City Recycling Programs

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Help me recycle more!

April 2013

Hello BPN, I moved to Berkeley about 4 months ago and I feel like I'm not recycling as much as I could! Living in Colorado I was able to single-stream just about everything but the recycling program here only takes glass, #1 & 2 plastic bottles, and metal cans. What about the other recyclables?? They said it isn't easy to recycle the other stuff or it's not financially possible for them but I HATE throwing the stuff in the trash!! Should I be saving it for a different program? Is there anywhere I can drop other stuff off? Thanks for any help in redirecting my trash!!!

P.S. I'm loving the compost program - I've never been able to participate in one before! Christine

Good news! Mayor Bates has proposed, and hopefully implemented, that we can put all of our plastics into our recycling bins. In other words, you don't have to separate the #1 & #2s from the #3 throu #6s. So I've just been putting all plastics into our bin. And haven't been told to stop doing that. Berkeley is really trying to move to Zero Waste and he thinks this is a major step for doing that. jwenk

Take your yogurt cups, iced latte cups, and bubble wrap (and a ton of other things!) to the El Cerrito Recycling Center. It is a beautiful place for those of us who are frustrated with Berkeley's stupid recycling policies. Google it for guidelines on what you can recycle there. I'll be interested to hear if there's any other place like it! Alexandra

You want to visit the El Cerrito Recycling Center! They take an amazing array of stuff. I'm in Albany, which takes more things for recycling curbside than Berkeley does, but I still gobring a lot of my recycling to the center in E.C. because I sense they actually recycle more of it. R.K.

Check out the El Cerrito recycling center. They take lots of stuff and you can save up and take it there. --EC recycles

I know you asked about recycling, but I can't help but make a plug for 'reducing' before recycling. After her family was featured in Sunset Magazine, I started following tips from Bea Johnson's blog at Her mantra is to to buy minimally packaged items and to bring your own containers as much as possible. At first, I thought that following the approach would cause more stress, but over time I found that the approach actually reduced my anxiety (I had previously spent a lot of time worrying about those birds in the Midway Islands.) I am not as diligent as Bea in that I still buy a lot of packaged food (e.g. beer, wine, crackers, food packaged in plastic bags) but I avoid things like frozen entrees, meat packaged in styrofoam, and plastic takeout containers. Interestingly, grocery shopping became easier/lighter as I am now purchasing mostly food (and not packaging.) Recycling

If you are ever near Whole Foods, they collect wine corks (you have to give them to someone inside at the wine department), and also have a separate collection container outside for all #5 plastics. It gets collected by a company that makes stuff from it (razors, toothbrushes, etc.) R.K.

Not to be preachy but recycling really is not a good solution to the problem of reducing your trash, it is energy intensive and things are continually down cycled so it does not prevent depletion of resources. It is far better to actually reduce consumption of single use products and things that come in packaging. (As in reduce, reuse..... Then recycle) this something I have been tring and it is incredibly difficult but its a good goal. Check out. My plastic free life ( don't have URL ) Trying to rid my life of plastic

Recycling in Oakland

March 2013

We just moved to the Oakland area and I have a question about recycling. I expected this area to be big recyclers but am surprised in the limited list that is picked up in Oakland (just paper and very small list of plastics). Is there somewhere in the Oakland / Berkeley area that people recommend taking your other plastic items to be recycled? Thanks. Anon

Oakland has a very comprehensive recycling program--just about everything goes in. If you're in an apartment, your landlord may have given you an outdated list--it used to be the case that multi-unit buildings had very limited service. Luckily, this isn't true anymore, and you can put cans, bottles, all plastics (tubs and bottles, any number), aluminum foil, milk cartons, aerosol cans, any cardboard or paper, soup and drink boxes, egg cartons, and most metals in. This has been true for single-family homes and smaller apartments for a number of years (these homes also have food scrap recycling; the city is still working on that for larger apartment complexes). Welcome to Oakland! Another Oaklander

