Ask the Experts: What Can I Do With Extra Food?

Q: What can I do with extra food?

A: That’s a great question, and we’ll get to the answers shortly! First, it’s worthwhile to consider how to avoid having food waste. Here are some helpful food waste reduction tips and tricks to manage and store food after visiting the grocery store.

 

Despite our best efforts, we all sometimes end up with more food than we can eat. Instead of throwing food away, we have a lot of options that can help our wallets, other people and the planet.

Get Creative in the Kitchen

Sometimes we are just tired of our leftovers. But instead of thinking of leftovers as meals, we can think of them as ingredients for making new dishes. Leftover veggies, meats and grains can easily be transformed into a new meal such as a casserole, a pasta dish or soups. To see what you can do with food that is starting to go bad, or for recipe inspiration from leftovers or raw ingredients, check out Love Food Not Waste.

Freeze It

Not feeling those leftovers at the moment? Freeze them for later!

While you can freeze just about anything, there are a few guidelines to follow. For example, make sure hot food has cooled down before storing in the freezer to avoid freezer burn. Do not leave uncooked or thawing food out of the refrigerator or freezer for more than a couple hours. Transfer refrigerated leftovers to the freezer within four days and be cautious about mold or slime. Also, be intentional about eating the frozen meals that can get lost in the back of the freezer – make a plan to eat them and avoid unintended waste.

Donate It

One of the most impactful options you have for your extra food is to donate it. About one in eight Americans faces hunger, according to Feeding America, and about forty percent of food grown, processed and transported in the United States is never eaten.

Donate unwanted food to Second Harvest Food Bank or another nearby food bank. Keep in mind that food banks and charities will typically only accept non-perishable items.

If your backyard fruit trees produce more than you can use, there are local groups that can pick and distribute the extras to others.

Repurpose Food Scraps and Waste

We can use some food scraps (carrot, celery and apple peels are nutritious dog favorites) or cooked meats and grains (not heavily seasoned) to feed our furry friends. See a list of human foods that dogs can eat.

Don’t have a furry friend in your life? You can also use vegetable scraps to grow new food. Many veggie scraps can be grown right on your windowsill with no need for an outdoor garden!

Compost It

Another environmentally friendly home for your fruit, veggie and grain food scraps is your backyard compost pile. Backyard composting keeps organic material out of the landfill, creates rich soil and helps combat climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Don’t have a backyard compost pile? If you’re interested, sign up for a free online home composting class and learn how to get started. Otherwise, rest assured that in San José, organics from your garbage are separated after collection and composted. Learn more about the process here.

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The Five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

We’ve all probably heard of the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” But do you know about the other two “Rs”? 

The Five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

The Five Rs are guiding principles for reducing the waste we produce, and they follow a specific order. Here’s the hierarchy in order of importance, and more information on each of the Rs:

  • Refuse: This is the first and leading principle that tells us to refuse anything we don’t really need. Even if it’s free, if you don’t really need it, say no. Politely decline knick-knacks and other promotional freebies, single-use items like utensils, cups and food ware, and anything else that isn’t truly essential in our lives. This is the first step to cutting down on our waste. 
  • Reduce: Reducing goes along with refusing, in terms of thinking about what is actually needed and cutting out what is not. Whenever possible, we can make choices to reduce the things we use, such as bringing our own bags to the grocery store, our own water bottle to events or a reusable cup to the coffee shop.
  • Reuse: It’s important to note that reuse comes before recycling, and this means that whenever possible, we should see if items can be repurposed. Old pasta jars, for example, can be repurposed as containers for dried food items.

    Reuse also means that instead of tossing something out that we don’t need anymore, if it is still usable we can donate it or give it to somebody who can continue to use it. BuyNothing groups, Freecycle and Craigslist are all great ways to donate gently-used items or find an item you may need yourself. There are numerous thrift stores in San José that will take items you discard as well. 

