Frequently Asked Questions for Single Family Residents

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

With automated collection, our drivers make right-hand turns for safety as they service homes on their routes. Because of this, there may be a period of 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 using a different type of truck, and drivers could service both sides of the street at the same time.

How do I place my carts out for service?

Recology San Mateo County's services are provided using fully automated collection vehicles that operate a mechanical arm to lift the carts, making service faster and more efficient. Please help us continue to provide this efficient service by following these guidelines when setting carts out for service:
  • Place 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 carts roadside, again with the arrows pointed toward the street.
  • If you are a corner home, please notify our customer service department if you are placing cart on a different street than your home address.
  • Place each cart 24 inches, or 2 feet apart, all facing the same direction. If you don't have enough space to place carts 2 feet apart, we kindly ask that you separate them as much as possible, so the driver does not need to exit the vehicle and the mechanical arm of the fully-automated truck can easily access the carts for collection.

When will my driver pick up my carts?

You can look up your service day online. Please remember, there are three separate collection vehicles for garbage, recycling, and compost. Drivers may arrive at different times, and although we try to keep a regular schedule, drivers and routes are subject to change and could affect the time of your service. Therefore, please be sure to put your carts out the night before or by 6am the morning of your pickup. If you believe that you were missed, please look inside your cart and check your next-door neighbor's cart before calling in.

Why didn't my driver empty my cart?

Has your side of the street been serviced? If not, then the driver is probably still in the neighborhood and hasn't arrived on your street yet. If your driver has serviced your neighbor's carts, check for a few things that may have prevented the driver from servicing yours:
  • Did you set your cart out by 6am? This is when Recology drivers start working in residential areas.
  • Is your cart within our weight limitations? If your cart has heavy materials in it, the cart may be overweight. The maximum weights allowable are 73 pounds (20 gallon cart), 112 pounds (32 gallon cart), 224 pounds (64 gallon cart) and 335 pounds (96 gallon cart).
  • Did your driver leave you a note indicating contamination? Incorrect materials in your cart can affect your collection and need to be removed before a driver can service them. For more information about contamination, click here.

Recology is happy to send a driver back to empty your cart! Just correct any issues and contact us.

Can I leave my cart in the street on non-service days?

Many communities have ordinances that require residents to put away carts after service, or they can be subject to a fine. More importantly, putting carts away shows consideration of your neighbors, helps prevent contamination, illegal dumping, and scavenging of recyclables.

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 free service to residents who are physically unable to set their carts curbside or roadside for collection. Customers that need the assistance and who do not have someone else in the household that can set carts out for service, 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. Download an application or contact us and we will send one out to you.

Recology San Mateo County also offers 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. Contact us for more information about this service.

How do I change my cart size?

Just contact us and let us know what you would like. Recology will get you a new cart as soon as possible.

Can I get an additional recycle or compost cart?

Yes! Recology is happy to provide additional recycle or compost carts, to help you divert more materials from the landfill. Carts will be serviced weekly for a small additional fee.

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


*20 and 32 gallon carts look very similar in size; however, the 20 gallon cart has an in-mold volume reducer to diminish its capacity.
**The dimensions are measured in inches.

My compost cart is dirty and smells; what can I do?

To clean the cart, try using baking soda and hot water. The baking soda will absorb any order and residue, and the hot water will wash it away. To keep the compost cart clean in the future, place materials in paper or compostable bags. If extra liquid is still pooling in the cart, try placing cardboard or newspaper at the bottom to absorb it. Excess moisture is what causes fruit flies, the smell of ammonia, and dirty sticky carts. Please contact us to exchange your cart for a clean one for an additional charge.

What do I do if my cart has been damaged or stolen?

Please contact us to order a cart repair or replacement. Recology will do this free of charge.

Why was Recology looking in my carts?

Carts are sometimes checked before collection to ensure materials are being placed in the proper cart. Visual checks allow Recology San Mateo County to identify materials that are commonly sorted incorrectly. Identifying materials that are incorrectly sorted help us develop outreach and educational materials to better inform customers of how to properly recycle and compost.

