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 Med-Project.org 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 SanJoseRecycles.org 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:

Recyclable

  • 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 SanJoseRecycles.org 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.

Environmental Footprint of Milk Containers

bowl of cereal

From traditional cow milk to vegan options like hemp milk, a wide variety of milk is available these days. Milk comes in three main types of packaging: the carton, the plastic jug and the glass bottle. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each of these packaging options to determine which is friendliest to our planet.

Cartons

Pros:

  • Milk cartons are lightweight, which minimizes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to transportation. Less weight also means less material used in creating new cartons. On average a carton is 94% product and 6% container by weight.
  • Recycled cartons are used to make office paper, tissue paper, and building materials.

Cons:

  • Paper cartons can’t be recycled into new cartons. This means all milk cartons must be made from virgin materials.

Plastic Jug

Pros:

  • Plastic jugs are made of a single material and therefore can be recycled.
  • Plastic jugs are the lightest weight option of the three most common container types. On average a plastic jug is 96% product and 4% container by weight. This means they have the lowest GHG emissions related to transportation.

Cons:

  • Plastic jugs are not recycled into new plastic jugs due to sanitary concerns. Plastic jugs are typically “downcycled” into materials such as composite lumber. This means virgin plastic is used for all plastic jugs.
  • Plastic is made from fossil fuels.

Glass Bottles

Pros:

  • Glass bottles are highly recyclable. Recycled bottles can be made into new bottles.
  • Some brands such as Straus reuse bottles through a deposit system. This eliminates the energy needed to remanufacture bottles.

Cons:

  • Glass is heavy. On average a glass bottle is 75% product and 25% container by weight. Transporting milk in glass results in higher GHG emissions than transporting milk in cartons or plastic jugs.
  • Extracting new materials for new glass is energy-intensive.

While each type of container has its pros and cons, glass bottles are the most environmentally friendly option. This is due to the fact that extraction and manufacturing require the most energy in a milk container’s lifecycle. Glass bottles have a clear advantage over cartons and plastic jugs because they can be easily recycled into new bottles or even reused without remanufacturing. However, milk sold in glass bottles is usually more expensive than milk sold in cartons or plastic jugs. If milk sold in glass is too expensive, reach for the plastic jug instead. Remember to recycle your glass bottles, plastic jugs and cartons completely empty.

Ask The Experts: What Can I Do with Old T-Shirts?

t-shirts on hangers
recycle questions

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

Q: I’ve got too many t-shirts. What can I do other than throw them away?

A: Many of us have a shelf or drawer filled with t-shirts from events or gatherings that are meaningful. But what can you do when, over time, these items wear out, or there are just too many of them? Repurpose them! There are a lot of easy home crafts and interesting ways to reuse an old t-shirt and save it from going to a landfill.

New or Usable T-Shirts

Some t-shirts just aren’t the right size or fit, or don’t get worn as much as originally planned. If they’re new or like-new, they can be donated to a local thrift store or charity. If a t-shirt is the right look but not the right fit, consider cutting the sleeves or neck. T-shirts still in somewhat good condition can also be donated to companies that will repurpose them into a new product.

Old and Worn Out T-Shirts

Worn out t-shirts can be cut up into small pieces to be used as cleaning rags around the house. Or cut them into strips and knot or braid them, to create an entertaining dog toy — just make sure your dog doesn’t eat it.

Sentimental T-Shirts

Old t-shirts with sentimental value that still have some life in them make great pieces for a quilt. There are many patterns available online, or craftspeople who accept whole shirts and can do the project from start to finish.

Get Crafty

There are many easy at-home craft projects that are perfect for old t-shirts. These include making bracelets, headbands, plant hangers and so much more. This helpful list provides many options for t-shirt crafts.

Environmental Footprint of Milk Containers

bowl of cereal

From traditional cow milk to vegan options like hemp milk, a wide variety of milk is available these days. Milk comes in three main types of packaging: the carton, the plastic jug and the glass bottle. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each of these packaging options to determine which is friendliest to our planet.

Cartons

Pros:

  • Milk cartons are lightweight, which minimizes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to transportation. Less weight also means less material used in creating new cartons. On average a carton is 94% product and 6% container by weight.
  • Recycled cartons are used to make office paper, tissue paper, and building materials.