  • Recycle: If we are unable to reuse items, and they are recyclable, we can recycle them so the material can be converted into something new. While recycling is a way to extend the lifespan of a material, it still requires resources and energy. Some materials, like plastic, have a limited number of times they can be recycled before their quality is diminished and they can no longer be recycled. Visit SanJoseRecycles.org to learn more about what you can recycle in San José. 
  • Rot: And finally, rot means creating a valuable resource from food waste and organics by home composting. Recycle your fruits, vegetables, and yard trimmings into a nutrient-rich soil fertilizer that helps your garden grow while reducing waste to the landfill. Sign up for a free online home composting class to get started and learn the basics. Unable to have your own home compost pile? No problem. Here in San José, organics from your garbage are separated after collection and composted. Learn more about the process here.

And that’s the Five Rs. By following these guiding principles, we take steps towards reducing our waste and keeping valuable items out of the landfill and reducing our impact on the planet!

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What to Do with Your Old Clothes

Did you know that textiles – such as clothes, shoes, and towels – are taking up more and more space in landfills every year?  According to the EPA, Americans threw away over 11 million tons of textiles in 2018.

In San José, textiles are not accepted in curbside recycling bins or carts. However, that doesn’t mean that items like used clothes and shoes need to go to the landfill – there are many options to reuse, upcycle, or recycle your discarded items after you’re finished with them:

  1. Donate – If your items are in good condition, consider donating them. Just be sure only to donate items that still have some life left in them. You can also check with friends, family, or neighbors to see if they’d like any items.
  2. Turn them into cash – Clothing that is still in good condition can be turned into cash through online resellers or taken to a local consignment shop.
  3. Give back – Before donating or selling, it’s also good to check whether your clothing brand takes back its old clothes. Some retailers also accept clothing for recycling and offer benefits such as discounts on your next purchase.
  4. Repurpose – If your clothes are too worn to be donated, sold, or given back, consider repurposing them as cleaning cloths. Instead of buying reusable rags or washcloths, you can make your own from cut-up pieces of clothes.
  5. Last Resort: Place in the Garbage – If you have tried options one through four and still need to discard your items, put them into your curbside garbage container.

Once you’ve cleaned items from your closet, you’ll want to ensure you don’t have to repeat the exercise very soon. Be mindful of what you buy – favoring quality purchases that will last and that you’ll look forward to wearing for many years to come. Consider shopping secondhand for clothes in thrift shops and consignment stores. If you just donated or sold your clothes, this will contribute to this more sustainable system.

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What Happens to Organic Materials in San José?

Compostable material in a garbage container being turned into compost.

Ever wonder why San José doesn’t have a separate curbside container to put food scraps, compostable paper (e.g. paper towels, paper napkins, some takeout containers, coffee filters) and other organics? San José has a unique system by which all residential garbage is first taken to a facility where organic materials, like food scraps and compostable paper items, are separated for composting. Once the organics have been separated out, they are delivered to a compost facility right here in Santa Clara County. Leftover materials that can’t be composted – called “residue” – are taken to the landfill. This system is referred to as “backend processing” and is why you don’t have a separate organics bin or cart at home.

San José residents should place all food scraps and compostable paper in their curbside garbage container, and the collection companies and processors will take care of the rest. Finished compost is used on landscaping and median projects, returning nutrients to the soil, improving soil structure, and conserving water. This system of recycling organic waste fights climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and helps the City comply with state regulations to reduce organic waste disposal. Watch the GreenWaste Materials Recovery Facility in action here.

 

What if I Set Out Yard Trimmings in a Pile or Cart?

If you set out yard trimmings either in a loose pile in the street or use a green yard trimmings cart, these are for yard trimmings only. Yard trimmings include items like branches, prunings, leaves, palm fronds, and grass. Do not place food scraps or compostable paper items in your yard trimmings pile or cart. For that matter, dog poop bags do not belong in yard trimmings piles.

Residential yard trimmings are collected and processed separately from the organics separated from your garbage. Yard trimmings are shredded, mulched, and made into a higher-quality compost, commonly used for local agriculture. Watch this video to see how residential yard trimmings are transformed into compost.