As you know, putting your items in the recycling bin is just the first step. It's what happens afterwards -- sorting, processing, reselling to manufacturers, and the manufacture of new items -- that's the actual recycling. From what I've heard, the types of plastic Oakland does not accept are the ones with a low resale value -- they just don't get enough money from the sale of those plastics to recoup the costs of collecting, sorting, storing etc. Berkeley has pretty much the same restrictions as Oakland. Marin County residential recycling bins say ''cans, bottles and jars'' because that's what they collect. Label a bin ''glass, aluminum and plastic'' and well-meaning folks will put in window glass, light bulbs, plastic bags and takeout containers -- none of which do the environment or the recycling collectors any favors. has a list of who accepts what in Alameda County -- they will be able to answer your questions and direct you to a facility that accepts your stuff. Cans, bottles and jars

We live in Oakland and recycle a huge amount every week. Here's what can go in your gray bin: Oakland mama

Good for you. My favorite Alameda County recycling Web site is And El Cerrito has a great recycling center that our family visits every several months; they even take block styrofoam: Mel

Stealing recycling

Oct 2011

It is so frustrating! We live in the Thousand Oaks area of N. berkeley. For the most part it is a pretty quiet, residential neighborhood. Every Tuesday morning, often literally minutes before the recycling truck comes by someone is out there digging in our recycling bins to steal cans. Sometimes this goes on in the middle of the night./early morning. The noise wakes everybody up, and also it feels very intrusive. Sometimes I find bottles scattered on the front lawn. I don't know how to handle this anymore. I have tried yelling at the thieves (there are several) to stop, but that doesn't seem to be a permanent solution. Plus, there have been a few who I was afraid to confronting. Some drive to the neighborhood to fill their trucks or cars with the stollen cans. I even tried calling the police but my concern was not taken seriously. I guess the Berkeley Police have better things to so.. Swapping out the old plastic bins with the new garbage-can-like recycling containers was intended to deter this behavior but these thieves have managed to get around it. One comes regularly with a long claw-like instrument that he uses to retrieve the cans. We tried hiding the bins (back when they were just bins) until pickup time, but it was difficult to predict the arrival of the truck and get them out in time. What do people do? Any suggestions? Is everyone having this problem? Perhaps I am overreacting. anon

Yes, you are overreacting. I would venture to guess that the ''thieves'' who ''steal'' your recycling late at night or in the early hours would much rather be comfortably settled in their homes and beds than engaging in this informal economy that I'm sure barely helps get them by. What is ''so frustrating'' to you, a bit of noise, is how they are trying to survive. Get some perspective and be thankful for your life and its privileges. And, if you're like me, get some earplugs if you are sensitive to outdoor noises (I'll say that my 2 yr old is much louder than those thieves in the night). Or put your cans out when you get up in the morning (how early do garbage collectors really come?) and when the noise surely can't bother you that much (though it seems that other things about these people are bothering you). this is survival for some

I've let this issue go. The recycling is being stolen from the recycling company, not from me. The noise is intrusive, and so is the picking through, but I shred documents and try to keep the containers away from my house so that the intrusion isn't so far into my property. And this is not a high-paying scam--it's usually a desperate way to make money (at least in my neighborhood--yours does sound a bit more professional with the big trucks). anon

Dear Anon, We are in rough times with billions of people having lost homes, jobs ect. My advice to you would be to put your good recycling in double paper bags in front of the recycling bins. That way the ''thieves'' as you call them will just walk up, grab the bag and go. People have to be pretty down on their luck to go around to dirty, smelling, disease infested, possibly harmful bins and dig their arms or ''hooks'' in to get 5 cents. House to house to house = work. Maybe you could find a little job for one of the ''thieves'' like mowing the lawn or raking leaves. You could change a life. Imagine what it's like to be hungry. It hurts. I get headaches when I forget to eat or don't have time to get my morning coffee. Can you imagine sleeping outside in the cold with crazies? I think some of these people are just trying to get a better life any way they can., (no pun intended). Taking cans and recycling them for the $10-$20 so that they can eat for the day gives them nothing leftover. Try buying shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, pants ect. Sleeping bag, mat, flashlight, backpack, water, food, ect on $10-? a day. Forget about health concerns: toothaches, arthritis, gout, shingles, ect from a bad diet and sleeping in the elements. Some have alcohol addictions but most of us would too if we lost everyone and everything and became invisible. Please try to have some compassion. If you are a spiritual woman try to see these people as angels being sent to you for help. You can maybe get a list of all the kitchens and pantries in your area that supply food without an state i.d. or places that would be helpful for homeless people and make copies to give them. Or, maybe you could donate food in with your recycled cans. You could tell the ''thieves'' that you don't mind them taking the cans but could they be quiet. I don't know, I have the same problem here, but I see these people as me, I could so easily be them so I have to have compassion. We must try to see ourselves in others, for we could so easily be in their shoes one day. Just a thought. Anony