Cons:

  • Paper cartons can’t be recycled into new cartons. This means all milk cartons must be made from virgin materials.

Plastic Jug

Pros:

  • Plastic jugs are made of a single material and therefore can be recycled.
  • Plastic jugs are the lightest weight option of the three most common container types. On average a plastic jug is 96% product and 4% container by weight. This means they have the lowest GHG emissions related to transportation.

Cons:

  • Plastic jugs are not recycled into new plastic jugs due to sanitary concerns. Plastic jugs are typically “downcycled” into materials such as composite lumber. This means virgin plastic is used for all plastic jugs.
  • Plastic is made from fossil fuels.

Glass Bottles

Pros:

  • Glass bottles are highly recyclable. Recycled bottles can be made into new bottles.
  • Some brands such as Straus reuse bottles through a deposit system. This eliminates the energy needed to remanufacture bottles.

Cons:

  • Glass is heavy. On average a glass bottle is 75% product and 25% container by weight. Transporting milk in glass results in higher GHG emissions than transporting milk in cartons or plastic jugs.
  • Extracting new materials for new glass is energy-intensive.

While each type of container has its pros and cons, glass bottles are the most environmentally friendly option. This is due to the fact that extraction and manufacturing require the most energy in a milk container’s lifecycle. Glass bottles have a clear advantage over cartons and plastic jugs because they can be easily recycled into new bottles or even reused without remanufacturing. However, milk sold in glass bottles is usually more expensive than milk sold in cartons or plastic jugs. If milk sold in glass is too expensive, reach for the plastic jug instead. Remember to recycle your glass bottles, plastic jugs and cartons completely empty.

Steel: The Most Recycled Material in the World

scrap metal recycling

Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That’s more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California. It’s also more than all the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass we recycle each year combined.

Why Recycle Steel?

Steel recycling is good for the environment because the more steel we recycle, the less mining for new metals we have to do. Every ton of steel we recycle saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. It also saves energy — recycling steel uses 74% less energy than creating steel from raw materials.

What Is Steel Used For?

From cars and skyscrapers to soup cans and sardine tins, steel is used to make many of the objects we interact with every day.

Why Is Steel So Recyclable?

Steel can be recycled over and over again to produce new steel. Why is it so easy to recycle? First, it’s magnetic, so it’s easy to separate from other metals. Second, unlike recycled paper or glass, which suffer from degradation when recycled, steel doesn’t lose any strength when it’s re-melted to make new steel, so it doesn’t lose any of its value.

Here’s a list of common steel items:
(Click to see how each item can be recycled)

Steel can be used in any of the applications above then be melted down and remanufactured into any of the other items on the list — or even the same item. Isn’t recycling neat?

How Do I Recycle Steel?

It depends on the item. Items such as food cans can be put in your curbside recycling. However, if your steel is scrap metal or large appliances or small appliances, call your recycling collection company to schedule a free junk pickup.

If you have scrap metal you’d like to sell to a scrapyard, start by determining the market price for the metal you have. (A few cans or small steel items are unlikely to be worth the trip.) Then, find a scrapyard by looking up your zip code in the iScrap app. When you bring in your steel, you can recycle other kinds of scrap metal at the same time, including aluminum, copper, brass and cast iron.

Reuse Broken Planters and Grow Beautiful Houseplants

plants

It’s easy to spend money on plants. From chic planters to the newest and cutest blooms, not to mention potting soil and fertilizer, it really starts to add up. But you don’t have to break the bank to grow beautiful houseplants. Just follow these tips to cut back on how much you’re spending. After all, reducing and reusing are two of the three R’s!