 

Compost at Home

Interested in composting at home? Residents are encouraged to try home composting to turn organic material into compost for their yard or garden. To learn home composting basics and sign up for a free composting class (currently held online and tentatively in-person later this summer), visit the Santa Clara County Composting Education Program website. Home composting bins will be available for purchase at the workshops.

 

Stop Food Waste in the First Place

Even though San José’s residential food scraps are composted, it’s still important to avoid wasting food in the first place – check out our food waste reduction tips and tricks.

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Ask the Experts: How Do I Recycle Cardboard?

Have a tough recycling question? We’re here to help! Ask the Experts » 

Q: How do I recycle cardboard? Does it need to be broken down before being placed in the recycling? Can shiny or waxed cardboard be recycled? 

A: Great question. Cardboard boxes should be broken down before placing them in your recycling container. Flattening the boxes makes it easier for workers and recycling facilities to handle, and they take up less space, making more room in your recycling container (and therefore reducing costs) as they travel to the recycling center. If you can’t fit the cardboard in your cart and can’t wait until the next week to fit it in, flatten and cut it into pieces no larger than 4’ x 4’ and lean them against your recycling container.

However, be mindful that not all cardboard can be recycled. 

  • Food and liquid-soiled cardboard is not recyclable and should not be put in the recycling. Soiled cardboard can ruin otherwise good recyclables and make an entire load of materials unrecyclable. Therefore, food and liquid-soiled cardboard belongs in the garbage. If you can rip or cut off the soiled parts, place those in your garbage container and recycle the clean pieces in your recycling container. 
  • Waxed cardboard cannot be recycled. Waxed cardboard is a multi-layered cardboard coated with plastic and is mostly used by retailers for shipping produce, so unless you’ve brought your groceries home in a produce box, you most likely don’t have it in your home. 
  • Unlike waxed cardboard, paperboard and shiny cardboard can be recycled. Some common examples of items in this category include:
  • Cereal 
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Toothpaste
  • Tissues

If you are not sure whether you are dealing with waxed cardboard or shiny cardboard, simply give it a scratch and see if any waxy residue comes off on your fingernail. 

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Now that we know what types of cardboard can be recycled, let’s cover how to break down the boxes: 

1. Remove and separate any extra packaging materials such as plastic foam or bubble wrap. Reuse or place these in the garbage. 

2. Use a box cutter, knife or scissors to cut through any tape or along the edges to flatten the box as much as possible. You do not have to worry about removing tape, staples or adhesives. 

3. Cut or break down until cardboard is flat and can fit into your recycling, then toss it in! If you have more cardboard than your cart will hold, please save any extra for next week’s collection. If it really can’t wait until next week, flatten and cut it into pieces no larger than 4’ by 4’ and lean them against the cart. Tie pieces together with string, twine or packing tape (not duct tape).

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Residents Share Reasons for Recycling Right

Arleen Arimura, a 35-year resident of San José who lives in Willow Glen, has committed to recycling right in her home.

“I recycle right at home because I don’t like the idea that I’m filling our landfills with waste,” she said. “I try to tread lightly on the earth.”

She regularly goes online to check recycling guidelines to make sure she knows what items go where. SanJoseRecycles.org is an online resource where residents can check hundreds of items to find out if they go in the recycling, the garbage or have some other disposal process.

“I know a lot of work goes into preparing recyclables for sale,” she said.

Recycling reduces waste, keeps recyclable materials out of landfills and helps protect the environment. It also saves energy and valuable natural resources, and creates jobs. The efforts contribute to quality of life, health and wellness as well as supporting the local economy.

It also helps the City of San José make progress on its goal Zero Waste Resolution adopted in 2008, in which the city committed to diverting 90 percent of waste to recycling by 2022. Residents have contributed tremendously to this effort.

