A Return to Recycling

Because my wife and I have yet to receive our COVID-19 vaccinations — we’re under 65 — we continue to stay close to home, doing our best to stay safe and healthy. During the past year or so we’ve been very careful about going out in public, only going out when it is absolutely necessary (groceries, doctor visits, … and my weekly walks, of course!). One of the trips that until now we’ve deemed non-essential is a trip to the recycling center. We of course use our blue bin for the recyclables that are approved for that container, which takes care of the majority of the recyclables that we generate. But a lot can be recycled that can’t go into our blue bin, and so over the past year I’ve simply accumulated it in my garage. Normally we would have taken this stuff to a place such as the Shoreway Environmental Center (on Shoreway Road, just north of the San Carlos airport) much sooner, but the combination of the places that take this stuff being closed for a time, and our reluctance to make any trips that aren’t absolutely necessary, kept us from doing so. Until very recently, that is, when the accumulation reached the point where making such a trip could be deemed “necessary.”

My finally getting rid of the accumulated detritus caused me to realize that I am overdue to unearth and update a post I wrote nearly five years ago about the ways we all can recycle some of the more esoteric items in our modern lives. This includes clothing and household items that are still in good shape and thus can be donated, dead batteries, fluorescent bulbs, outdated or broken household electronics, and even styrofoam. While my wife and I try not to bring stuff into our house that will eventually have to be recycled (or worse, tossed into the trash), there is only so much one can do; there will always be some, it seems.

Because my house has a two-car garage, I’ve set aside a small space for a “recycling center,” where we accumulate those things that require special handling. Paper, cans, bottles, and such of course go into our blue bin, but my little homemade recycling center has boxes and bins for electronics that can’t be sold (many recent-model electronic items in good shape can be sold either to individuals or to companies like Gazelle), including dead fluorescent light bulbs, outdated medications, coat hangers, old eyeglasses, household batteries, and empty printer ink cartridges. When a couple of the boxes or bins get full, I know its time to make a trip to wherever those particular items are recycled.

Just what are those items, and where do I typically recycle them? Here is my list:

