Back to the Basics for 2021: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

As the New Year starts, add a low-waste lifestyle to your list of resolutions. Reducing waste keeps materials out of landfills, saves energy and valuable natural resources, and helps protect the environment. From takeout dining to buying in bulk, we have eight simple tips to help you conquer the three R’s everyday—reduce, reuse and recycle.


  • When shopping, always ask yourself: Do I really need this? Is there a more sustainable way I can get this item? This checkin is a great way to think about what is truly necessary and evaluate whether there are better options without excess packaging waste. 
  • With California’s single-use carry-out bag ban in place, most stores are again allowing customers to bring reusable bags with them. Reusable bags are an easy way to eliminate some unnecessary plastic waste. Call ahead to make sure the store you’re planning to shop at is allowing reusable bags into the store. Alternatively, place unbagged groceries into your shopping cart and bag them into your reusable bags when you get to your car. Bonus points for using reusable produce bags, too. 
  • When shopping for groceries, buy bulk whenever you can, and avoid individually-wrapped foods. Stopping at the butcher shop or farmers market allows you to buy exactly how much food you need while also cutting back on plastic waste from packaging – a double win! 
  • Make home-cooked meals with real ingredients by shopping on the perimeter of a store and avoiding the middle aisles where food tends to be over-packaged to preserve shelf-life.
  • If you’re ordering takeout to eat at home, let the restaurant or delivery service know that you do not want plastic cutlery or a plastic bag. Fed up with all the foam and plastic takeout waste? Try making more meals at home.
  • Make your resolution with a buddy. Although we might not be able to gather together right now, we can set goals together! Share your commitment with friends and check in with each other regularly about new creative ways to reduce waste. 


  • Choose to reuse.  Reuse, sell or donate items that you no longer need. Before making purchases for new items, look to see if they might be available second hand. There are many websites and “virtual garage” social media pages that offer an impressive array of products from home goods and furniture to clothing and toys, among other items. And as a bonus, many items are priced well below similar brand new items. 


  • Recycle Right! Kick-off the new year by correctly disposing of those materials that you can’t reduce or reuseCheck if you are unsure of what goes where. Recycling Right reduces waste, keeps materials out of the landfill, and helps protect the environment. 

Looking for more of a challenge? Go beyond the three R’s and add Refuse and Rot. Find out how here. 

Top Tips to Recycle Right in the New Year

Read in Spanish or Vietnamese

A young boy and girl recycling flattened cardboard.

Are you still looking for a New Year’s resolution? How about an earth-friendly goal such as recycling right? Recycling reduces waste, keeps recyclable materials out of the landfill and helps protect the environment. Recycling also saves energy and valuable natural resources and even creates jobs. 

How can you make recycling right a permanent habit? While changing your recycling behaviors may not become automatic overnight, keeping these eight tips in mind will help you recycle right in the New Year. 

1. When in doubt, find out at 

Do you ever find yourself wondering things like: Can I recycle this milk carton? What about this pile of junk mail? Simply check for answers. We’ve made it easier than ever for San José residents to find out what goes where. 

2. Empty and scrape food and liquids: 

Recycling markets require high-quality, clean materials. To make sure your recyclables meet standards, empty and scrape out food and liquids. Items don’t have to be dishwasher spotless to be recycled. Just grab a utensil and empty and scrape out food or liquids before recycling. 

3. Food-soiled containers belong in the garbage: 

Store-bought food and takeout often come in recyclable packaging, but sometimes they can become too soiled to be recycled. Items made of paper and cardboard, such as pizza boxes, can’t be recycled once soiled with grease or food and belong in the garbage. Durable plastic items like takeout containers should be emptied, scraped, and recycled. If you don’t have time to empty and scrape soiled items, place them in the garbage. 

4. No plastic bags, wraps, films: 

Plastics bags, wraps, and films of any size, shape, or color are not accepted for residential recycling in San José. These items tangle and clog the machinery used to process recyclables, creating operational and safety hazards for workers. If you want to recycle these materials, you can recycle clean plastic bags by bringing them to a drop-off location. Otherwise, try to reuse them or place them in the garbage. 

5. Empty and flatten cardboard boxes: 

When cardboard boxes are not flattened before recycling, carts, and bins overfill quickly. Before recycling a flattened box, it’s also important to remove, separate, and properly sort other packaging. Plastic bags, air pillows, and Styrofoam are not allowed in recycling carts and bins. 