Making sure the right items are sorted into recycling bins or carts has become even more important as the global market changes for recyclable materials. Before 2018, recycling collectors were able to sell bales of recycled materials more easily to overseas processors than they can today. In 2018, China enacted a new policy that the country would no longer accept imports of recyclables that are mixed with trash, the wrong type of materials, or low-quality materials like food-soiled papers and plastics so it now costs more to sort materials and more bales are rejected if they are contaminated.

Since that policy started, our local recycling companies have a harder time selling recyclable materials and often sell them at a lower price. Processing soiled items and non-recyclables increases costs for the recycling companies, which is why recycling right helps keeps service rates down.

David P. Hott, the director of Operations at Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, is a native of Santa Clara County who has been in San José for more than a decade.

“I believe I have a responsibility to my children and to Mother earth to be mindful of the effects of not recycling,” he said.

Hott said he has set up protocols at home and at work to educate people on the importance of recycling and the need to change behavior.

“We all have a responsibility to be part of the recycling process,” he said. “We have to be sure that we do our part to protect our planet and become more responsible members of the entire sustainability system.”

One of the key concerns for recyclables is ensuring items are emptied and scraped before they go into recycling bins or carts.

Recyclables that have too much food or liquid increase processing costs:

  • Sorting garbage or soiled recyclables from the recycling stream requires more time and labor for recycling companies.
  • Food or liquid-soiled recyclables may contaminate otherwise high-quality recyclables, making them unable to resell.

San José residents can do their part to help clean the recyclables stream:

  • Empty and scrape containers before placing them in your recycling cart or bin.
  • Place food-soiled containers, such as dirty takeout containers, into your garbage cart or bin.
  • Place food waste into your garbage cart or bin so it is sorted and made into compost.
  • Visit SanJoseRecycles.org, a searchable database with hundreds of items, to learn what goes where.

Keep extra garbage out of recycling carts and bins. Residents with single-family service can purchase an extra garbage sticker available at San José Lucky’s and Safeway stores for $6.25 each. Place extra garbage in a 32-gallon plastic bag affixed with the Extra Garbage Sticker and set out next to your garbage cart on collection day.

Happy Earth Day 2021

Read in Spanish (Español) and Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt)

For over 50 years, the world has come together every April for Earth Day, to celebrate our planet and protect its future. In San José, we’re excited to recognize Earth Day this year, and share some important actions we can take to protect our environment and #keepSJclean. 

Recycling is a simple and easy thing you can do every day to make a positive impact on the planet. Recycling is important because it reduces waste, keeps recyclable materials out of the landfill and helps protect the environment. Recycling also saves energy and valuable natural resources, and creates jobs.

To celebrate Earth Day, we are challenging all San José residents to take the #Pledge2RecycleRight. It’s quick and easy to participate – to complete the pledge, visit our digital pledge page and choose a few simple recycle right actions that you’ll commit to trying for Earth Day this year. Examples include subscribing to our bi-monthly newsletter, The Loop, emptying and scraping containers before recycling, or completing some fun and educational family-friendly activities. 

Take the #Pledge2RecycleRight here. Together, we can celebrate Earth Day and help #keepSJclean for years to come. 

Need some pledge inspiration? Check out local community members making their pledge and committing to recycling right. You may just see some familiar San José faces! 

 

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Did you know that mattresses can be recycled?

We spend almost a third of our lives in bed. But what happens when our mattresses and box springs reach the end of their lives?

It is estimated that over 50,000 mattresses are discarded every single day in the United States. And unfortunately, many mattresses will be sent to the landfill or illegally dumped on the side of the road. The good news is that there’s a better way of discarding your mattress.

Mattresses Can Be Recycled!

Your mattress is made of steel, foam, fiber and wood — and when disposed of properly, these materials can be separated and recycled individually. In fact, around 80-90% of mattresses by weight can be recycled. When mattresses are discarded on the side of the road, or otherwise sent to the landfill, these resources are lost and cannot be recovered.