  • Usable clothing and household items: this is easy, since there are plenty of places that will take this kind of thing. I usually take mine to Savers (downtown, on Main Street — although the drop-off is in the back, on Walnut Street). You might prefer The Salvation Army or perhaps Goodwill Industries (there is a Goodwill drop-off in the Chavez Supermarket parking lot on El Camino Real at Fifth Avenue). Regretfully, the St. Vincent de Paul Society shop on El Camino Real below Woodside Road has closed. However, the nearby St. Francis Center accepts donations of new and gently used clothing (and other items; see their website) at their main office (151 Buckingham Avenue, Redwood City) during office hours.
  • Electronics, household electrics and cables: these can go to the Shoreway Environmental Center, or can be donated to an electronics drive at a local school, church, or other non-profit. If you are getting rid of stuff with hard drives that may contain sensitive information (and what information isn’t sensitive these days?), I highly recommend Green Citizen. For a small fee, they’ll destroy any data on any hard drives you give them (those drives can be inside old computers) — and they’ll do the same for cell phones. Their drop off recycling center is in Burlingame, at 1831 Bayshore Highway. Note that in addition to wiping hard drives, they also take other types of electrical and electronic items — some for a fee, and some free. Check their web page for more information.
  • Old cell phones: Ours are iPhones; I’m taking those back to Apple. But cell phones of any brand (including Apple’s) can either be dropped into the appropriate bin just inside the door at Best Buy in San Carlos, or can be treated like a dead battery and putting into a clear bag and placed on the lid of your black trash bin.
  • Used printer ink cartridges: Best Buy (in San Carlos) has a nice drop-off bin for these just inside the door.
  • Expired smoke detectors: these can be tricky. Some can be recycled with other small electronic items, I believe, but I always check with the manufacturer first: many have to be sent back to where they were made. In the past I’ve mailed them back to the manufacturer. That didn’t cost me anything, fortunately: I called them and they emailed me a postage-paid mailing label.
  • Dead batteries: I put mine into a clear food storage bag that I put on top of my black trash cart. Alternatively I could have taken them to the Shoreway Environmental Center.
  • Fluorescent bulbs: In the past I’ve taken them to Hassett Hardware (in Woodside Plaza); I handed them to a cashier on my way into the store. This time, though, since I was already going to the Shoreway Environmental Center, I took them there. They take not only the long tubes (household only, up to 6 tubes, must be less than 6 feet), but also Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs).
  • Unused/outdated medications: These aren’t listed as being accepted at the Shoreway Environmental Center, but they are: they have a secure bin into which you can deposit both prescription and non-prescription medications. Alternatively, you can take them to the Police Station (Redwood City’s is on Maple Street on the Bay side of Highway 101), to the Sheriff’s office (in the 400 County Center building), or to Redwood City’s Kaiser Medical facility.
  • Sharps: the Shoreway Environmental Center has a secure bin where these can be dropped off.
  • Old eyeglasses: LensCrafters in Menlo Park (on El Camino Real) apparently takes these. I still need to get rid of a couple; in the past I’ve simply given them to our optician.
  • Wire hangars: When we accumulate enough of these (we get them whenever we take clothing in to be dry cleaned) I take the accumulated stack to Broadway Cleaners (on Main Street, behind Harry’s Hofbrau).
  • Sensitive documents: We have a household shredder which we use for day-to-day stuff; I then recycle the shredded remains. But recently I did a major clean-out of some boxes of old documents (old bills and such that I no longer need to back up my tax returns), and found myself with more paper than I wanted to feed through my small shredder. I took the boxes of paper to my local UPS store, where they charge per pound to shred them.
  • Household Hazardous Waste (cooking oil, paint, used motor antifreeze, used motor oil and filters): with some limits, the Shoreway Environmental Center takes this stuff, too. Be sure to check their list of acceptable items (click the plus sign next to “Public Recycling Center is Open” on this page for any limits) before taking it in, however. If you have a lot of this, or if what you have doesn’t meet their requirements, the county has a couple of drop-off locations for which you can make an appointment: see their website here. I’ve done that in the past, when I had a lot of paint and gardening chemicals to dispose of, and it proved to be very convenient.
  • Styrofoam: Thankfully, Green Citizen (the same folks in Burlingame who take electronic items) takes the most common kind: EPS #6 styrofoam! You have to pay, but not very much: $5 for as much as you can fit into a 30-gallon bag (they provide the bag). The styrofoam must be clean, but can be of any shape. I had a bunch of it, and all of it was of the allowed type (it is stamped with a triangle with “PS 6” inside).
  • Plastic bags: these are tough, and I have to admit that at the moment I don’t know of a good place where I can recycle them. They cannot be put into our blue recycling bins, unfortunately (they jam up the machinery used to sort our mixed recyclables). In the past I’ve taken them to various grocery stores, but the last one that I knew of that took them — Lucky’s, in San Carlos — was no longer accepting them the last time I was there. My wife and I try very hard to never accept plastic bags: we have a lot of reusable shopping bags, and if we must we’ll take paper. Sometimes, though, we end up with plastic bags anyway. For instance, some items, like loaves of sandwich bread, are prepackaged in plastic bags. And some delivery services seem to insist on using plastic bags (which causes us not to use those services). So they do slowly accumulate. I continue to hope that I’ll someday find a place that will take them. If you know of one that is currently accepting these, please let us all know by leaving a comment!

Except for the shredding and the styrofoam, it cost me nothing (other than time) to get rid of the past year’s accumulated specialty recycling. I was particularly happy to pay to recycle the styrofoam: I truly hate having to throw it away, knowing that it’ll just end up in a landfill. If someone can reuse it — I presume that it gets broken down into small pieces and either turned into packing peanuts or made it into new styrofoam shapes — I certainly have no problem making the trip to Burlingame.

