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

National Battery Day: Did You Know It’s Dangerous to Throw Batteries Away?


Batteries: A standardized and portable source of power that can bring electricity anywhere you want to go. From starting your car in the morning to powering a flashlight during an unexpected power outage, their convenience is undeniable. However, batteries can also be very dangerous if not disposed of properly. Here is what you need to know.

Batteries, especially the lithium-ion rechargeable type that come in most portable electronics, pose a very serious fire risk when disposed of improperly. When batteries end up at a trash or recycling facility they often get punctured or crushed, which can damage the separation between the cathode and anode, causing them to catch fire or explode. These fires can have devastating consequences, such as the fire at San Mateo’s Materials Recovery Facility in 2016, which burned the entire plant to the ground. Batteries — and devices that contain them — need to be disposed of as e-waste or hazardous waste so they can be carefully handled to prevent these fires.

In addition to the fire danger, batteries can also contain toxic chemicals, including lithium, cadmium, sulfuric acid and lead. If disposed of improperly, these toxic chemicals can leach into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.

For these reasons, it is illegal to put batteries in the garbage or mix them in with the rest of your recycling. Luckily, recycling batteries is easy. Follow these links to our Recycling Guide to find out how to easily dispose of each type of battery.

When storing used batteries prior to recycling, please use caution to keep batteries from short-circuiting, overheating or sparking. For lithium-ion batteries, place each individual battery in a separate clear plastic bag. For all other household batteries, use clear packing tape, electrical tape or duct tape to tape the ends of the batteries to prevent battery ends from touching one another or striking against metal surfaces, then place the batteries in a clear plastic bag. Avoid storing batteries in a metal container.

Looking to save some money? Try using rechargeable batteries in place of single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will work in almost all the same applications, provide similar battery life, and can be recharged hundreds of times — making them far more cost-effective and eco-friendly than single-use batteries. Just make sure to use single-use batteries for emergency devices such as smoke detectors.

Happy National Battery Day!

Woo Your Valentine This Year — With Recycling


According to a recent study by The Recycling Partnership, the majority of Americans find it attractive when others make the effort to recycle. Younger folks are especially inclined to view being wasteful as a dealbreaker. In fact, adults 18-34 care so much about recycling that they would spend an average of $219 a month — or as much as $2,628 a year — if it meant everything they bought came from companies that make every effort to recycle.

This year, woo your Valentine with these recycling skills:

  • Give your Valentine a card made from recycled paper. You can recycle cards only if they are free of glitter and metallic foil. If a card has glitter or foil on it, cut or tear those sections off and throw them away — you can recycle what’s left of the card.
  • If you’re giving or receiving flowers, put the bouquet’s plastic wrap in the trash. It’s the stiff and crinkly kind of film that can’t be recycled with plastic bags, so toss it in the trash.
  • Once you’re done with the flowers, put them in with your yard trimmings.
  • Candy wrappers can’t be recycled, so remember to toss them in the trash. Chocolate boxes can be recycled only if they’re empty of chocolate and any box liners or individual wrappers.
  • Wine bottles can be recycled.
  • If a wine cork is made from plastic, throw it in the trash. If it is made from natural cork, it can be dropped off for special recycling collection at many Whole Foods locations and other retailers.
  • Hosting a party? Most party decorations can be saved for reuse, but once you’re done with them, give them away or toss them in the trash. Only if they are plain paper or cardboard (no glitter, foil, plastic or other mixed materials) can they be recycled.

Need to find out how to recycle something else? Look it up in our Recycling Guide.

What to Do With All That Meal Kit Packaging


So it’s 2020 and you’ve resolved to make this the year you start cooking more and eating better. You’ve signed up for your first meal kit and made some tasty dishes, but now you’re wondering what to do with all that packaging. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered with this quick guide on how to properly dispose of all your meal kit packaging.

Cardboard Box

Paper and Cardboard

The cardboard box your meals are shipped in, cardboard dividers, paper trays and recipe cards are all made of paper. These pieces of your meal kit can be placed in the recycling. However, if these items become wet or food-soiled on their way to your house or while you’re cooking, they should be tossed in the trash.

Ice Pack

Ice Packs

These guys do a great job of keeping your food from spoiling while it’s shipped to your home, but they also require some attention to be disposed of properly. To dispose of an ice pack, start by checking whether the ice pack is just frozen water or something else. If the ice pack contains anything other than water, thaw it, cut it open and then squeeze the gel into the garbage. Afterward, rinse out the plastic film, dry it and bring it to a plastic bag drop-off. Gel from ice packs will cause bad clogs in your drains, so make sure this gel doesn’t get washed down a sink or flushed down a toilet. If your ice pack is just filled with water, cut a corner of the pack and place it in a sink to thaw. After the water has melted and drained, dry the empty pack and drop it off with other plastic bags.

If you aren’t going to take the plastic film to a drop-off, you can toss your ice pack in the garbage.

Or, better yet, reuse your ice pack! Stick the ice pack back in your freezer, and then toss it in a cooler to chill drinks or food whenever you’re camping, tailgating or hosting. That way you won’t have to buy as many bags of ice at the store.