Put your bottles & cans in a bag beside the recycling bin. Then they can just pick it up and move on - no digging, no mess, less noise. Pay it forward

No, you are not alone. Yes, these people are incredibly annoying. What they are stealing is revenue that would go to the Ecology Center, the good people who bring Berkeley its farmers' markets, among other services that we in this town value highly. You can and should call the police. They will not do much, however, as the thieves move quickly and will be gone from your location by the time they show up. If they do see them, they probably won't even cite them. The Ecology Center has a page up about how/why to call the police with poaching complaints. It is here: You might call and ask to speak with your beat officer too. They might have some suggestions for you and your neighbors to implement.

Another option is to forego curbside recycling and instead bring your recyclables to the Ecology Center. Yes that is a hassle, takes time, and isn't carbon neutral. It's a terrible option, really, but if you happen to drive over there anyway....

Other solutions are more systemic and so harder to implement, but maybe you will want to get active and champion them in the community. Is there a technical solution, such as some kind of locking bin that only opens when the recycling truck gets it? Or maybe we ought to go back to store-based recycling -- when I was a child we dropped off bottles at the supermarket where we'd bought them.

In any event, use the knowledge that your home is regularly studied by people with a low moral threshold to take necessary security measures. 50% of property crime in Berkeley is committed by non-residents, so we are a ''soft target'' for out of towners. Are there motion-activated lights in the right places at your home? Do you have and use locks on doors and gates? Poaching is a crime of opportunity, so make sure there aren't other opportunities to address besides this one. Equally vexed

It is beyond frustrating to be awakened by such racket, but have you thought about why someone might go through your trash in the first place? They must be fairly desperate. Recycling centers do not pay lawyer's salaries. Even if they have cars, they are still low enough on the income scale to get up in the dark and dig through filthy trash to make a few bucks. That said, noise and mess are a nuisance. Would it be a pain to put cans in a separate bin on the side, and neighbors do the same? You say you have yelled, and a couple folks are scary looking, but could you or one of your neighbors talk to the scavengers about how this might be done with less interruption of your sleep? If they come in cars, they must be regulars. Present the noise problem to the friendlier looking scavengers and ask them for ideas. If you're awake anyway... Good luck! been poor before

In this day and age, in this state, where there are a lot of people truly struggling to make ends meet; I think we can all put up with a little annoyance involving the recycling collectors. There are some who are angered by it because it takes money away from the city. There are some who simply don't like having people roaming around their neighborhood. You live in North Berkeley, probably have a beautiful home, a good job and lots of things to be thankful for. While I understand your annoyance, I think it isn't really appropriate to get too upset over it. I don't think anyone is going around digging in people's garbage for the fun of it. I would advise patience, compassion and feeling thankful for all that you have. AL

Call the cops every single time. The City Council recently revised the law to make it clear it's illegal. They also added $10 a month to your garbage bill (you can check it) to fund the recycyling program because theft of material has led to the program losing money. So you're paying the City to not pick up the recycling because the thieves have stolen it!

The thieves also use the cover of recycling to case our neighborhoods. They watch you come and go in the morning, look into our yards for bikes, lawnmowers, tools, anything they can steal and sell at the flea market.

If you go to the City's website and search ''poaching'' (the PC correct term for theft of recycling, there are a number of hits that will give the City's position.