Fixing Broken Planters

Breaking planters is all too easy. From window ledges to curious cats to failed macramé knots, there are plenty of ways to send one tumbling. Unfortunately, whether they’re ceramic or terracotta, they’re not recyclable. Here are some ways to repair or upcycle your damaged planters:

  • Seal planters with cracks, fine lines or fewer broken pieces with an epoxy glue or cement adhesive. This will make them watertight, extend their life, and it can even give them a fun, modern look. Alternately, you can take the more glamorous Kintsugi approach by adding a gold or silver tint to your epoxy.
  • Consider repainting the planter, by hand or with spray paint, if you dislike the look after the epoxy has dried. This is also a great way to spruce up any planters whose colors have washed out or faded — they’ll look brand new.
  • Use broken planter pieces as stones in the bottom of other plant pots to help with drainage. This is especially useful in planters that don’t have a drainage hole, so the bottom layer of soil doesn’t get stuck sitting in extra water. Too much stagnant water can cause the soil to become moldy and give your plants root rot.
  • Repurpose your planter pieces. Turn them into plant labels for your garden, succulent terrariums or a mosaic.

Starting Plants From Cuttings

Many houseplants can be turned into new plants just by taking cuttings. This includes succulents, vines, snake plants and monsteras. Check out the video below to see the four main ways plants can be propagated. Then, double check the right way to propagate the plant you’re interested in and get started! Ask friends and family if they’ll give you any cuttings from their plants, or offer to trade with them. Pro tip: Add some liquid organic fertilizer once a week to get your cuttings growing even faster.

Starting Plants From Kitchen Scraps

Food scraps left over from fruits and veggies, including pineapple tops, avocado pits and lemon seeds, can be used to grow beautiful, unique plants for your home. Follow these instructions from A Piece of Rainbow to learn more.

Top Troublemakers: Plastic Bags

plastic bag

When it comes to disposing of plastic bags, you can either recycle them through a store drop off program or toss them in the trash. Plastic bags cannot be recycled in your curbside recycling. Let’s break down why they are so problematic when tossed in the wrong bin.

The reason lies in how things get recycled.

Everything in your recycling bin first goes to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where items get sorted into like piles. Plastic bottles end up in their own pile, as does cardboard, glass, steel, aluminum, and other types of hard plastic containers. Plastic bags, however, do not end up in their own special pile but instead in the leftovers called “residuals”. The residuals go to the landfill and are essentially all of the material that were not supposed to be put in the recycle bin in the first place. Plastic bags are residual because they can’t be efficiently sorted with the machinery available at Materials Recovery Facilities.

Not only do plastic bags end up in the landfill, they reduce the efficiency of recycling at the MRF. Plastic bags, because of their lightweight and flimsy nature, can easily get tangled in the machinery. Think of what would happen, for example, if you tried to vacuum a plastic bag. Chances are it would get wrapped around the rotating brush of the vacuum and get clogged somewhere along the system. That is essentially what happens at the MRF, at which point workers have to shut down the entire operation and climb into the dangerous machinery to remove the bag.

So why are many plastic bags labeled “recyclable”? Because the material can be recycled with the right equipment. To recycle your plastic bags you must take them to a store drop off location. Plastic bags can be recycled into various low grade plastic items such as new plastic bags or composite lumber. Please note that this list is not always up to date and during the COVID-19 pandemic some locations are not taking bags.

Go Green in Every Room: Low Waste Kitchen

kitchen

There are many easy ways to reduce waste in the home, and one of the best places to start is somewhere most people spend a lot of their time: the kitchen. Taking simple actions such as choosing reusable bakeware over disposable plastics, or replacing single-use items with washables are a great way to start.

Be an Earth-Friendly Baker

Many recipes for baked treats call for a special type of pan and a special way to line the pan when baking. Silicone baking mats are non-stick, easy to use, and come in a variety of sizes useful for lining many types of pans. These mats replace the need for tin foil or parchment paper in baking, and also make a pan easier to wash when you’re all done. When choosing the right pan to bake in, look for something durable that can be used many times, and avoid single-use tins, which don’t hold up and create unnecessary waste.

How to Clean up the Mess

When you’re done cooking or baking, try cleaning up with washable towels and a homemade cleaning solution. Washable cloth towels are a great replacement for paper towels. Over time they work out to be less expensive than their paper counterpart and they eliminate a significant amount of waste. Many common household products such as white vinegar, essential oils, or baking soda can be mixed to create simple cleaning solutions that help you clean up without the chemicals. This article provides chemical-free DIY cleaning solution mixtures for a variety of different surface types in your home. Lastly, try placing your homemade cleaning solution in a glass or plastic spray bottle for easy use and storage.