6. Put an end to “wishcycling”: 

If you don’t know where an item goes, don’t have time to look it up, or can’t find it on, place it in the garbage. Do not “wishcycle” and put something in the recycling because you think it should be recycled or hope that it will get recycled 

7. Dispose of household hazardous waste correctly: 

It is important to dispose of HHW correctly. Certain types of HHW, such as batteries and chemicals, can cause physical injury to workers, cause fires, and damage trucks and equipment. Dispose of HHW properly by scheduling a free drop-off appointment at    

8. Subscribe to The Loop: 

Stay informed with The Loop, our semi-monthly newsletter. Each issue features updates and tips on recycling and garbage collection, waste reduction, and more. Visit to subscribe.  

Now that you’ve reviewed our eight tips to recycle right in the New Year, maximize your impact by sharing these tips with friends or family. Feel overwhelmed with these tips? Try implementing one at a time, or focus on just a few to start with.

Christmas Tree Recycling

Three Chistmas Trees

The Do’s and Don’ts of Holiday Tree Recycling.

In San José, holiday trees are picked up and recycled into mulch. By setting out your real holiday trees correctly, you are helping reduce the amount of waste created over the holidays. Watch this short video to learn how holiday tree recycling helps our environment.

Ready to have your tree recycled into mulch? Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to get your tree ready for collection.


  • Remove all items from the tree so it looks the way it did when you purchased or cut it
  • Cut trees into 5-foot pieces
  • If you live in a single-family dwelling, set your tree out on the curb by 6:00 a.m. on your regular collection day. If you live in a multi-family dwelling, check with your property manager for set out instructions
  • Set out on your collection day between December 26th and January 29th, 2021


  • Attempt to recycle artificial trees. Instead, call your recycling company for a free Junk Pickup appointment
  • Put it in your recycle bin
  • Leave it in the tree stand
  • Leave ornaments, tinsel or any other decoration on the tree

Low Waste Alternatives to Traditional Wrapping Paper

gift wrapped in brown wrapping paper

Giving and receiving gifts can be a joyful experience, but the wrapping waste it creates can be a bit off-putting. When it’s just one present, it’s easy to simply toss the wrapping paper or gift bag away and move along. But after a holiday, party or shower, the waste is difficult to ignore.

According to Earth911, 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper alone is produced annually in the US. Approximately half of that – 2.3 million pounds – makes its way to landfills. That’s the equivalent of tossing out 10 Boeing 757 airliners each year!

While matte wrapping paper and gift bags can be recycled, metallic, shiny or glossy types cannot. Be sure to place these types of wrapping paper and bags in the garbage. These types of materials can’t be recycled or composted because it’s made of paper fiber and non-paper materials laminated together. While a lot of wrapping paper and bags belong in the garbage, the good news is there are many inexpensive, sustainable alternatives, and creative ways to repurpose materials.

Here are a few sustainable alternatives:


  • Fabric with a decorative print or interesting color (try tying it in a Japanese Furoshiki style)
  • DIY reusable fabric bags
  • Old pillowcases can be decorated and repurposed for larger gift bags


  • Newspaper with secured with twine* (pro tip: try using the comic section)
  • Paper bags with a piece of nature such as a pine sprig or leaf attached*
  • Cardboard boxes tied with decorative string*

*Remove any non-recyclable material before recycling

Leftover wrapping paper and bags?
If you still have traditional wrapping paper or gift bags hanging around, use and reuse it as many times as possible before tossing in the garbage. Bags, in particular, can be reused several times before disposing of them.

5 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste

dehydrated fruits

Food requires a lot of resources, including land, water and energy. It should come as no surprise then, that the food we waste accounts for a whopping six percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to cut back on food waste. It can even be fun! Check out these five ideas for waste-preventing, emission-reducing inspiration.

1. Store food properly

How you store food makes a big difference in how long it lasts. Use this printable guide to learn how to properly store produce, and find out what parts of your fridge are best for storing different types of foods.

2. Freeze, dehydrate or pickle food that’s about to go bad

If you have too much food sitting in your fridge, don’t let it go to waste. Extra bananas can be peeled and frozen for future use in breads and smoothies. Other fruit like peaches and berries can be frozen and stored for smoothies, pies and other baked goods. Uncooked meat can be frozen for future meals, and cooked meals like soup can be frozen for an easy meal on a lazy day. To explore more food saving tips, tricks and recipes, visit

Have an abundance of fruit or veggies from your garden harvest or a deal at the supermarket? Try dehydrating and storing them for use later. This guide will help you reach the perfect level of dehydration for storage.