But the number 1 thing to do is call the cops EVERY SINGLE TIME. They won't come each time because it is a low priority, but if they can come, they will. In Elmwood this week, they actually ticketed a guy. Pissed Off, Too

I'm pretty sure this happens everywhere. Either way, I like to think the people who are ''stealing'' the cans probably need that money and this is way better than other ways of them getting by. I guess I'm also used to random noise at night as it doesn't wake me up. Is the noise the main issue for you, or the mess? I think this may be one where you just learn to share and have a cleaning party after trash day. You could also acknowledge that they will come no matter what and set cans aside for them to pick up so they won't make a mess or as much noise. More work for you though. And yes, the Berkeley Police have better things to do. RRR

There are alot of people, even in our own community, who are struggling in a ''third world'' kind of way. Can you imagine digging through someone's trash to ''steal'' cans in order to be able to feed your own children? I don't think it is a situation they relish. Perhaps you could help them out and you'd both win. Perhaps put the cans they want in a bag on top of the recycling so they don't have to dig and make noise. Or maybe give them $5, which is surely more than they get from the cans in your bin. Get creative. Be kind. And count your lucky stars. You are not digging through someone elses waste to provide for your family. I would say, don't let it go, but let it help you be more aware of other people's realities. GD

Yes, you are over reacting!! Our North Berkeley Neighborhood had the same discussion on this topic and it was quite silly. We have regular's that come 'retrieve' the cans. The neighborhood wanted the Berkeley PD to be called on each case and arrest them for stealing. Now, really are we going to waste local tax dollars on people trying to get a few cans to get something to eat or have other needs.

I had told our email group to put the shoe on the other foot. I know for sure that if I needed to collect $40 worth of cans for something to eat, I would.

I started putting all the cans and bottles in a brown paper bag next to the bin. Then the person needing the cans and bottles can take what they need without disturbing anyone, diving, or even cutting themselves on broken glass.

Most folks that need the recycling are just trying to make a bit of change. Maybe 'you' need to change. Leave out some food for the person needing the cans...whatever that maybe.

We have one elder Asian lady that comes every week. I make sure to greet her and give her something. I can't imagine being an elder having to collect cans to make ends meet. Talk to the person and say 'I don't mind you taking the cans, but can you do it quietly and not leave a mess?'

If you think it's intrusive to 'your' neighborhood then have a meeting on how you can deter these people. I can guarantee that you will be looked at quite weird.

Don't put your bins out till the truck pulls up if you don't like it. It must be nice to live where you live thinking of ways to stop others from trying to get their needs met. We are in a major recession and not just homeless have taken to the cans, parents have taken to the cans too. I know I would if needed. I'm sorry that you're disturbed by it all. But think about if everything you had was gone, no shelter, food, clothes, how would you make it???????? There are solutions, calling the PD is not one of them!!!! Anno

I am sitting here listening to my garbage collectors outside. Wow, is it loud. Why do you not have a problem with the noise of the garbage truck? Because it's at 6am and not 5:30am? Because it's not ''stealing''? I heard the people who come for our recycling early this morning, rolled over with my ear plugs, and went right back to sleep. I find it hard to imagine that your family's hearing is so sensitive that that level of noise wakens everyone. If you're so sensitive to some noises and not others, perhaps take a minute to consider why. Relax. Put the trash out in the morning. And be happy that you are in your safe and secure home. be grateful you're not needing to work like that

While your posts sounds like having people going through your recycling feels intrusive, please remember no one WANTS to do that job. They do it so they can feed their children. They do it because they can not get jobs elsewhere. They do it so they can survive. A Different Perspective

I think you are overreacting. This is recycling. You are getting rid of it. Other than leaving a mess on your lawn, which is annoying and frustrating, I'd let it go. It seems the people who are taking your cans are doing so for money, most likely to feed their families. I doubt anyone is getting rich off of stealing your recycling. If you want the money for it, take it to a center yourself. Otherwise, let someone else to the dirty work if it helps them in some way. This is the same way I look at donating books and clothes when people come and snap them up and sell them-they need the money more than I do, they MUST need it to go through all that work. It's just not worth it to me to sort it, take it to a center and get what... pennies? Quarters? (this also kind of reminds me of the post where people were using other's garbage cans... let them throw their garbage away, rather than on the street! I know that wasn't what you were talking about though) give up a little control