Contamination levels are also required to be kept at low levels by the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA). When there is a high percentage of contamination, the loads Recology collects are compromised. This makes it difficult to find markets for the materials, which may result in higher rates. By working together, we can deliver cleaner loads to the Shoreway Environmental Center, and divert more materials from the landfill.

How can I pay my bill?

You can mail in a check with your bill or pay online by making a one-time payment. You can even set up automated billing through our website to receive bills via e-mail. Payments can also be dropped off at Recology San Mateo County's office at 225 Shoreway Road in San Carlos. Recology's office hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday (except holidays).

How can I lower my bill?

You can lower your bill by decreasing your garbage cart size. In most cases, this is done hand-in-hand with increasing recycling or adding composting service. Protecting the environment is also good for your pocketbook!

What do the rates cover?

The residential garbage rates cover the costs for the following items, in most cases:
  • Weekly garbage, recycling, and compost collection
  • Curbside used battery & cell phone recycling
  • Curbside used motor oil & oil filter recycling
  • Twice annual bulky item collection
  • Annual Compost giveaway and shredding event
  • Disposal fees at the landfill
  • Processing fees for recycling
  • Processing fees for composting
  • Street sweeping
  • County and local fees
  • Household hazardous waste program fees

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

Recology San Mateo County can only collect recyclable materials that can be processed at the Shoreway Environmental Center, operated by South Bay Recycling. However, we know that there are some items that are recyclable, but not included in the curbside collection program. Please visit our Hard to Recycle page for a list of items that can be recycled but do not belong in blue recycle container. You can also check out RecycleWorks of San Mateo County for general recycling and waste reduction information.

What bags do you accept in the recycle cart?

Recology San Mateo County accepts paper bags or small cardboard boxes in the blue recycle cart. You can use paper grocery bags, or purchase large paper bags from hardware stores and grocery stores such as Home Depot, Lowe's, or Target.

Recology cannot accept recyclable material in plastic bags because plastic bags are a significant problem for the equipment used at the Shoreway Environmental Center where Recology brings the material collected.

Can I use plastic bags in the blue recycle cart?

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

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

Recology encourages you to shop with reusable bags. But, if you do use plastic bags, you can drop them at the public disposal area at the Shoreway Environmental Center, 333 Shoreway Road in San Carlos, or take them to a local grocery store that accepts them. A list of participating stores can be found on our Hard to Recycle page.

How do I set out extra cardboard?

Extra cardboard must be broken down and put in a small box. Or bundle the cardboard with string, twine, or tape. The driver needs to refill your blue cart, so please make sure each bundle is less than 3 x 3 x3 feet. If you have more than 5 bundles, please contact us at least 24 hours in advance, so we can properly notify your driver.

Do I need to rinse out my recyclables?

You are not required to rinse out your cans, bottles, and jars if there is a small amount of residue left. For example, if you have squeezed out all the ketchup you can, it's ok to recycle the bottle with a little left in the bottom. You may want to rinse out containers to reduce odor and discourage ants or other pests from invading your cart. If the container is caked with food, the food will have to be removed before the container can be recycled. To conserve water, rinse the containers with sink water after you've washed your dishes.

Can I recycle bottle caps and lids?

Yes, please leave caps and lids on containers when you recycle them. If you remove caps and lids from the container and put them in loose with your recycling, these small items may fall off the sorting line and not make it through the recycling process.

Do I need to remove plastic windows from envelopes and things like
staples from paper?

Don't worry about removing the plastic windows from envelopes or tissue boxes. It's also okay to leave the staples in papers and plastic spouts on beverage containers. These materials are separated in the recycling process. Recology requests that you do remove plastic bags from newspapers and shrink wrap around cardboard to prevent jams in the conveyor belt at the Shoreway Environmental Center, which can result in costly repairs and delays.

Can I use compostable bags?

Yes! Compostable bags are acceptable in the compost collection program. Compostable bags must meet the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) standards. These bags can be found at Costco, Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, Safeway, CVS and Walgreens, among other stores. Find a full list of approved bags 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 Recology's Composting Tips page for more helpful information.

I want to compost, but it seems complicated and I'm afraid my cart
will smell. What should I do?

