How Recycle Better

Most people don’t think about how their recycling, compost, and landfill bins actually work, but it’s important that we follow the guidelines. A single item put in the wrong bin could ruin an entire batch of recyclables. That’s why we want to go over how this all works, what some of the recycling exceptions are, as well as ways that you can reduce waste.

The Basics of Waste

waste at vv recycle compost
Source: SF Recology

Not all plastic can be recycled

While a lot of plastic can be recycled, there are exceptions.

plastic wrapping with mylarCandy bar wrappers and potato chip bags have a thin metallic coating inside called Mylar, and they aren’t recyclable. The recycling facilities don’t yet have a method to separate the plastic from the Mylar, so these end up in the landfill.

It’s a similar story with plastic bags and plastic wrap. The thin material gets wrapped around the equipment at the recycling facility and too much of it can bring the operation to a standstill. This, too, will up in the landfill. However, many grocery stores will now accept loose plastic, stretchy plastic, and plastic bags. Check out this website to learn where to recycle your plastic bags.

A simple test for this is if you crush some plastic under your foot and it stays crushed, it’s probably recyclable. Candy bar wrappers, plastic bags, and plastic wrap will all unfold after being stepped on, and shouldn’t go in the recycling bin. But hard plastic, like a yogurt container, plastic bottle, or a to-go box can go in the recycling bin.

Food shouldn’t go in the recycle

A small amount of food that’s left on plastic, metal, or glass is acceptable, because the food residue gets burned away in the recycling process.

The same can’t be said for paper. When paper is recycled, it is mixed with water to form slurry. Oil and fat from food residue don’t mix with water; instead, they float on top of the slurry and mingle with the paper pulp. Oily pulp makes unusable paper, and the whole point of recycling is to make products reusable.

Luckily, paper is special, because it is generally accepted in both the compost AND the recycling bin. So, in the case of paper products with food on them, simply put them into the compost. Even the trash would be better because a greasy pizza box will contaminate other paper products that were just fine.

Remember the workers who handle your waste

Everything you recycle gets processed by workers at the recycling plant. Because of this, it’s important not to put in items that will endanger their health. This includes broken glass or items with too much food on it. Trace amounts of food are ok, but anything with enough food to get moldy and unsanitary should either be washed to remove the food, or placed in the garbage.

How VV does it better

99% of our waste is recycled or sent to compost, and this is something we’re extremely proud of. We work with a number of specialized companies to recycle or compost things that SF Recology is not equipped to handle. Here are a few of the things we go the extra mile to keep out of the landfill.

Trash bins

  • Single-use gloves
  • Batteries
  • Wooden pallets
  • Pallet straps
  • Lightbulbs
  • Styrofoam
  • Stretchy Plastic (pallet wrap and plastic bags)

And while we love that we’re being kind to the environment, this is also just good business. Even though we pay these specialty companies to recycle things like used gloves and plastic bags, we’re actually saving money by paying less on our monthly trash bills to the city.

We believe that making the right decision for the environment doesn’t have to come at a financial cost, and responsible waste programs are usually good for business in the long run.

How you can help

Pallet programs

A normal pallet is made of wood, which is expensive, hard to get right now, and only lasts for about 10 uses before it starts to breaks down. We are pushing a new program where we want to use plastic pallets. (I know – I thought we were supposed to be using less plastic!) But the plastic pallets don’t break the way the wooden ones do. They are stronger, lighter, take up less space, and can last for more than 100 uses.

With this program, we deliver food to a customer using one of our plastic pallets. We charge a $75 deposit from the customer, and upon our next delivery, we pick up the plastic pallets that we dropped off earlier. We then return the deposit.

If you’re interested in saving money with a reusable pallet, please contact Karen, our head of sales at

Learn More

Recycling and compost only work if everyone does it right, and we want to encourage everyone to learn a little more about their local waste programs, and make sure that they’re part of the solution.

Here are a few resources that we recommend for learning about waste.

NPR has a great page about which plastics are recyclable and which aren’t.

Recology has this extensive list of what can and can’t go in various bins.

The EPA has a solid overview of how to recycle properly.

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