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Green bin, blue bin, black bin: What goes where?

San Franciscans are still sending tons of recyclable materials to landfill. photo:

San francisco is a leader in the nation when it comes to environmental reforms. However, a recent report on SFGate states that we are far from the 2003 Zero Waste goal of sending nothing to the landfill. And the numbers aren’t getting any better. According to Guillermo Rodriguez at the Department of Environment, 50 percent of what is sent to landfill from the black bin could be recycled or composted. That’s a staggering number for arguably the greenest city in the world.


Blue recycling bin: This is for all clean paper and cardboard, bottles, cans, and hard plastics, like yogurt containers, CDs and cases — basically any number in the recycling arrow symbol on plastic containers. Plastic bags, even those recyclable, clog the recycling machinery, so should not be put in here; they can be recycled at many grocery stores or other retailers who accept soft plastic. You can even toss used aluminum foil in the blue bin wadded up in a ball.

Green compost bin: Besides yard waste (leaves, twigs, dead plants, but no soil) and food scraps, put soiled paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and tissues in this bin. Also, toss milk cartons, paper to-go coffee cups, pizza and other food takeout boxes, waxed cardboard from vegetable deliveries, in here. Chicken bones and shellfish carcasses? These go in the green bin, too. Milk cartons and cardboard takeout boxes make an ideal catchall for your food scraps before they go in the bin. If you’re getting a lot of fruit flies hovering, keep the container in the freezer until you’re ready to compost it.

Black landfill bin: Put potato chip bags, disposable gloves, and unfortunately, the containers from popular soy milk and similar “shelf-stable” products in here. If we recycle, compost, and dispose of products properly, there will be little to go in the black bin, and therefore the landfill.


The following items should never be put in the black bin.

Household batteries: Most hardware stores and a variety of other retailers will recycle these free of charge. Used batteries can also be put in sealed, clear plastic bags and placed on top of your black cart on collection day. Alternatively, Recology can provide residents with an orange battery recycling tub.

CFLs and fluorescent tubes: Sometimes known as “curlicue” bulbs, CFLs and fluorescent tubes both contain mercury and should be recycled properly at a drop-off site (visit for locations).

Unused Paint: Unused paint can be recycled at many hardware and paint retailers throughout the city (visit for locations) thanks to PaintCare, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit that keeps hazardous materials out of the landfill.

In addition to paint, these products are also acceptable at any PaintCare drop-off:

  • Deck coatings, floor paints (including elastomeric)
  • Primers, sealers, undercoaters
  • Stains
  • Shellacs, lacquers, varnishes, urethanes (single component)
  • Waterproofing concrete/masonry/wood sealers and repellents
  • Metal coatings, rust preventatives
  • Field and lawn paints

These products are unacceptable for drop-off through the PaintCare program:

  • Paint thinners, mineral spirits, solvents
  • Aerosol paints (spray cans)
  • Auto and marine paints
  • Art and craft paints
  • Caulking compounds, epoxies, glues, adhesives
  • Paint additives, colorants, tints, resins
  • Wood preservatives (containing pesticides)
  • Roof patch and repair
  • Tar- and bitumen-based products
  • Two-component coatings
  • Deck cleaners
  • Traffic and road marking paints
  • Industrial maintenance (IM) coatings

What do you do with empty paint cans? Put them in your blue recycle bin.

Electronic waste: This is becoming a huge problem as we update our phones, tablets, computers, televisions and other electronics at a rapid pace. E-waste contains hazardous materials, such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic. Goodwill operates an e-waste recycling program, where products are given a second life through reuse if still operational. If not, they are responsibly recycled through their stewardship program. San Francisco residents can also recycle electronics at the Tunnel Avenue location of the city’s trash and recycling company, Recology, but Goodwill may be a more convenient drop-off location for many.

Mattresses, couches, and large appliances: Recology also offers pick up of large items through their Recycle My Junk program. This is a better solution than dumping on the sidewalk, which although prevalent throughout San Francisco, is illegal.

If you’re unsure of how to dispose of something, visit and


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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].