Frequently Asked Questions for Single Family Residents

Can I compost large tree branches and stumps by using the Recology organics cart?

Photograph by Mike Peel
Tree branches are carbon-rich organic material. Recology San Mateo County provides the following options to ensure they return to gardens as wood chips or compost.

Recology can accept small branches of (up to 4 inches in diameter) in the compost program. If branches are longer than 4 feet, please cut them into shorter lengths so they fit inside the green compost cart and the cart lid can be closed. There are also weight limits that apply to the carts, so please be sure that your 96-gallon compost cart does not exceed 335 pounds or 224 pounds for a 64-gallon compost cart.

Materials collected are brought to the Shoreway Environmental Center, where they are loaded into long haul trailers and sent to composting facilities for processing.

Thick branches (more than 4 inches in diameter) and tree stumps are not accepted in the compost program because they can damage the processor's equipment and do not break down quickly enough in the composting process.

Branches that are more than 4 inches in diameter can be taken through the Bulky Item Collection in bundles or boxes. Bundles should be less than 5 feet long and 2 feet in diameter, but if placed in boxes, no longer than 3 feet. Bundles or boxes should weigh less than 60 pounds each.

If you prefer to have thick branches and tree stumps chipped, the County of San Mateo RecycleWorks provides a list of local arborists that offer this service.

For more information on this and other reuse and recycling options, please visit

Why are there are so many more trucks on the road now?

This is a common question! Residents have told us that they are surprised to see three different trucks stopping by their homes to pick up the carts: one for Recycle, one for Compost and one for Garbage. But did you know that there have always been three trucks servicing your home? When Allied Waste was the service provider, there was one for recycling, one for garbage and one for yard trimmings.

Why does the other side of my street get serviced later in the day than my side?

With the new automated collection, our drivers make only right-hand turns for safety as they service homes on their routes. Because of this, there may be some time between collections for one side of the street before the driver gets to the other side. This is different from when Allied Waste would go down the middle of the street with the drivers servicing both sides of the street at the same time.

Can I use compostable bags to line my kitchen pail?

Yes! We're pleased to accept compostable bags in the CartSMART compost collection program.

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) must approve the bags. They can be found at Costco, Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, some Safeways, CVS and Walgreens, among others. However, there are many others that can be ordered online or found at some stores. Find a full list on the Biodegradable Products Institute's website. Of course, you don't have to use compostable bags. You can continue to use newspaper, paper bags or paper towels to line your pails and collect food scraps. Check out our Composting Tips page for more helpful information.

Why can't I put plastic bags in the blue Recycle Cart?

Plastic bags are problematic for curbside collection because they tend to get wrapped around the sorting equipment at the Materials Recovery Facility. When this happens, the equipment must be shut down to cut the bags and remove them.

In addition, plastic bag recyclers require the bags to be clean in order for them to recycle them. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to keep them clean in a curbside program, and the majority would get disposed of as garbage even if they were put in with the recycling.

We encourage you to not use plastic bags if possible, but if you do, the best way to recycle them is to take them to grocery stores that accept them. You can find a list of participating stores on our Hard to Recycle page.

How do I recycle materials that can't go in the blue cart?

Please visit our Hard to Recycle page for a list of items that can be recycled but do not belong in the blue Recycle cart.

You can also check out RecycleWorks of San Mateo County for general recycling and waste reduction information.

How do I place my carts for service?

Recology's new services will be provided using fully automated collection vehicles that operate a mechanical arm to lift the carts, making service faster and more efficient. As of January 3, 2011, we ask that you adhere to the following guidelines when you set your carts out for service.

Place your carts curbside in the street, with the wheels against the curb and the arrows on the lid pointed toward the street. If you live on a street without a curb, place them roadside. Place each cart 24 inches, or 2 feet apart, all facing the same direction.

How do I get a bigger/smaller cart?

Just contact us and let us know what you would like. We'll get you the correct size as soon as possible.

How much is it for an additional Recycle or Compost cart?

We will be happy to deliver another cart to you, and will service it weekly for a small additional fee.

What do I do about large items I want to get rid of but can't fit into my cart?

Twice a year, Recology offers a scheduled pickup service for items you don't need anymore and that are too large for the carts. For more information, visit our Beyond the Cart section.

What should I do with old paint and other hazardous waste?

For information on where you can bring your paint, cleaning products and other hazardous chemicals, visit our Hazardous Waste page. You can also visit Recycle Works, the San Mateo County Health Department, or call (650) 363-4718.

Several communities within the SBWMA service area now have a Door to Door Hazardous Household Waste program offered at no extra charge. Visit RethinkWaste for more information.

Will you recycle my used motor oil? What about batteries and cell phones?

Yes, yes and yes. Please visit our Beyond the Cart section for more information.

What do I do with old medications? Can I throw them away?

No, you absolutely should not throw old medications in the garbage, flush them down the toilet or pour them down the sink. Visit our HHW page to learn how to safely and properly dispose of old medication.

What should I do with my old computer or TV?

Computers and TVs are considered Electronic Waste, one of the fastest growing segments of our nation's waste stream, and need to be recycled properly. To find a location nearest you to recycle these items, please visit RecycleWorks or call (888) 442-2666.

GreenCitizen also recycles televisions, computers, printers, computer peripherals and a wide variety of other electronics. Everything is recycled in the United States, so there is no shipping of electronic waste overseas, and they have the e-steward certification! See a full list of what Green Citizen recycles.

