Recycling in Silicon Valley in 5 easy steps

After living in Germany for three years I am very aware of the importance of recycling at home.

Germany is one the greenest countries on earth and not only thanks to its production of renewable energies, but also to its household recycling rules (powered by the incorruptible obedience of the German citizens). I admired them a lot (both the rules and the people), but unfortunately I’m not as rigorous as they are and so during my time living in Munich, I was told off (by the building maintenance man, the concierge and of course the neighbors) more than once because, one way or another, I was breaking one or another of their many recycling rules. It happens to the best of us, it’s not a big deal. You get reprimanded, you learn the rule and then you move on.

California is easier. At least the rules are. After a month in Silicon Valley, I believe I’ve learn enough to give you a general overview on how recycling works here. Let’s have a look:



Since we are staying in a corporate apartment while we find our new home in San Francisco Bay, I feel that I have to start with photos and the recycling policy of these type of multi-unit complexes. The policy is slightly different than the one in a single family house. The above pictures show two of the three household waste groups.

  1. Only paper: this is similar to what we had in Germany (and in Europe in general): paper packaging, newspapers, magazines, etc.
  2. Containers only: this is the group that amazes me the most: they dispose glass bottles, metal aluminum cans, foil and plastic containers all together!!
  3. The rest goes in a different container.


Source: Peninsula press and Flickr
Source: Peninsula press and Flickr

If you live in a townhouse or similar, then you are responsible for your garbage and recyclable materials. You need to register your residence with the city and pay the monthly tax. Then you get your black/blue/green containers; instructions on what to dispose on each of them and the pick-up schedule. As an example: According to the city of Palo Alto:

Dispose in the BLUE CONTAINER: all recyclable materials, such as paper, glass, plastic and metal. Click here for the full list.

in the GREEN CONTAINER: green yard trimmings. For example: branches and stumps, leaves, grass, plants, holiday trees and similar.

In the BLACK CONTAINER (Garbage): according to the city of Palo Alto:

As a rule of thumb, if an item doesn’t go in your blue or green container and it is not a functional, reusable item that you can donate, it most likely goes into your garbage container. 


Depending on the property you’re leasing you will be responsible to pay for the garbage tax or no because the owner does it for you, so it’s included in your monthly rent.

In any case the garbage rates vary depending on the different size carts for garbage, recycling and yard trimmings that you chose for your home. According to the city of Mountain View:

Garbage carts are available in 20-gallon (mini-can), 32-gallon, 64-gallon and 96-gallon sizes (click on Trash Rates).

Click here for information on rates in Mountain View. If you live in Palo Alto, Cupertino, San Jose, etc. check your city’s official site for more info or you can always access it through the official site of the California Recycle Government page.


In the Santa Clara county (Silicon Valley) there are different companies that operate the pick-up and recycle business, but in general the rules tend to be similar. For example here you can find a list of what’s recyclable: items accepted (or not accepted) in Mountain View’s recycling program.


If you read the details of the list (what’s recyclable) you will be surprised by a few rules. For example: they dispose their household batteries in the blue container!; or the light bulbs in the grey container together with window glass and animal feces.

In Europe, these items have a completely different recycle policy, as in: “under no circumstance dispose them in your bin”. Instead you need to take them personally to its specific recycle point.

What’s your experience recycling in California? Have you recently relocated from Europe to northern California?


One thought on “Recycling in Silicon Valley in 5 easy steps

  1. Also to be mentioned here: For some bottles you pay CRV in the store, but you can’t return these bottles there, like in Europe where you find refund machines. You have to drive to a special recycling center which is far away give the bottles to a person who counts them, gives you a receipt, go to another person to give you the money. All for 5 cent per bottle.

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