Skip the Disposable Foam Coolers this Summer

foam cooler

Warm weather means days by the water, at the park, and in the woods. Wherever you recreate, remember to practice social distancing. While outdoors, however, you will need to keep your snacks and beverages cool and fresh. The convenient choice is a foam cooler: they’re inexpensive and available at most grocery stores. However — like many convenient choices — foam coolers are not great for the planet.

The Popularity of Disposable Foam Coolers

In the 1950s, foam became a favorite for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. People started using foam coolers because of convenience and affordability. Foam coolers also don’t grow mold or bacteria. To top it off, they’re disposable so you throw them in the garbage when you’re done! Perfect solution, right? Unfortunately they have a major drawback — lots of non-recyclable waste after just a few uses.

The Ugly, Indisposable Truth

Disposable is a funny word. When you dispose of foam, does it really disappear? By some estimates it takes up to 500 years or more for foam to biodegrade. One common estimate is that styrofoam can take up 30 percent of the space in some landfills. It’s also estimated that at least 20 percent of foam ends up as litter. The breakdown process is ugly, too. Foam breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that can choke wildlife. As the sun heats it up, it emits toxic chemicals like methane.

Other Cool-er Options

Invest in a reusable cooler!

  • Basic foam cooler with hard plastic exterior and interior: an inexpensive option
  • Metal or durable plastic cooler: have it forever
  • Soft cooler: wear it over your shoulder
  • Backpack cooler: free up your hands and carry it farther

When you know which type you’d like to purchase, check to see if you can buy used online or at a thrift store. If buying new, look for quality durable products that will last. Many coolers have lifetime guarantees.

If you need a disposable cooler, there are biodegradable pulp-based coolers for one-time use. They’re convenient and sustainable. Put them in the yard trimmings cart/pile, or compost at home, and they decompose in weeks!

What if I Already Have a Foam Cooler?

Use any foam cooler you do have until you can’t anymore. Then dispose of it in the garbage or the City’s free Junk Pickup program.

Go Green in Every Room: Reducing Plastic in Your Bathroom

bar soap

One great, easy way to reduce your impact on the planet is to reduce your plastic consumption at home. This doesn’t mean big changes are in order. Slightly altering the products you purchase can help prevent unnecessary use of plastics throughout your home. Today, we’ll start with the bathroom.

Ditch the Bottles: Buy in Bulk

Many grocery or natural food stores now offer body products such as moisturizers, soap, or shampoo in bulk, the same way you can buy granola or dried foods. Purchase a bottle or container once — or even use one you already have — then wash and refill it when it’s time to get more product. As a bonus, buying products in bulk is usually less expensive than buying them by the bottle!

Consider Using Solid Bar Products

Bar soap and shampoo are increasing in popularity and work just as well as their bottled counterparts to keep your body and hair clean. Many bar soaps are wrapped in simple paper or a small plastic film — look for some without any packaging at all. Scientific American also reports that <a ‘ href=’’ rel=”noopener noreferrer”>bar soap requires fewer resources to manufacture than liquid soap.

Choose Recycled or Renewable Packaging

Most plastic waste generated in the bathroom comes from the packaging of body products, medicine, toilet tissue, and other items. To reduce this waste, many eco-conscious companies are using recycled or renewable materials in their packaging. Keep an eye out for products that are replacing plastic with more eco-friendly materials like paper or bamboo.

The Bottom Line

Before you purchase your next bathroom product, see if you can find it in bulk or bar form. If not, check the label to see if you can find it in recycled or renewable packaging. Staying aware and informed on the packaging of your products can help you save money!

Avoid Food Waste, Save Money


With the COVID-19 pandemic closing many of the places we are accustomed to getting our meals, home cooking is having an unexpected moment. From people taking up baking as a new pastime, to families eating more meals together, there have been some unforeseen benefits to staying at home.

More meals cooked at home means more opportunities to reduce food waste — and save money at the same time. According to the USDA, the average American wastes 238 pounds of food per year — 21 percent of the food we buy — costing $1,800 per year. The good news is that most food waste is avoidable.