About the recyclers, I too have fought my own war against them. They literally start trolling our south berkeley neighborhood on Sundays (pick up is on Monday, but we have lots of neighbors who make it one of their Sunday chores to put out the trash/recycling/green bin on Sunday). There are people who come with noisy carts, people who walk with saks on their backs, trucks, cars, vans that circle over and over. I am also tired of this, but I've learned that it goes nowhere with the police. At all hours of the wee morning on the day of recycling pick up, there is frequently someone parked under my bedroom window sorting their glass, smashing cans, etc. (there's a street light nearby). I usually speak loudly out my bedroom window and ask them not to do it there. While most of these folks are not beligerent or scary, I will admit that I wonder if I don't piss them off as much as they piss me off and that one day they will vandalize my car or home. So far this hasn't happened. Anyway, I just tell you this to say that you are not alone. We have been setting out our recycling at the last possible moment- but even then it often gets pilfered. While I am sympathetic to people who do what they can to make a few bucks in a terrible economy, this is really a nuisance. And, by the way, it's not stealing, technically, because you have put it out on the curb for collection. However, I find, as a homeowner, that I am outraged that our property tax dollars that we spend on recycling go up while the rate of collection, it seems, goes down - we subsidize a long term contract that loses money every year. I'm glad someone else is willing to put this out there - I have been reluctant to mention this to my neighbors and see if there is a neighborhood solution because I've sensed my view was a minority, but maybe its not?? hates recycling day too!

This will probably sound weird, but I would put all cans in a separate bag, label it as such, and leave it next to your recycling bin for the ''thieves''. The economy is crappy. I imagine that people who do this to you are in a dire financial situation and these cans probably provide the much needed income (do you really care who gets your cans?). This would also take care of the noise and bottles/cans left on your lawn. anon

Do you seriously consider someone taking your trash ''stealing''?! Stealing is when someone breaks into your house and takes something of value to you. Do you not notice how hard collectors work to make a living? Have you ever tried dragging one of those shopping cart contraptions several miles to Gilman street to make a few bucks? Would you prefer that these people sit on the street and pander for spare change? In both places I've lived in Berkeley the collectors had established territories, and so I came to know who was taking my bottles. In fact, in my first neighborhood, the collector was somewhat of a night guard for us. In my current home, I set aside all of my bottles for an elderly woman to collect so she can afford to stay in her home of forty years across the street. Try a little generosity, and remember how fortunate you are in your thousands oaks home. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Sheesh

We too have a recycling burglar in El Cerrito. Wakes me up about 4am every Tuesday morning clanking around in the recycling bins. It's annoying, but obviously someone who needs the money - so, as annoying as it is, I just let it be. Cathy

Without trying to get into a debate about whether people should be allowed to steal the recyclables the reality is that they will continue to do so. I don't know how to get around the noise of the pilfering happening late at night or in the wee hours of the morning unless you put your recycling out first thing in the morning and hope you don't miss the truck.

The main thing I have done is to be friendly with the folks and just ask that they keep it tidy. I am an occasional free box rummager myself so I just make that parallel with them that I always try to keep the area cleaner than I found it so people will keep putting out boxes of free stuff. I play the buddy role and I find they have responded well and don't leave a mess.

If that is not acceptable then you could keep your recycling entirely inaccessible and take it to the recycling center yourself. Lindsey

Why not put your cans in a seperate bag next to the recycling bin for the ''seeker'' to pick up? There are a lot of people who are out of work and really depend on these items to survive. I'm sure they would rather not have to go ''steal'' these items but have no other choice. Hard times fall on good people. Anon

First, I want to say that I don't think that people going through your recycling once you put it on the curb is ''stealing.'' If they are ''stealing'' from anyone, it is the recycling company. And for some, this is the only way they have found to make a little money to buy food for their families. It is yucky, hard work for them, but I applaud them for trying to find a way to make it through.

That said, if it bothers you so much, you can either recycle these things yourself and get your 5 cents a bottle/can or you can store them separately and drop them off to a charity that is doing this. We happen to do this ourselves and take bags every month or so to Lakeshore Baptist Church in Oakland since our kids went to their pre-school. Found my own peace

Hi, Someone pays a deposit on every can or bottle. Technically, you have the right to reclaim the deposit you have paid for those cans or bottles, but you can also opt to ''donate'' those deposits to the recycling centers.

