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.

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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 www.lovefoodnotwaste.org.

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.

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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 SanJoseRecycles.org 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.

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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.

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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.

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Questions About Plastic Recycling?

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

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:


  • PET #1 bottles and containers
  • HDPE #2 bottles and containers
  • #3-5, #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.

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What NOT to Recycle in San José

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

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.

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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.



  • 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.


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

Plastic Jug


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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