Recology San Mateo County strongly encourages you to give composting a try. We'll even give you a kitchen pail and signage to help you get in the swing of it! San Mateo County residents have told us that composting becomes easy after the first week. From experience, they recommend bagging or wrapping food scraps in newspaper to slow down the decomposition and reduce odor.

Composting is a simple habit with many environmental benefits. If you throw compost scraps in the garbage, the waste is sent to the landfill, where it decomposes and releases methane gas into the atmosphere, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is directly attributed to climate change. If you place kitchen and garden scraps in the green cart instead, the materials will be composted, which will actually help capture carbon in the soil and reverse some of the effects of climate change. Composting is nature's way of recycling organic waste into a new soil amendment rich in nutrients that can be used for organic farming, vineyards, and highway erosion and control projects.

Residents are also enthusiastic about composting because they can usually decrease their garbage cart size and thus, their bill. And, they love picking up the finished compost for their gardens at Recology San Mateo's yearly Compost Giveaway events. Going green can add some more green to your wallet and garden!

Take a look at Recology's Composting Tips for more information, and use if you want to know if an item is compostable.

How do I get a kitchen pail? Do I set my pail out curbside?

If you're a new resident or you've lost or damaged your kitchen pail, contact us for a replacement. Recology requests that you don't set your kitchen pail out for service. It's only for in-home use. Recology's trucks are not equipped to lift and empty the pails.

I pruned my tree. Can I place branches in my compost cart?

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 6 inches in diameter) in the compost program. If branches are longer than 5 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 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 6 inches in diameter can be taken through the Bulky Item Collection. Contact us for more information.

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

What kinds of paper do you take in the compost?

Recology San Mateo County accepts food-soiled napkins, paper towels, paper plates, paper cups, and pizza boxes. Recology also accept s waxed cardboard (such as produce boxes), and wet or food-soiled paper and cardboard. Clean and dry paper, as well as waxy milk and juice cartons, should be placed in the recycling.

What should I do with Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is made with petroleum, a non-sustainable and heavily polluting resource. Avoid using or buying products made of Styrofoam if you can, but if you must, there are a few alternatives. Styrofoam peanuts can be dropped off at most shipping and mail houses, such as UPS and Mail Boxes.

Call to see if you can drop them off for reuse, or check Recology's Hard to Recycle page for more sources. Green Citizen in Burlingame recycles Styrofoam by volume. Nominal fees may apply. They also take packing peanuts and other packaging materials at no charge. Some local art organizations may reuse large pieces for art projects. Visit for a list of other recycling or reuse options.

Do you sort the materials in the garbage for us?

A common misconception is that everyone's garbage is sorted after it is collected. Unfortunately, that's not the case. ! Recology San Mateo County brings all of the garbage collected to the Shoreway Environmental Center, where it is loaded onto trucks and taken directly to the Ox Mountain landfill in Half Moon Bay. Recology encourages you to use our simple 3-bin system and take advantage of our many recycling and composting programs. Not only will you be reducing your environmental footprint, but you may also reduce your garbage bill.

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 Recology's 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 for more information.

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

Motor oils and filters are accepted curbside for residential customers. Recology will provide you with up to five one-gallon plastic jugs for used motor oil and up to five zippered plastic bags for used oil filters if you contact us. Simply leave the filled jugs and bags beside your blue recycle cart when you put it out for service and your driver will pick it up.

Residential and multi-family accounts are both eligible for Recology's battery and cell phone recycling programs. Tape the ends of the batteries to prevent leakage or combustion. Tape battery buttons to a piece of paper. Residential customers should place the batteries or cell phones in a clear plastic bag. Place the sealed plastic bag on the lid on top of your blue recycling cart. Multi-family dwelling property managers may contact us to order a battery and cell phone collection bucket for tenants. Once the bucket is full, Recology will arrange to empty it.

What do I do with old medications? Don't they need to be disposed of
in a special way?

Yes, medications need to be disposed of responsibly to avoid harm to other people and the environment. You absolutely should not throw old medications in the garbage, flush them down the toilet, or pour them down the sink. Trace amounts of drug residues have been found in the soil and in water sheds that provide our drinking water.

Visit Recology's Household Hazardous Waste page to view a list of police station drop-off locations and to learn more on how to properly dispose of old medications.