If you want them to get the money, drive them there yourself. Otherwise, street collectors will take them and receive the reclaimed deposits that you paid on the cans or bottles. I like to think of this as helping someone else have a little bit of a job. fortunate to be employed

I find the ''poachers'' annoying as well. I felt compelled to respond because so many people suggested that you are overreacting and to let it go. I agree that the noise is a nuisance and quite frankly it draws people to my neighborhood that are peeking over fences and going around the side of houses to check and see if their recycling is accessible. There has been a rise of smashed car windows and break-ins in my neighborhood and and I really feel like it is related to people who need money and are looking for ways to make it. That said, you have every right to want your neighborhood to be a certain way so I recommend that you report the poaching as often as you can and send the poachers to other neighborhoods where apparently many people are okay with it. Also annoyed

Wow, I was shocked at the number of people who said just to leave the recycling thieves alone. I am in the camp of the person who is outraged that we now have to pay an extra $10/month to get our recycling collected. And this was the good solution because the City of Berkeley was considering eliminating the recycling program because it was costing so much money. So we have to pay because thieves steal the things of value.

For the people who say it is a tough economy that is leading to this may have forgotten that has been a problem for a long time way before the bad economy started. And it doesn't matter how courteous they are. One of the times our house was broken into the thieves just stole all our valuables and one of the times the thieves stole all our valuables and made a mess. But both sets of people were thieves.

As a solution, we moved into a condo complex that has common recycling bins that are stored behind locked doors. You can get locks keyed to both your key and the city key and keep recycling behind locked doors. I'm not sure if they will do this for an individual but you could look into it. Recycling thieves make me crazy

There was a helpful article on ''urban miners,'' the poaching of recyclables and the people who do it from the Contra Costa Times in 2003. Some are recent immigrants hauling two to three loads a day to buyback centers near the Port of Oakland in rickety pick-up trucks. The garbage industry calls them the ''Mosquito Fleet.'' They make a much better living doing that than they would in other jobs. About $195 a day paid in cash. They mostly focus on small businesses who don't mind them hauling cardboard, bottles and other stuff away. Gas and insurance cut into margins, and since recycled products are commodities, the prices paid for them fluctuate a lot. Then there is the lower echelon of recyclers or poachers, people down on their luck scavenging for recyclables. They are the most conspicuous and make the least. Typically the police only get involved when people complain about trespassing or there seems to be an organized attempt to intercept curbside binds on recycling days. Otherwise it's chalked up to the cost of doing business. Anonymous

One thing I'd like to add to this discussion is how the people who come around and take recyclables out of recycling bins are also people who pick recyclables out of garbage (saving it from landfill) and off the street and wherever else people litter. They're practically performing a public service in this respect. count your blessings

I collect recycling for a good cause. I don't take other's recycling without permission, though. I came to this county from Peru and I am an animal lover and dog owner. I often send money to Peru to help care for cats and dogs. What I do is I use my contacts with family and friends to pay to have dogs and cats sterilized and provide for general health care, medicines or surgeries if needed. One of the ways I pay for this is by collecting recyclables such as cans and bottles. I recycle them in Berkeley and use the money in Peru. But if someone wants to donate their cans and bottles to me, I would appreciate it.

I heard someone rattling my recycling bin early this morning, and thought about your question. In the Old Testament, one of the commandments is not to harvest to the edges of the fields, but to leave that food for the poor. In ''The Book of Ruth,'' the widows Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, are gleaners who live off the what remains of the harvest.

We are living in times of 10% official unemployment, and far higher actual unemployment, which includes people who have given up looking for work, and those who are involuntarily working part-time. No one who had a decent job, or retirement benefits, would be going through the recycling. Although the process is messy, the contents of our recycling bins are the corners of our fields. Carol D

Technically, once you put garbage/recycling out on the street you are no longer the legal owner, so you should not label this as 'stealing'. We had/have the same thing happen in our neighborhood, sometimes with lots of noise at 3am in the morning. We dealt with it by purposely separating out recycling that the collectors want (bottles and cans with CRV). My husband also went out upon waking at 3am to give the 'regulars' food and politely ask them to try to be more quiet if there was a lot of noise. Try to have some compassion, no one enjoys digging in a trash can. These people are desperate for money/food etc. You are causing yourself anguish and suffering over an issue you have no control over. Try to imagine what life in their shoes is like.... Hoping you find peace with this. Best, Anon

Recycling cans and bottles: rinse or not (Albany)

May 2010

I'm trying to figure out if I have to rinse out cans and bottles for them to actually be recycled in Albany. EBMUD, in their newsletter, says it's a waste of water to rinse containers, since they all get washed at the recycling facility anyway. Albany's guidelines say they must be ''empty,'' but it's not clear how clean that means. Also, since we put all recyclables, including paper, in the same can, putting un-rinsed containers in means the paper may get soiled - which means it should go into food waste can, not the mixed recycling. I hate to waste water, but I also don't want the whole lot to be unfit for recycling. What do you folks do? Albany recycler

Get a plastic bucket or dishpan. Soak 4 or 5 bottles/cans in soapy water for 5 min. Pour the soak water in a bucket. Do it again if you have more. When you have accumulated 1.8 gal. you can use it to flush the toilet (just pour directly into bowl), or to water ornamental plants outside.

