are not recyclable and belong in the garbage bin.
Can the tops of toothpaste tubes (on the tubes that stand on the cap) be removed and put in recycling or are they trash just like the tube?
These cannot be recycled in our blue recycling bins. However, they can be recycled through TerraCycle’s Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Recycling Program. Note: this program collects any brand of waste and includes toothpaste tubes and caps, mouthwashes, deodorants, toothbrushes, floss containers, and soap packaging.
Are facial sheet masks compostable?
No, these single-use masks and their packaging must be disposed in the garbage. A reusable alternative would be to make your own sheet mask using a washable cotton cloth.
In which bin do I put the plastic bags that I use to hold fruit and veggies when I'm weighing and purchasing them at the grocery store?
The short answer is the black bin, however before doing that here are some options to consider:

  1. Reduce the amount of plastic bags you use by getting reusable produce bags and bringing them with you along with a reusable tote bag for your grocery store purchases. Here are some examples of these produce bags: BahrEco, ChicoBag, and Crate & Barrel.
  2. Reuse the plastic bag. These small bags are great for lining small trash bins (such as ones for a bathroom) or, if you have a dog, they are great for picking up dog poop.
  3. Recycle the plastic bag at a recycling facility. Although the plastic bags cannot be recycled in the blue bin at home, they can be recycled in downtown Burlingame at the Safeway or Mollie Stone's grocery stores (click here for additional drop-off locations). In addition, plastic bags and other recyclable materials (e.g., large cardboard, electronic waste, etc.) can also be recycled at the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos (see Public Recycling Center).


Which bin do I put the snack bags (e.g. Fritos , Hot Cheetos, etc.)? They seem metallic and there is no sign of a chasing arrow on the package.
fritosThese shiny, metallic film food wrappers (sometimes referred as mylar) should be disposed in the garbage bin. The better option would be to avoid buying products that contain mylar.


I read recently that cartons that hold things like chicken broth, which to me are similar to milk cartons, are NOT recyclable. What is the difference between those kind of cartons and cartons of milk?
Tetra-PakBroth/stock/coconut water and similar packaging that is bought off the shelf are usually in a Tetra Pak container. Tetra Pak containers are made up of multiple materials designed to preserve the contents for shelf life (which is why it is stored in the dry food aisle but needs to be refrigerated once opened). Because of that, this packaging is not recyclable or compostable and must be discarded in the garbage.
How should I dispose of a pot with scratched Teflon?
This cannot be recycled and goes in the garbage.
Are plastic utensils recyclable?
No, these must be disposed in the garbage bin.
We own a rabbit and was wondering if the contents of its soiled hay bin can go into the green yard waste bin?
Unfortunately, animal waste is not accepted in the green compost bin.
Are CDs and DVDs recyclable?
They are not accepted in the Recology recycling program. However, they can be dropped off at Green Citizen in Burlingame for a small fee ($0.50/lb to recycle).
I've seen LOTS of cigarette butts on the streets, do these eventually biodegrade or are they just litter?
cigarette-buttsThey are litter. Most cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate which is a form of plastic. The white fibers in the filter do not readily biodegrade since it is NOT made of cotton but a plastic that can persist in the environment as long as other forms of plastic. When cigarette butts are littered on the ground, they break into smaller pieces and wind up in the soil or swept into local waterways, which contributes to water pollution.
Are cotton balls compostable even if they have makeup on them?
No, they are considered garbage. However, a zero waste option would be to get reusable, organic cotton rounds that can be washed.
Are cotton swabs such as Q-Tips® recyclable? 
These are also considered garbage.

If you need to use cotton swabs, a more environmentally-friendly option would be to get ones that are made of 100% organic cotton or 100% bamboo, since conventional cotton is generally grown with pesticides that pollute the environment, including farms, soil, and waterways.
Are gum wrappers (foil outside/paper inside) recyclable?
No, they are garbage.
Are receipts recyclable?

No, most receipts are made up of thermal paper and need to be placed in to the garbage. In addition, these receipts contain bisphenol A (BPA), which is an endocrine disruptor, so it is recommended to discard old receipts rather than to hold on to them.

How do I dispose of halogen or incandescent light bulbs?
halogen_bulbHalogen bulbs and incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury so Burlingame residents, businesses, and property managers can put them in the black landfill bin.