If you have extra veggies like cabbage, carrots, cucumber or green beans, try pickling them to make them last. You don’t have to learn canning, either — quick pickling works just as well.

3. Eat veggies without peeling

Not only will it save you a lot of work, it will cut down on food waste, increase your dish’s flavor and give you more nutrients. The veggies you can stop peeling include beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Worried about dirt? Soak your veggies in water for a few minutes to get most of it off, then use a vegetable brush to finish the job.

4. Find ways to eat the parts of your food you’d normally toss

If there’s a part of some kind of food that you always toss, see if there’s a way you could make it edible. Here are some of our ideas:

5. Put your food scraps to work

Not all food scraps are destined for the bin. Try out some of these fun ideas to give your scraps a second life:

  • Make a broth out of carrot, celery and onion scraps.
  • Make an exfoliating coffee scrub out of used coffee grounds. Simply add a little oil of your choice (like coconut or jojoba) to freshly brewed grounds and exfoliate away! Use a drain catcher to keep the grounds from clogging up your plumbing.
  • Make potpourri from dried orange and other citrus peels.
  • Grow new plants out of food scraps.

While reducing food waste is always best, there are times when you must dispose of some food. Add your food scraps to a backyard compost pile or bin if you have one. Otherwise, all food scraps belong in your black garbage cart. They will be removed for composting.

If you have leftovers in a recyclable container, be sure to empty and scrape any food into the garbage before recycling the container. If it is too soiled with food or liquid, place the container in the garbage as well. Food-soiled containers can contaminate otherwise clean recyclables, making them unrecyclable.

November 15: America Recycles Day

America Recycles Day is November 15th. To celebrate, people all across America are taking the day to organize, educate and improve our recycling systems. Here in San José, we’ve put together some family-friendly recycling activities and resources for residents to explore on our America Recycles Day webpage.

Why Recycle?

So, why does recycling need a special day? The United States recycles less than 22% of discarded materials, although much more could actually be recycled. Many of these items could be recycled and turned into new products. For example, recycling five plastic bottles produces enough fiber to fill one winter jacket. Recycling also keeps these items out of landfills and saves energy and valuable natural resources. America Recycles Day is an opportunity to educate and inspire our neighbors, communities, families and friends to recycle right and make a difference.

Take Action

A great way to start creating meaningful change is to educate yourself on what’s recyclable. Check out our recycling guide on to learn how to dispose of hundreds of commonly used items as well as informative tips and tricks on how to recycle, reduce, and reuse.

Visit our America Recycles Day webpage for videos, webinars, fun activities for kids like word searches, crosswords and bingo, and more!

Help us spread the word about America Recycles Day and the importance of recycling right. By committing to recycling right and sharing these resources with others, together we can #keepSJclean.

Tricks to Beat the Plastic-Wrapped Treats

candy corn in mug

Americans bought 600 million pounds of Halloween candy in 2019, and of the top ten most loved brands, eight are wrapped in plastic. For a holiday that encompasses just a single night, that’s a whole lot of single-use plastic.

Unfortunately, plastic wrappers are not recyclable because they’re too small to be sorted and there is currently not a recycling market for them. So wrappers must be thrown in the garbage where they will end up in a landfill.

If you love candy, but hate the waste check out these sweet tips:

  • No-Wrapper Candy
    (e.g. candy corn, gummy bears and chocolate-covered raisins)
    Some candies can be purchased from the bulk bins with no wrapper, which is the most environmentally-friendly option. No-wrapper candies are perfect for candy bowls at home and other places where germs are less of a concern. Bring a reusable bag to prevent more plastic waste!
  • Foil-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Kisses and gold coins)
    While the wrappers will still be too small to recycle, foil is non-toxic and decomposes more rapidly than plastic.
  • Paper- and WaxPaper-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Pixy Stix and Bits-O-Honey)
    Like foil-wrapped candy, these items are too small to be recycled but have less of an environmental impact.
  • Paper-Boxed Candies
    (e.g. Nerds, Dots, Milk Duds, chocolate-covered raisins and Junior Mints)
    Paper boxes can be recycled once empty if clean. Unlike plastic wrappers, paper boxes can be shredded into pulp and recycled into various paper products.

No matter how you celebrate this Halloween, do your part to minimize single-use plastic and reduce your impact on the planet.