You really, really do not need to rinse cans and bottles that just contained liquid -- just shake them out before putting in with the mixed stuff. If it's a can of something that might get messy, give it a quick rinse if you want but there's no need for it to be super clean. The whole thing about mixed recycling is that some of the stuff (paper etc) ends up being lower quality but on the whole it encourages people to recycle so much more (by making the process easier) that it's worth it. Married to a recycling ''professional''

Starting a recycling program in a city without one

Aug 2008

My sister just moved to a mid-size town in Tennessee and is shocked that they have no city recycling program. Any ideas how to go about starting one? Anon

Check with The Ecology Center; they run the City of Berkeley's excellent curbside program: 510/527-5555, Melanie

Child-proof, Not-too-Ugly Recycling?


I am a big fan of recycling, but find the piles an eyesore as well as a temptation to inquisitive kids. How do you collect your weekly recycling? This is what I do, which doesn't work too well: paper bags in entry way for papers and cardboard; tall trash can in kitchen for bottles, cans and plastic. Please share any better ideas. Thank you! Louisa

Get thee to Ikea! I got a large plastic container with lid that I keep outside my door to throw cans and other recyclables into. I put used newspapers into a plain plastic bin, also outside. Both were under $10 at Ikea in the home organization section. Good luck. Julie

What to do about the recycling -- we have the same problem at our house! I recently stopped the daily paper because I couldn't deal with all the newspapers anymore. So that is one less brown paper bag to deal with. Any occasional newsprint I just add to the mixed paper. For mixed paper, I bought two blue recycling wastebaskets from Office Max - the ones like you see in people's offices - they cost about 8 bucks and they are about the same size as a paper bag. But they are better than a paper bag because they don't split, they don't fall over and they are easily identifyable by all FMs. I put one in the kitchen (for junk mail, empty cereal boxes, magazines, etc) and one in the home office (for printer and homework discards). This has worked great. Meanwhile, the cans and bottles are in the city-supplied bins outside next to the back door. We have two. The raccoons do go through them every night and they are unsightly but at least they are not inside underfoot. FMs are pretty good about tossing their bottles/cans out the back door instead of just leaving them on the kitchen counter.

The only problem I have is junk mail. About 75% of our mail is junk, including big stuff like catalogs. There's a ton of it everyday. The FM who usually sorts the mail wants to stand next to the front door to do it, and wants to be able to drop the junk into a waiting receptacle without having to go a few steps into the kitchen. I didn't want to put the recycling bin in the front entryway because it is not very attractive plus there is not a lot of space. But I haven't been able to convince this FM that he should open the mail in the kitchen. So we have an imperfect system where an attractive wastebasket has been placed in the front entryway for the purpose of opening and sorting mail. Every few days, in theory, its contents are combined with the other paper recycling in the kitchen, but in practice it is overflowing by the time recycling day rolls around and looks unsightly (except for the attractive container). So I am hoping for some hints from others about this. Ginger

What works for me is to bring in the mail every day, quickly glance through it in the vain search for real mail, and stick it in a box in the garage. Then once a week I sort through it, in the kitchen, near the paper recycling container :), and then I pay the bills all at once too. It does turn into a big job, but I think it saves time to do it all at once. Deborah

Our solution to the recycle container near the front door is one of those lidded kitchen trash cans in an attractive hunter green. It's larger than a usual trash can, and lidded, so the recycle stays neatly contained until we empty it each week. (And we now do empty it each week because our new maids can't seem to figure out the difference between trash and recycle, even with the international symbol taped to the front of the container!) But even if you don't empty it every week, as long as you don't get a newspaper it shouldn't be a problem. Dawn