Hopefully this helps some of you: it is amazing how much stuff you can recycle if you just make a bit of an effort. While it isn’t clear whether everything we are submitting to be recycled actually is getting recycled at any given time, I have little or no control over what happens down the chain, so I don’t worry about that. Although at times the recyclers may end up simply trashing what we give them, if we follow the rules and recycle as much as we can, just maybe the increased volume will make it worth the recycler’s while to actually process it properly.

Finally, never forget that “reduce” and “reuse” come before “recycle”; reducing what you take in automatically means you have less to recycle (or trash). And if you or someone else can reuse what you no longer need, that is far, far better than recycling it. Recycling may be better than throwing something into the trash, but it still should be thought of as a last resort.

33 thoughts on “A Return to Recycling

  1. 3 locations, I am told recycle plastic bags are,
    Safeway in Menlo Park (clean & dry – plastic bags/wraps),
    Nob Hill in Redwood Shores ( bring bags in and give to any employee) &
    Lunardi’s in Belmont!

  2. Pingback: Walking El Camino | Walking Redwood City

  3. Great article & great resources you listed!! FYI Goodwill & believe Savers will take fabrics that are no good for rewearing as fabrics that get recycled into stuffing & such ! Please label as ragged fabrics!!
    I put out a shelf at the end of my driveway periodically with FREE items, as a way to reuse!! My neighbors often add to it & obviously many neighbors find treasures!! 🙂
    I use a local Facebook page called Buy Nothing to share treasures and also ask for things someone else may have!
    Like you mentioned, REUSE is the best way to keep things out of the waste stream! Next, REDUCE is key-BEST reduce our trash and recycling so that the trucks can reduce their trips!! One idea that don’t get enough attention in our generation is REPAIR!! Too much is bought to be disposable in the first place:(
    Lastly, ROT – use the green bins for ALL compostable items!
    Great article & my passion!!
    PS I miss the styrofoam recycling that took big chunk styro & made it into the styro “peanuts! Used to be on Charter & Broadway UPS Mailbox stores will take those packing “peanuts” off your hands, too!

    • Great tip about “ragged fabrics”; too many people, I suspect, just dump their old clothes on Savers/Goodwill/whatever regardless of condition. We try to only give them stuff that we think people will actually use. I’ll have to start a box/bag in my garage for ragged fabrics.

      I wrote about Buy Nothing some time ago (in my Halloween post last October); seems like a great idea. Thanks for mentioning it.

      The compost bin is indeed a godsend; we make good use of ours.

      I have taken packing peanuts into my UPS store in the past, but we have enough attic space that now we just accumulate them in a plastic bag up there and then re-use them when we ship stuff. I really dislike getting things packed in those things, but what can you do? Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten fewer of them — more shippers seem to be using those plastic air-filled things (or bubble wrap) which is probably as bad as the styrofoam peanuts — so we simply try to buy less stuff online, in order to minimize the extra packaging. We flatten and keep any usable boxes; stored flat, they don’t take up too much room (again, in our attic) and then we reuse them when we ship stuff to family and friends (they are a godsend during Christmas season!). Reuse at its finest… 😎

      Thanks for the comment, Merrily!

  4. Nice list of places other than Green Citizen (not a good company to use)

    There are alternatives:
    – Hard drives are easily wiped using a computer (free software that will wipe and replace the data on the drive many times so the original information is irretrievable). No fee, you make sure your data is destroyed, and then it can be recycled.
    – Styrofoam can be drop off for free at the SF Transfer Station (https://www.recology.com/faq/sf-styrofoam/)

    • I didn’t know that the SF Transfer Station take styrofoam — I’ll definitely give them a visit when I next drop some off; just by driving a few more miles up Highway 101, I’ll save $5!