California Expands Drug Takeback Program

pills on orange background

Disposing of old medicine properly has benefits for public health and the environment. Both accidental and recreational illegal use are proven to increase when old or unwanted medicine are kept around the house. Throwing medicine away in the garbage can land it in the wrong hands, while flushing it risks polluting our water systems. Advanced treatment technology used at wastewater treatment plants still cannot remove these medicines from the water, so they can pass through the treatment plant and into our waterways. Traces of pharmaceuticals have been found in streams and tap water across the county.

So what is the best way to get rid of unwanted medications? That’s easy: properly dispose of it at any of more than 300 designated disposal locations across California.

There are many new safe take-back locations for California residents. Here in Santa Clara County, the Med-Project has expanded for the disposal of unused or unwanted medication to more than 100 sites across the county!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Remove pills from bottle or other container.
  2. Keep creams and liquids in original containers and remove or cover your name and other sensitive information.
  3. Check to make sure your unwanted items are accepted in the program.
  4. Bring pills in a zipper bag and any liquids/creams to a location on the map (below) and place in the proper bin.

Visit to find a free drop-off bin near you.

Questions About Plastic Recycling?

Have you ever found yourself confused about which plastics are recyclable? You are not alone. In San José, many common plastic items are accepted in our curbside recycling program but unfortunately, not all plastics have viable markets to be reprocessed into new products.

The plastic section of our recycling guide on offers a comprehensive list detailing which items belong in the recycling and which belong in the garbage.

Here’s a quick reference guide for plastic recycling in San José:


  • PET #1 bottles and containers
  • HDPE #2 bottles and containers
  • #3-7 bottles and containers
  • Durable plastic items such as laundry soap containers and large plastic jugs

Not Recyclable

  • Small, flimsy plastic that easily snaps, rips, or breaks apart. This includes: Plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils, plastic wrap, plastic sandwich bags, plastic chip bags, candy wrappers, food and drink pouches, frozen food bags
  • Foam takeout containers, cups, egg cartons and meat trays
  • Cups, plates, bowls, and utensils labeled “compostable”

Along with other recyclable materials, all of San José’s plastics are collected, sorted and processed, sold on the worldwide commodities market, and eventually re-manufactured into new products or packaging. The market dictates what gets recycled in the end but here in San José we ensure our recycling collection vendor contracts do not allow program recyclables to be landfilled when the market fluctuates.

When you recycle right, you help reduce program costs, save time and effort, and help ensure that all our recyclables get recycled. When too many dirty items or too many of the wrong items, get into a recycling cart or bin there are increased costs to remove these items at the recycling facility.

Recycling clean is the best way to make sure accepted plastics get recycled. Bottles, jars, and other containers need to be empty of all food and liquid to be recycled. Empty and scrape plastic containers so they can be recycled, sold, and made into new products.

San José is committed to reducing plastic waste. The City enacted the Foam Food Container Ordinance and the Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance to encourage sustainable practices while also continuously promoting and educating San José residents on waste reduction and recycling best practices. Visit for more information and tips.

What NOT to Recycle in San José

What not to recycle

In a world with information at our fingertips, you’re just a quick internet search away from finding out what items are recyclable these days. But it can be harder to find details on what not to recycle. In San José, recycling is easy. You can always recycle empty glass, cans, plastic containers, and clean and dry paper and cardboard. When deciding what goes where, keeping the wrong items out of your recycle bin or cart is as important as putting the right items in.

Did you know that items soiled with food or liquid can ruin otherwise good recyclables and make an entire load of materials unrecyclable? Pizza boxes are a great example. Once you’ve finished your pizza, the box’s bottom is usually soiled with grease or food, making it unrecyclable because the grease can’t be separated from the paper fibers during the recycling process. If that box is put in with recyclables, the recycling machinery might process, sort, and bale the greasy pizza box with the clean carboard and make the final bale of cardboard less valuable. Dirty bales can even be unsellable and end up as garbage.

Instead of throwing away the whole box, you can tear off the clean top for recycling, and place the greasy bottom in the garbage. Pizza boxes and other soiled paper are sorted out of the garbage and sent to a local composting facility to be turned into a product used for city landscape and median projects.

Other important items that should never go in the recycling are dirty takeout containers; masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE); items that tangle like hoses, cords, rope, and wires; and batteries, fire extinguishers, and propane/helium tanks. Keeping these items out of your recycling protects essential workers and helps San José recycle clean.

To help you remember what to keep out of the recycling, we’ve created this easy-to-use What Not to Recycle Reference Sheet with additional recycle right tips. The reference sheets are also available in Spanish and Vietnamese.