Plastic Bag

Plastic Bags

Often containing vegetables, spices and sauces, these bags should be dropped off with other plastic bags once they are clean and dry or tossed in the garbage.

Plastic Ramekin

Plastic Clamshells, Jars and Bottles

This is where things can get a bit tricky. Luckily, most, if not all, the plastic containers in your meal kit will be clearly labeled with a plastic resin number to help you identify the type of plastic. From there you can use our Recycling Guide to find out how you should dispose of each type of plastic. Keep in mind, items smaller than the lid on a standard peanut butter jar are too small to recycle and must be put in the trash. Have some plastic that’s not recyclable? Upcycle it! Check out this video by Purple Carrot for some fun ideas.

Compost Bowl

Food Scraps

Cooking at home creates food scraps. If you are composting at home, toss in your potato peels, scallion ends and other food scraps. If not, these items can go in the garbage. When composting in your backyard, remember to avoid putting dairy products, meat, or fats and oils into the compost.

Find something in your meal kit that isn’t mentioned here? Look it up in our handy Recycling Guide.

Food for Thought

Feel like you’re finally getting the hang of cooking at home? Save those recipe cards, or find some new recipes on the web, and try cooking without the meal kit. Plan out your meals ahead of time to minimize food waste and remember to bring your reusable bags and produce bags to the store. Bon appétit!

New Phone? Don’t Bury the Old One in a Junk Drawer — Here’s Why


Getting a new phone over the holidays? Remember to recycle your old one! It’s easy — in California, stores that sell cell phones are required to take them back for recycling. Oftentimes they’ll even give you credit towards a new device.

If you’re keeping old phones and tablets in a “junk drawer of sadness,” get those precious metals back into action! Phones contain gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium — valuable materials that manufacturers want to reuse.

While it’s great to give your old phone a new life, never put one in your garbage or curbside recycling. Why? The lithium ion batteries can cause terrible fires in waste trucks and sorting facilities.

Find ways to recycle, donate or sell your old phone in our Recycling Guide. Find out more about why they’re so important to recycle by watching this video.

How to Dispose of Amazon Packaging

amazon packaging


With the holidays around the corner, package deliveries are ramping up around the country. According to one set of numbers, during last year’s holiday rush, deliveries in the U.S. nearly doubled from an average of 45 million to 95 million packages per day.

Even without the holiday surge, online shopping generates massive amounts of packaging waste. It isn’t just cardboard anymore — over the past couple of years, Amazon has increased its reliance on lightweight plastic mailers. About half of all e-commerce transactions take place through Amazon, so how Amazon chooses to ship its products has a big impact on what ends up in our landfills.

The new plastic mailers take up less space than bulky boxes, which allows Amazon to pack more of them into delivery trucks and planes. However, plastic mailers can’t be recycled as easily as cardboard. Like plastic bags, the plastic mailers tangle up sorting machinery at recycling facilities, causing expensive delays.

How can you recycle Amazon mailers?

If the mailer is plastic on the outside with a layer bubble wrap on the inside, or if it is flexible plastic (like a plastic bag) with no layer of bubble wrap: Bring it to a plastic bag drop-off. Just remove the paper label first, since the paper and adhesive can contaminate the plastic film recycling. If you aren’t going to take it to a drop-off, toss it in the garbage.

If the mailer is paper on the outside with bubble wrap on the inside: Because it’s made of mixed materials, it can’t be recycled at all. Reuse it or toss it in the garbage.

How does plastic bag recycling drop-off work?

Certain big box stores and supermarkets put out bins for plastic bag collection near the front of their stores. Once collected, all of the plastic film is melted down and turned into materials such as composite lumber, which is used to make decks, playgrounds and park benches.

Ready to recycle those plastic mailers? Find your closest drop-off location.

Are You Wishcycling?


While recycling may be the right thing to do, recycling the wrong things is not.

“Aspirational recycling” or “wishcycling” is the act of tossing things in the recycling that you hope are recyclable. Not only is this common, it’s a big problem! Even small amounts of contamination can turn entire loads of recyclable materials into trash.

Check out this video to learn more, and when in doubt, throw it out! Or look it up in our Recycling Guide.

10 Ways to Cut Pounds — of Waste! — This Thanksgiving



Thanksgiving is around the corner, and we all know how labor-intensive preparing the big meal can be. But we’re not always aware of how much extra waste we create!

On average, household waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the EPA. We become so busy during the holidays, it can easily become a time to think less and waste more.

This Thanksgiving, try out these tips to keep some of those extra pounds of waste out of the landfill.

1. Remember to bring your reusable bags when grocery shopping, including reusable produce bags.

2. Choose products that have minimal packaging, or packaging that can be recycled. It’s easier to avoid waste by shopping from fresh produce sections, bulk bins and farmer’s markets. Also, food cans are more eco-friendly than plastic packaging, but they aren’t as green as fresh produce brought home in a reusable produce bag.

3. At home, skip the aluminum pan and use a roasting pan instead. Even though aluminum trays are recyclable, recycling requires a lot of resources, so a reusable pan is a greener choice.