Other (No Bin)

What do we do with household hazardous chemicals left at our house by the previous owner?
Chemicals, paints and other hazardous materials can be dropped off at a collection event – see list of collection events here – or you can be make an appointment to drop off the items (click here to make an appt.).
I'm moving and need to get rid of my old mattress. Is there a way I can recycle it?
To recycle an old mattress schedule a bulky item pick up with Recology. Burlingame residents are eligible for two free bulky item pick-ups a year. Alternatively, if you are buying a new mattress California law requires retailers that are delivering new mattresses to offer the option of having the used one picked up for free at the time of delivery.
What is the proper way to dispose of used, empty propane canisters, like those used in plumbing?
Empty propane canisters should be disposed through the San Mateo County's Household Hazardous Waste Program. However, they have to be smaller than 5 gallons.  You can schedule an appointment with the County by calling 650-372-6200 or online at https://www.smchealth.org/hhw
Where can I dispose of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs or fluorescent tubes?
compact_fluorescent_bulbsBecause compact fluorescent light (CFL), fluorescent tubes, high-intensity-discharge (HID) bulbs, and neon signs contain mercury (which is harmful to humans and the environment), these items are considered hazardous waste and should not be placed in any dumpsters.

The easiest way to recycle fluorescent light bulbs is to drop them off at select hardware stores, such as Home Depot or IKEA stores. Please call store and confirm they will accept the bulbs.

They may also be dropped off at the 
Shoreway Environmental Center or you can make an appointment to bring them to San Mateo County's Hazardous Waste drop off.
Where we can recycle our old electronics like old hair dryers, power cords, etc.?
E-waste items such as these can be taken to Green Citizen, a local electronic recycling center known for their responsible and trackable e-waste recycling. For a list of other locations to recycle e-waste, please visit http://recyclestuff.org

You may also make an appointment to drop off other hazardous waste like paint and chemicals at a San Mateo County's Hazardous Waste drop off location
What about old prescription medicines?
Expired or no longer needed medications should be taken to a medicine disposal kiosk. Kiosks are located at the Burlingame Police Station and Walgreens. To drop off medications put prescription or over the counter pills in a bag and deposit in the kiosk. Plastic pill containers can be recycled. Liquid medicine, creams and gels should be deposited in their original packaging.
What do we do with old ice packs (the kind that come with food shipments) that we don't need?
It would be best to contact the County Household Hazardous program since we do not know the contents of the ice packs.
What can I do with large plastic wrap, the ones used for packaging bulky materials or to cover the ground during painting?
If it is clean plastic film, you can drop it off at the Shoreway Environmental Center at 333 Shoreway Rd. San Carlos or any grocery store. If it is soiled, it cannot be recycled and must go into the garbage.
What can I do with used aerosol cans?
If the aerosol can is full or partially full, it is considered a household hazardous item and can be dropped off at the County's collection facility (schedule an appointment here) or at a collection event. If the aerosol can is empty, it can go in the blue recycling bin.
I have a small box of brake cleaner, carburetor cleaner and wax. How can I dispose of these?
These would have to go through the San Mateo County Household Hazardous Waste Program.
Where should I dispose of a broken toaster oven?
Appliances can be dropped off at the Shoreway Environmental Center or they can be scheduled through the On-Call Bulky Item Collection Program (residents get 2 free pick-ups per year).
Are Ziploc bags recyclable?
Ziploc bags, like plastic bags, cannot be recycled in the blue recycling bins. However, most grocery stores that have recycling receptacles for plastic bags may also accept these Ziploc bags as well. For drop-off locations to recycle these plastic film materials, visit PlasticFilmRecycling.org.
Are there ways to donate old shoes?
Yes, if you have new or gently worn shoes it is best to donate them rather than to recycle them. There are numerous organizations that will accept donated shoes, such as Goodwill or Soles4Souls. If the shoes are extremely worn out, then they can be disposed through the Bulky Item Collection Program (residents receive two free pickups per year).
I'm wondering if you can tell me where to recycle or how to dispose of expired child car seats.

Car seats are challenging. Car seats have an expiration date because they are safety-tested for an average lifespan. Furthermore, they sometimes undergo recalls and may possess old replacement parts. Also, many of their component materials do not break down.

Unfortunately, Recology does not have a curbside recycling program for car seats. However,  there are 3 options for disposal. Thank you to one of our readers for pointing out these tips!

  • Option 1: Trade in your old seat at Target through their Car Seat Trade-in Event and receive a 20 percent off coupon on a new seat, stroller, or select baby gear. 
  • Option 2: If you can’t make it to the Target Car Seat Trade-in Event, you can also drop off the car seat year-round at a local California Highway Patrol (CHP) office. The closest location to Burlingame is in Redwood City, please call the Redwood City CHP office at 650-369-6261 for their hours.
  • Option 3: Call Recology to schedule a bulky-item pick up (residents get 2 free pick ups per year).
Are there eco-friendly alternatives to toothbrushes?

Yes, conventional toothbrushes are made of plastic. However, if you are looking for an eco-friendly alternative, search for 100% organic bamboo toothbrushes since the handle can be composted.