January 23, 2009

Trash: Black, Blue or Green Bin?

Trash stress in Noe Valley: What to do with items that aren't listed on the black, blue or green collection bins? We always wonder about things like dryer lint. Or corks. Or bicycle inner tubes.

We contacted Sunset Scavenger and spoke to Robert Reed, Public Relations Manager. We gave him a long list of items we don't know what to do with. He responded: "We have tried putting lists together but found long lists can overwhelm customers and often it may be more effective to focus on items and behaviors that provide the best opportunities to help protect the environment through source reduction, reuse and recycling. Internally we call this approach 'Better Instincts.'"

What follows is an article prepared by Sunset Scavenger in response to our questions, as well as specifics on what goes where.
Recycling more helpful at protecting environment than many know

How to recycle resources in San Francisco

A study by Institute on Self-Reliance reports that if Americans recycled and composted 90 percent of all their discards, we could cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 400 million metric tons, equivalent to closing 21 percent of all U.S. coal-fired power plants. That would be a tremendous reduction in emissions.

Here is how recycling helps protect the climate: Food scraps tossed in a trash bin go to a landfill, decompose and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Those same scraps tossed in a green cart go to a modern compost facility; there much of the nutrients and carbon in the scraps are preserved in the finished compost and returned to the soil when the amendment is applied to local vineyards and farms.

Here is even better news: Compost also helps the Earth to store carbon.

What are some simple guidelines that help make sure everything that can be recycled and composted in San Francisco goes in the blue and green carts? The short answer is: all bottles, cans, paper, and nearly all plastics go in the blue recycling cart; food scraps, yard waste, and food-soiled paper go in the green cart.

Plastics acceptable for blue cart recycling include plastic tubs and lids and yogurt containers, plastic cups, clamshell containers, molded plastic packaging, plastic buckets and flower pots, and broken plastic toys as long as they have no metal parts, batteries, circuit boards or wiring.

Plastic film of any kind, such as plastic bags and plastic wrap, is not accepted in the blue cart. Styrofoam is not accepted.

Recycling managers in San Francisco like to say “if it was ever alive, you can put it in the green cart.” Food scraps and yard trimmings go in the (green) compost collection cart. Some people fear that food scraps will smell. Here is the simple fix. Place kitchen trimmings and plate scrapings in a paper milk carton, a compostable bag (inside a kitchen pail), or a paper bag with a little newspaper at the bottom to absorb moisture. Place kitchen trimmings and plate scrapings inside, roll the top shut and toss it in your green cart.

Vegetables, fruit, cooked meat and poultry, eggs, fish bones and seafood shells can all go in the green cart. They are rich in nutrients and turned into compost literally become food for the soil. Soiled paper such as used paper napkins and paper towels should also go in the green cart.

Labels on cart lids also show what items go in which carts. Additional information is posted at SFRecycling.com and SFEnvironment.org.
What they didn't mention is that recycling and composting also saves you, the consumer, money. The amount charged for trash collection is based on the size of the black bin - the smaller the bin, the lower the charge. The blue and green bins are provided no charge.

Sunset Scavenger also took our original list and annotated it with suggestions:

Blue cart:
  • tinfoil (ball it up)
  • aerosol cans (empty only)
Green cart:
  • tea bags
  • chicken bones / feathers
  • used facial tissues
  • dryer lint
  • corks
  • vacuum cleaner bags (full, no plastic)
  • cornstarch packing peanuts (can compost if truly made from cornstarch, but put them in a paper bag and roll the top shut so they won’t blow [out of] the outdoor compost facility) update below
Black cart (goes to landfill):
  • candle stubs (wax)
  • dead birds (wild)
  • used facial tissues
  • fabric softener sheets
  • cat droppings (contain toxic ammonia, pregnant women strongly advised to avoid them)
  • bubble wrap
  • rubber bands
  • dryer lint
  • corks
  • vacuum cleaner bags (full, no plastic)
Bulky Item Collection, BIC, program
  • small appliances (coffee makers, mixers)
Other (how to avoid landfill altogether):
  • clothes/fabric (thrift stores/clothes donation boxes)
  • cooking oil (SF GreaseCycle)
  • mylar wrappers (return to Terracycle's pilot recycling program)
  • Tetrapak containers (don’t buy aseptic packaging, switch to reusable metal bottles)
  • rubber bike tubes (check on the internet for a creative reuse)
  • dog droppings (flush down the toilet)
  • tampon applicators (buy brands that use cardboard applicators and put cardboard in the blue black cart)
  • propane canisters (reuse them)
  • bicycle and Nalgene-type water bottles (switch to reuseable metal bottles, otherwise blue cart)
  • cornstarch packing peanuts (can be reused or dissolved in warm water)
  • Styrofoam packing peanuts (avoid them; if you receive some, drop them off at a UPS shipping store or return them to whoever sent them to you.)
  • shipping pallets (reuse them)
  • (broken) pottery / ceramics (put them in a paper bag and break them by hitting them with a hammer and reuse them in tile projects or toss them in the black cart)
  • perfume/cologne (use it up)
  • straw baskets/hats/etc (if you cut straw baskets and hats into small pieces, we can compost the straw)
Can we use Lawn and Leaf BioBags curbside (as opposed to paper bags)?

Watch out for “bio-plastic.” The key word there is plastic. We can not compost plastic. The best container for compostable material is the green cart. If you routinely have more compostable material than fits in your green cart, call us and we will bring you a larger or a second green cart. If you have extra prunings, tie them with a string and set them next to your green cart. Local hardware stores sell large paper bags, some people use to hold extra branch cuttings. Manufacturers of large compostable bags need to more clearly mark the bags as compostable and certify that their bags are truly compostable. Some look like [regular] plastic bags to recycling workers. [Editor -- the bags from Tuggey's or Walgreens are clearly marked on the side.]

Do household batteries still go in a bag on top of black bin? (They have been stolen there, so we bring them to collection places.)

We favor rechargables. People can also place used household batteries in a clear plastic bag on top of their black cart, and we will collect them for recycling.

UPDATE (1/28): We received a correction from Heidi Obermeit, Waste Reduction Specialist for Sunset Scavenger:
Most of the information listed in the article is accurate but there are a few items that should be removed from the acceptable green cart items. While the majority of this material may be organic we do not accept dryer lint, corks, full vacuum cleaner bags, or cornstarch packing peanuts in the green cart. These materials should all go in the black cart with the exception of the cornstarch packing peanuts which can be reused, dissolved in warm water for disposal, or placed in the black cart.

Also, we do accept used facial tissues in the green cart and used tampon applicators should go in the black cart.

[Official Site: SF Recycling]
[NVSF: SF GreaseCycle]
[NVSF: Recycling Theft = $469,000]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! Didn't know that we could switch to smaller black bin and keep the big blue and green ones.

greenish said...

This is useful info. Thanks. So how does the fine system work? If the sunset scavenger guys find coffee grinds in my black bin am I fined $100?

stargarten said...

I just stumbled upon this article. Another tip, if you have the room, is storing your compost scraps in the freezer to reduce the production of fruit flies and odors!

Charenn29 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
D Strickland said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing. I just wanted to add that you can recycle your wine corks at Sports Basement, Whole Foods Market or participating wine resellers. For more info, click the link.