We strongly urge donating old items that you no longer want to organizations that can use them. Please visit the Don't Toss it page for a list of organizations.

What should I do with Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is made with petroleum, a non-sustainable and heavily polluting resource. We ask that you avoid using or buying products made of Styrofoam if you can, but if you can't, there are a few alternatives. Styrofoam peanuts can be dropped off at most shipping/mail houses (UPS and Mail Boxes, etc.). Call to see if you can drop them off for reuse, or check our Hard to Recycle page for more sources. Green Citizen in Burlingame recycles Styrofoam by volume. The fee is $5.00 per 33 gallon garbage bag. They will also take packing peanuts and other packaging materials at no charge. Some local art organizations may reuse large pieces for art projects.

Can I use plastic bags in my Recycle or Compost cart?

No. We cannot accept recyclables or compostable material in plastic bags. Plastic bags are a significant problem for the equipment that we use to processes the materials we collect. However, you can line your green and blue carts with newspaper, paper bags, used paper towels or cardboard.

Composting seems like such a hassle. Do I have to do it?

No, you don't. But we strongly encourage you to give it a try. Take a look at our Composting Tips for more information.

How do I get a kitchen pail?

If you've lost or damaged your kitchen pail, contact us for a replacement.

Do I set my kitchen pail out curbside?

No, we ask that you don't set your kitchen pail out for service. It's only for in home use.

What are the dimensions of the 20, 32, 64, and 96 gallon carts?


*20 and 32 gallon carts do look very similar in size, however, the 20 gallon cart has an in-mold volume reducer to diminish its capacity.

Someone is stealing my recyclables. What do I do?

The law prohibits the theft of recyclables. Anyone caught unlawfully removing these materials from a recycling container may be prosecuted and is subject to a fine. If you see someone taking your recyclables, obtain the time of the theft, description of the person, direction they were heading and vehicle description (if there was one), and report the theft to the non-emergency Police dispatch office in your city. For your safety, do NOT confront the recycling thieves.

Atherton Police Department
(650) 688-6500

Belmont Police Department
(650) 595-7400

Burlingame Police Department
(650) 777-4100

East Palo Alto Police Department
(650) 853-3160

Foster City Police Department
(650) 286-3300

Hillsborough Police Department
(650) 375-7470

Menlo Park Police Department
(650) 330-6317

Redwood City Police Department
(650) 780-7100

San Carlos Police Department
(650) 802-4277

San Mateo County Sheriff's Department
(650) 363-4911

What do I do about the raccoons that are getting into my carts?

The best deterrent is to keep your carts somewhere indoors where the raccoons can't get to them. For the times your carts are left outside, try covering garbage and compostable materials, especially anything with an exceptionally strong smell, with paper bags or newspaper after placing it in the cart.

Try any of following to keep raccoons at bay:
  • You can repel raccoons with cayenne pepper, which is found at just about any grocery store. Raccoons have a highly sensitive sense of smell and strongly dislike the scent - they will usually avoid it as much as possible. Sprinkle ground cayenne pepper on top of or around your cart.
  • You can also make a homemade liquid repellent. Boil a quart of water, 1/3 cup of cayenne pepper, and a diced jalapeno pepper for about 20 minutes. Cool and strain, then pour the mixture into an empty spray bottle and spray around your cart.
  • Commercial organic raccoon repellent products are available for purchase at some pet stores and online. Sprinkle the granules around your carts to keep them away.
  • Sprinkle the top of your carts with baby powder, or even sand. Raccoons don't like the feel of dust on their paws and might avoid the area if they detect any around.
  • Try using motion sensors that activate lights to scare them off.

Raccoons are intelligent animals. If they're unsuccessful at the first attempts to get food at a particular location, they will most likely stay away and look for other sources. Remember to please be careful with raccoons. They can be dangerous if provoked and often carry diseases. Never approach one for any reason. Harming or trapping a raccoon is both illegal and unacceptable.

How do I pay my bill?

You can mail in a check with your bill, or pay online. You can even set up automated billing through our website to receive bills via e-mail you can then pay online. You can also drop off your payment at our facilities.

The holidays are over. What do I do with our old tree?

Once you've removed all the tinsel, lights, decorations and stands from your holiday tree, you can leave the tree next to your green compost cart, and we will pick it up for you between December 26 and January 31.

Please make sure trees are 8 feet and under. If it's taller than 8 feet, cut the tree into lengths of 8 feet or less.

What can you do for my neighbor who doesn't speak English?

We offer a free Language Line with over 170 different languages through our Customer Service Department. Please contact us for more information.

I'm elderly and cannot set my carts out for service on my own. What can I do?

Recology San Mateo County's Special Handling Collection Service provides a special service free of charge to residents who are physically unable to set their Recycle, Compost and Garbage carts curbside or roadside for collection. Those that need the assistance are asked to provide a letter of verification from a physician, a copy of their DMV driver's license with a handicap status, or a copy of the DMV handicap placard paperwork. In addition, residents need to confirm that there isn't someone else in the household that can bring the carts out. You can download an application or contact us and we will send one out to you.

Recology also offers a regular Backyard Collection Service for any resident who does not wish to bring their carts out for service. Recology will make arrangements to service the carts from a mutually designated area for an additional fee, dependent upon the distance and elevation from the curb.