Check out our food waste page for a variety of tips on how you can eliminate food waste in your household and save money.

Tossing Takeout Containers — Garbage or Recycling?

takeout box

Ordering takeout from time to time during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great way to eat your favorite food, take a break from cooking and support local restaurants. When choosing a restaurant to order from, remember some are curbside or drive through pickup only, while others offer delivery. Whichever option you choose, you’ll likely end up with a few containers that need to be disposed of properly. Here’s a simple guide on how to dispose of each type of takeout container — keeping in mind that only containers not soiled by food or liquid are recyclable.

Need to dispose of plastic bags, plastic utensils or other items not listed above? Check out our handy Recycling Guide.

Eco-Conscious Ways to Show Your Mom Love on Mother’s Day While Social Distancing

mother's day card

May 10th offers a chance to show the moms of our lives just how much we appreciate them. Unlike in years past, social distancing is a factor this year. While this adds an extra challenge, it also provides a great opportunity to get creative.

Here are four ideas that are eco-friendly, keep you and your family safe and are sure to make mom smile:

  1. (Face)Time Together – What greater gift than spending quality time together? Since this won’t be possible for most of us this year, there are a plethora of options to set up a video call instead.
  2. Digital Photo Album – Upload a collection of family photos to a digital album or even make a slideshow, then send via email to mom. If you’re already planning on sending a greeting card you could include the photos on a memory card tucked inside.
  3. Greeting Card – Buy a greeting card at the store or make your own at home. Most greeting cards can be easily recycled, and some brands even make recycled-content options. Other eco-friendly options include making a homemade card or sending an eCard. Musical Greeting Cards are a lot of fun, but are not an eco-friendly option; they go in the eWaste bin.
  4. Send a Plant – If you can’t buy flowers due to store closures or are looking for a more sustainable option, consider a potted plant that can be enjoyed for years. Small online plant shops offer a great variety of plants and most are still open because they are operated from home.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

How to do Your Opportunity Organizing During a Pandemic

spray bottle

Odds are you’ve found yourself with a little extra time at home because of the current global pandemic. This extra time might be inspiring you to clean out areas of your home that you just haven’t had the time to for a while — a phenomenon known as opportunity organizing. Here are a few things to consider before cleaning out the attic, reorganizing the garage or clearing out the yard.

Keep Items Inside the Bins

During this time of heightened health precautions, it’s more important than ever that all the items that belong in the bins go only into the bins. Many boredom cleaners are putting extra garbage in bags or piles next to their bins. These loose materials require garbage collectors to touch additional surfaces, exposing them to unnecessary risk.

Store Hazardous Waste and E-Waste for Now, Dispose Later

If you are cleaning out the garage or shed you may be dealing with hazardous waste and e-waste. It’s important that these materials are stored correctly for now, and disposed of correctly after this current health crisis is over. Items such as antifreeze, aerosol cans, batteries, electronics and small appliances are illegal to put in the garbage or pour down the drain. Remember to store fuels, aerosols and any other combustible items out of direct sunlight in a well-ventilated area until stay-at-home orders are lifted, when they can be properly disposed of as hazardous waste.

Upcycle, Recycle or Donate

Consider using your extra downtime to recycle and repurpose items. That old decrepit wheelbarrow could make a cool new planter bed. That empty pickle jar could be transformed into a neat container for nuts, beans or grains. Websites like Instructables and Upcycle That have an abundance of interesting upcycling ideas — the sky is the limit when it comes to repurposing items. Ready to get rid of an item but not sure how to dispose of it? Check out our handy Recycling Guide. Have items in usable condition that you no longer want? Store them in a bag or container until stay-at-home orders have been lifted and thrift stores have re-opened.

“Flushable” Wipes — and Almost Everything Else — Are Not Flushable


Here is a simple truth. Sewer systems were designed to handle two things — human waste and toilet paper. Flushing anything else down the toilet can cause big problems for pipes and wastewater treatment facilities.

Wipes — and yes, even those labeled “flushable” — have been enemy number one of sewer systems for years now. With the COVID-19 outbreak, wipes are flying off the shelves. Flushing wipes increases the chances that your own pipes will get blocked, and causes serious problems for the sewer system in general. So no matter what the container says, please do not flush wipes.