      As for hard drives, I always use that software to completely wipe them, but given all the fraud we see these days I figure it couldn’t hurt to go the extra mile and then have someone like Green Citizen destroy them. I’ve only done that once (I don’t have all that much need to get rid of hard drives) and Green Citizen worked well enough for me. I have used them three or four times over the years to get rid of styrofoam, and I have no complaints, personally. But as I said, I’ll give the transfer station a try next time. Thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks for this! Multiple people have mentioned this, and I just realized that when people mentioned “Safeway on Woodside Road” I automatically thought of “Lucky’s in Woodside Plaza,” which used to take them but stopped some time ago. I haven’t been into that Safeway for over a year now, which partly explains why I didn’t know about it. Thanks for the tip! I’d certainly make a trip there just to drop off bags; it’s convenient enough!

    • Thanks! Yes, that’s the resource I used to learn that Kaiser takes them, for one thing. I note that the map does not include either CVS or the Shoreway recycling center, so while I’m sure that the listed locations are valid, the map doesn’t appear to be complete.

      • We recently dropped off medications at the CVS in Sequoia station, so can verify that’s there at the moment.

  5. CVS at Sequoia Station has a special recepticle for meds you want to get rid of. It’s at the rear of the store, just to the right of the pharmacy. I believe some other pharmacies have started to offer this service, but this CVS location is the only one I have used.

    • Good to know. I wouldn’t be surprised if Walgreen’s did the same; I’ve never thought to look. Since I go to the Shoreway center every two or three months, I just take them there. But others may indeed prefer the convenience of CVS. Thanks!

  6. I forgot about the corks. There are various places that used to take them but stopped during Covid such as Whole Foods and BevMo

    • A couple of years ago my wife and I were walking around Scottsdale Az, and a popular restaurant/bar there was using them as “mulch” in their front planter boxes. It seemed like a terrific idea, so we adopted it; I put our corks (real corks only; no plastic ones) into our large backyard plant pots. They seem to work well, and they look kind of cool.

    • I agree. It can actually be a fun thing to get one’s kids into: make it a game, and make them into the “recycling police.” My kids are grown and gone, unfortunately, so the job falls to me. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of seeing how little I can put into my black trash can (which is the smallest size, and some weeks I don’t even bother putting into the street since it doesn’t have enough in it to be worth a stop). Thanks for the comment!

  7. LED bulbs can go to Shoreway Recycling, they do not go in the trash. Hasset says they take them but they just put them in the trash. Any plastic bag with food residue needs to go into the trash. Not all plastic bags are recyclable. Green Citizen also takes VCR tapes, cassette tapes for small fee

  8. God’s own synchronicity: a few hours ago, Vicki Sherman, Redwood City’s environmental initiatives coordinator, sent me a pdf sent to her by Emi Hashizumi of Rethink Waste that lists plastic bag dropoff locations Belmont,EPA,Foster City, RWC, San Carlos and San Mateo! For RWC: Target, 2485 ECR, 8 am- 10 PM, recycling bin located @ service desk; San Carlos, Home Depot 1125 Old County, 6am – 9 pm, recycling bin located at main entrance(right side). I can’t figure out how to post a pdf here but maybe Emi will send it to you: Ehashizumi@rethinkwaste.org.

  9. So glad you mentioned Green Citizen! I was so excited to recently discover they take styrofoam.

    The Safeway on Woodside Road has a box outside their store for plastic bags. It’s usually to the left of the doors but it does move around so sometimes you have to look for it.

    Yay for recycling!

    • I’ll check that Safeway again. Last time I was there the box was gone, and when I asked the employee didn’t think it was coming back. If it’s there, though, I’ll make use of it!

  10. Great article! One addition:
    Linens (bedding and towels): animal shelters go through lots of these to help clean and comfort their animals. In many cases, they’re able to launder and reuse what they already have, but for other use cases (such as when an animal has certain illnesses), they have to follow a one-time use rule. Two options for donating those are Pets in Need, Peninsula Humane Society, and Humane Society of Silicon Valley. I’d recommend calling ahead to make sure that they’re open and accepting donations, and to check on any limitations (often they aren’t able to accept duvet covers, for example).

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