4. Break out your reusable dishes and silverware for the holiday instead of using disposable plates.

5. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins — you’ll add elegance and reduce waste at the same time.

6. When serving beverages, opt for tap water over bottled water — you can add some lemon or cucumber slices to jazz it up. You can also make holiday beverages like apple cider, spiced wine or sangria in bulk, instead of serving individual beverage containers.

7. Avoid plastic wrap when storing leftovers by using food storage containers instead.

8. Use natural objects such as gourds, cinnamon sticks, acorns and pinecones to brighten your space instead of shopping for store-bought decor. If you’re feeling crafty, here are some additional ideas from Pinterest:

9. If you’re planning some crafts for the kiddos in your family, recruit them to help make upcycled holiday decor by cutting shapes out of old newspaper, wrapping paper or construction paper.

10. Remember to recycle! If you’re not sure if something belongs in your recycling, just look it up in our Recycling Guide!

As important as it is to reduce waste and recycle, no matter how you choose to celebrate, remember to be thankful for who you’re with and all that you have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What Does the Recycling Symbol Mean, Anyway?

recycling symbols


Everyone knows the recycling symbol. It looks like three arrows chasing each other in the shape of a triangle, and it seems to turn up everywhere these days.

But did you know the recycling symbol doesn’t mean an item is always recyclable? In fact, there are many kinds of recycling symbols, and a lot of them don’t mean “recyclable” at all.

This is a problem because usually, when people see one of these recycling symbols, they automatically think, “I can recycle this!” and toss the item into the recycling. But the chasing arrows don’t always mean something is recyclable, and recycling the wrong items causes contamination in our recycling stream. Contamination reduces how much of our materials actually get recycled, and it makes recycling more expensive.

In honor of America Recycles Day, we’re going to debunk the meaning behind the recycling symbol. So let’s take a closer look at what all these recycling symbols really mean:

recycling symbol

1. Recyclable (Sometimes, Some Places)

Meaning #1: An item with this symbol on it is recyclable somewhere. This doesn’t mean an item is recyclable in San José!
Recycling programs all have different sorting systems and different technologies available to them. Because of all these differences, there are virtually no recycling rules that are true across the state or the country.

The manufacturers that use this symbol on their products have no way of knowing what the rules are in every community. They just know whether it’s technically possible to recycle something or not. A lot of times, it is! But that doesn’t mean we can recycle it in San José.

How can you find out whether or not something is recyclable here? Look up the item in our Recycling Guide.

Meaning #2: This item was made from recycled materials.
In this use of the recycling symbol, you might see a number in the middle that has the percentage of recycled materials used to make it. It might also say “Made from recycled materials.” This doesn’t mean the item is recyclable! Items made from recycled materials are sometimes recyclable, sometimes not. You can find out whether we can recycle it in San José by looking it up in our Recycling Guide.

recyclable symbol

2. Made From Recycled Materials

The recycling symbol over a dark circle means that the item was made from recycled materials.

Even though it looks like the recyclable symbol, many products with this symbol cannot be recycled. For example, this symbol appears on a lot of recycled paper products, but paper can only be recycled so many times. Items such as napkins and paper towels are end-of-use products, meaning it’s the end of the recycling road for them. Their super-short paper fibers can’t be recycled anymore, so you need to throw them away. Cardboard, however, can still be recycled again, so you can put that in your recycling cart.

plastic resin code

3. Plastic Resin Code, or Type of Plastic

This symbol doesn’t stand for recycling at all — it’s a manufacturing code that stands for the type of plastic an item is made from. Items with this symbol are not necessarily recyclable!

In San José, we’re lucky to be able to recycle all rigid plastics #1-#7, so if you see any of these numbers appear in the resin code, you can usually put that item in your recycling. Some exceptions to this rule are foam plastic #6 and compostable plastics, which are sometimes labeled as plastic #7 or PLA.

how to recycle

4. The How2Recycle Label

The How2Recycle label is a series of recycling symbols created by an organization called the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. This label is becoming more common, and it’s carefully regulated to provide you with information that’s as accurate as possible, given all the differences between local recycling programs.

The How2Recycle label will tell you if an item is recyclable widely, in limited areas, not at all, or if it needs to be dropped off at a store. However, by their definitions, “widely recyclable” can mean only 60% of U.S. households, so you should check San José’s Recycling Guide no matter what.

If an item has multiple pieces, the How2Recycle label will tell you what material each piece is made from and which parts can be recycled. If you need to prepare the item for recycling, it will tell you how. To see an example, check out the instructions on the frozen food package below.

how to recycle

BPI logo

5. Compostable (But Not in Your Backyard)

OK, so this isn’t technically a recycling symbol, but we still wanted to include it in this list! This symbol means the item is compostable in a commercial composting facility. However, not all commercial composting facilities accept all materials. In San José, toss BPI-certified materials in the trash.

Additionally, do not try to compost items with this symbol at home unless the label says you can. Most of these items require high amounts of heat and pressure to break down, so they will never break down in a backyard compost.

Please note: Compostable items are not recyclable! If something can be composted, that means it can break down into tiny pieces that can be digested by little critters such as worms and bacteria and recomposed into new organic material: soil! Recycling is a very different process.