You can help tremendously by not flushing wipes or rags down the toilet. Toilets should never be used in place of a trash can. Instead, click the links below to find out exactly how to dispose of these commonly-flushed items:

*Please set aside pharmaceuticals. Once the shelter-in-place order has been lifted, take them to a drop off bin. Here is a list of drop-off pharmaceutical containers in San Jose.

**The County of Santa Clara has suspended household hazardous waste (HHW) operations, including residential and CESQG (small business) drop-off and events, in response to COVID-19.

Ask the Experts: What Is the Proper Way to Dispose of Plastic Bags?

types of plastic film
recycle questions

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

Q: I am confused about what to do with plastic bags. What’s the proper way to dispose of them?

A: San Jose does not accept any type of plastic bag in the recycling cart. They can get tangled up in the machinery at recycling facilities, endangering workers and halting the recycling process. Instead, you can put them in your garbage cart or drop them off at a store with a plastic bag recycling bin. Here’s what you can recycle in store-drop off bins:

Here are a few common items that can’t be recycled in store drop-off bins:

All items must be clean and dry to be recycled. Dirty and/or wet bags can contaminate the whole bin and keep it from being recycled.

Film plastics are recycled into new bags, packaging, or even into durable home products, such as composite lumber used to make decks and benches.

Ready to recycle your film plastics? Find a location near you.

Plastic Utensils Go in the Trash

plastic utensils

Despite the common belief that plastic utensils are recyclable, don’t toss that plastic fork, spoon or knife into your recycling bin. Plastic utensils — with or without the recycling symbol — go in the garbage. Here’s why they can’t be recycled and how you can avoid using them.

Plastic utensils aren’t recyclable for two main reasons. The first reason is their small, skinny shape. When plastic utensils end up at the recycling facility, they tend to either fall through or get stuck in the machinery that sorts objects into groups of the same material. Most machinery can’t handle items smaller than 2-3 inches around, and utensils are so skinny that they fall through the equipment. Second, plastic utensils vary in plastic type. They’re commonly made of plastic #1, plastic #5, plastic #6, or bioplastic. Because they are identical in shape and size, the different types of plastic make them very difficult to sort correctly.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to the plastic utensil problem: reusable utensils! That fork or spoon that doesn’t quite match any of the others in your silverware set is the perfect candidate for a zero-waste take-out kit. Keep forgetting to bring your utensils? Consider keeping a set in your purse, backpack or car. Every time you use your reusable utensils, you’re doing your part to keep a plastic fork or spoon out of the landfill!

Do you still have some plastic utensils in your silverware drawer or the glovebox of your car? Rinse and reuse them until they break, then dispose of them in the garbage. Simply by switching out single-use items for reusable, you can make a huge impact on the level of waste in your community.

Request a Recycle Right Presentation Today

Confused about recycling? Want to know what goes where? Pizza boxes?  Plastic bags?  We can help! Staff from the City of San José Environmental Services Department is speaking to community groups all over San José about how to Recycle Right.

Our team has been presenting to residents at San José neighborhood association meetings, hosting booths at events and festivals, engaging with youth at local libraries and more. Our Vietnamese and Spanish speaking staff attend many events to connect with our non-English speaking residents. We have enjoyed answering questions and getting to know our San José residents out in the community and we’re looking for more opportunities to share the Recycle Right message. We bring helpful resources in multiple languages, fun games and prizes, and a lot of recycling know-how to our scheduled events.

Recycling is so important as one significant way to reduce waste. When we Recycle Right, we are keeping recyclable materials out of landfill and helping the environment. Also, the market for recyclables is now requiring higher-quality materials. All bottles, jars and other containers need to be empty of any food or liquid to be recycled, otherwise they will go to the landfill, defeating our good intentions. Only clean recyclables can be recycled, sold and made into new products.

Let us help your group to learn how to Recycle Right- request your presentation today! Just fill out the form and we will contact you to make a date and ensure your group has the recycling know-how and resources to make a difference.

Tabling at event