What should I do with used cooking oil?

Give used cooking oil a second life and recycle it. Cooking oils and fats can be transformed into biodiesel, which is a more sustainable fuel source for buses and trucks. Recycling grease and cooking oils responsibly is a much better alternative then pouring them down the sink. Oils stick to pipes and cause sewer backups, which can damage to your property. The clogs can also cause sewage to overflow into storm drains and be carried out to the ocean or San Francisco Bay.

Help prevent winter sewage spills by wiping down greasy pans with paper towels and placing them in the compost cart. Collect oils in a container and drop it off at a local grease recycling facility. Commercial businesses with larger amounts of cooking oils may also be eligible for pickup programs. Residential customers in San Mateo County may drop off up to 15 gallons at the Shoreway Environmental Center, 333 Shoreway Road in San Carlos.

What do I do with used helium tanks?

Some retailers that sell helium tanks will accept empty ones for reuse. . For safety reasons, please do not put them in Recology containers. When the trucks compact the materials collected in the truck, compressed air from the helium tank may cause an explosion.

What should I do with light bulbs?

Incandescent or traditional light bulbs can be placed in your black garbage cart.

The Environmental Protection Agency encourages the use of compact fluorescent lights (CFLS) to save energy and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change. However, because of the mercury CFLs contain, they cannot go into the garbage or recycling carts and must be disposed of carefully.

CFLs can be brought back to any of the locations listed on Recology's Household Hazardous Waste page so they can be safely and properly disposed of.

What do I do about household items I want to recycle?

Twice a year, Recology San Mateo County offers a scheduled pickup service for items you don't need anymore and that are not accepted in the carts. Recology schedules Bulk Item Collections from February 1st through December 31st. January is reserved for holiday tree collection. For more information, visit Recology's Beyond the Cart section.

Why is it important to recycle electronics?

Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing segments of the nation's waste stream. Most electronics contain heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, which can leach out of electronics and lead to serious health problems. Recycling electronics recovers finite resources and keeps toxic metals out of the landfill. Electronics are disassembled and recycled by HMR in Sacramento.

What should I do with my old computer or TV?

Computers and TVs are considered Electronic Waste and need to be recycled responsibly. We strongly urge donating working items to organizations that can reuse them. Please visit the Don't Toss It page for a list of organizations.

Recology accepts one to two electronic items through the Bulky Item Collection program.

To find a drop-off location near you, 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.

If an item fits in my recycle cart, can't I put it in there and save
my Bulky Item Collection?

Recology only accepts standard recyclables in the single-stream recycling program. If you want to save your BIC, there are a number of non-profit organizations in San Mateo County that accept donations year-round.

Do you take construction debris through the Bulky Item Collection?

Recology accepts small amounts of wood without nails through the Bulky Item Collection. Please order Debris Boxes for other construction and demolition debris, such as concrete and drywall.

Do you still collect Bulky Items when it rains?

Recology San Mateo County will be out to collect your items rain or shine. Recology recommends placing items in plastic bags if there is a chance of rain. Cardboard boxes and paper bags tend to fall apart in the rain.

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

The best deterrent is to keep your carts 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 illegal.

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, leave the tree next to the green compost cart, and Recology 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?

Recology San Mateo County offers a free Language Line with over 170 different languages through Customer Service. Please contact us for more information.

I'm not sure where to put an item. How do I find out? is Recology's answer to what goes in what bin. Just click on the name of your city and type in the item in question.

What does Waste Zero mean?

At Recology, we embrace Waste Zero as our approach to resource recovery. Waste Zero is our rallying cry to make the best and highest use of all resources that are manufactured, consumed, discarded and re-manufactured. It means using resources wisely, generating waste only as necessary, and finding ways to use waste products in ways that benefit the environment. We are passionate about and committed to reducing waste, and to recycling and composting everything we can. This is what we mean by Waste Zero. It's a commitment and we hope you join us in our efforts.

Where do the materials go after they are collected?

Recology San Mateo County brings all materials collected curbside to the Shoreway Environmental Center at 333 Shoreway Road, which is operated by South Bay Recycling. Watch the RethinkWaste "Where Your Stuff Goes" video to follow the journey of where the materials go after collection.