Here are some easy ways you can recycle your mattress:

Donate Mattresses in Like-New Condition

If your mattress is still in excellent condition, consider donating it to a charity or give it away through Freecycle or Craigslist.

Make a Junk Pickup appointment

Mattresses can be picked up through our Junk Pickup program. Learn more about the program and schedule an appointment.

Get Your Old Mattress Picked Up By a Retailer

If you live in California and are having a new mattress delivered to your home, retailers are required by law to offer you the option of picking up your old mattress. Inquire with your retailer, as some services may be affected by COVID-19 and exceptions may apply.

Take it to a Participating Facility

Find a participating facility to recycle your old mattress at no cost to you.

 

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3 Ways to Keep Food Scraps out of the Landfill

 

Have you ever bought a bunch of veggies with dreams of eating healthier and preparing your own meals, only to find you were perhaps a bit too ambitious?

It can be frustrating to be left with food waste in your refrigerator or pantry. While we can take steps to prevent this from happening, we inevitably find ourselves with leftover food scraps sometimes. Here are a few ways to make sure our food scraps don’t go to waste in San José:

  1. Grow Your Own Food

Did you know that some food scraps can be used to grow more food? The next time you end up with scraps from carrots, green onions, beets, and more, you can reuse them to grow new food. No prior experience or exceptional effort required!

Unlike shopping at the grocery store, when you grow your own food, you avoid unnecessary packaging and food that can contain harmful pesticides and preservatives. Your food does not have to travel anywhere to get to you, and the satisfaction of having grown your own food makes it taste even better.

No garden? No problem! Try your hand at easy windowsill gardening – you can use cuttings from store bought herbs to grow your own.

  1. Compost at Home

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Organic materials including fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds and more can be composted into a nutrient-rich soil fertilizer that helps your garden grow. Composting has lots of benefits for your garden like keeping your plants healthy, conserving water, preventing runoff, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sign up for a free home composting workshop to get started!

  1. Place them in the garbage

In San José, residential garbage does not go straight to the landfill. It is first processed at a materials recovery facility, where food waste and other organic materials are sorted out and sent to a composting facility. The finished compost is then used for landscape and median projects.  

Put food scraps into your garbage container, and rest assured that they will be composted. Never put food or liquid in the recycling – they contaminate recyclables, making them less clean and valuable. Food can get stuck in sorting equipment, forcing workers to stop the sorting line to clean it up. Food can also seep into paper products, making the fibers too weak to be recycled.

Learn more about what happens to San José’s residential garbage and recycling here.

 

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Grocery Shop with Reducing and Recycling in Mind

According to the EPA, plastic containers and packaging make up almost 30 percent of garbage nationally. To cut down on food packaging waste, keep these tips in mind when visiting the grocery store. 

  1. Check the Recycling Guide
    You are more empowered to make conscious decisions at the grocery store when you know which materials are recyclable. Check out the SanJoseRecycles.org Recycling Guide for information on how to dispose of food packaging and hundreds of other items. Our website is mobile-friendly so you can quickly pull it up when you’re out shopping. 
  2. Be Prepared
    Bring your own alternatives to replace single-use plastics. The average American family currently takes home about 1,500 bags a year and uses each for only 12 minutes. To cut back, you can bring your own reusable totes and produce bags or simply reuse the bags from your last shopping trip. 
  3. Make Your Own
    Think about packaged foods you could make yourself at home. Find ideas and recipes online to make staples such as bread and crackers, condiments and salad dressings, or nut butters and milks. Staples made at home give you the option of avoiding additives and preservatives and allow for greater flexibility in making and freezing large batches. 
  4. Be Intentional with Your Plastic Purchases
    It can be difficult to ditch plastic and buy only items in sustainable packaging. Don’t get discouraged! Instead be aware and intentional about your purchases. Keep an eye out for the packaged items you need in more sustainable materials like glass, tin and aluminum. Purchasing items in larger containers also reduces packaging. Continue reducing, reusing and recycling packaging whenever you can. 

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