Have you ever wondered what happens to recyclables after you place them in your blue bin?
From the simple act of placing recyclables into curbside bins and collecting materials from residents and businesses throughout the city, to the innovative processing and sorting technology that prepares materials for distribution across the global marketplace, the recycling process includes more than initially meets the eye.
When products are made from recycled materials, there is less demand to mine, deforest, and process virgin materials. Using recycled materials leads to significant energy savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and lessened impacts on natural ecosystems. Recycling programs that provide these materials are critical components of our local and global supply chains that manufacture the products and packaging we use every day.
Recyclables in San Francisco generally fit within four material categories: paper and cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic.
Materials are collected in one bin and separated out by material type at Recycle Central at Pier 96, our recycling facility in the city’s Bayview neighborhood. While some materials, like a cardboard box or glass bottle, are easily recoverable, many products and packaging currently in the marketplace are not designed with recyclability in mind.
Recology facilities manage materials based on size, density, shape, and other characteristics combining innovative technologies and work performed by recycling sorters to keep pace with the ever-changing marketplace for packaging and products.
What belongs in the blue bin, and what doesn’t?
Recyclable materials should be loose and remain empty, clean, and dry when placed in the bin to avoid contaminating other materials.
COMMONLY MISPLACED MATERIALS
Materials that do not belong in the blue bin are known as contaminants. These materials often cause operational issues at the recycling facility and impact the marketability of correctly placed recyclable materials.
Make sure to keep these commonly misplaced items out of the blue bin:
Looking for educational information? A good place to start is with the actual bin!
Stickers on bins provide helpful information about accepted items. Recology also offers educational posters, flyers, and customizable signage for residents and businesses.
Recology and the City of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment offer a variety of digital and in-person resources for residents, businesses, schools, property managers, and more to learn about recycling.
Are you passionate about recycling? Check out our Waste Zero Champions program and learn how you can become a recycling leader in your community today!
Each day, Recology trucks travel the streets of San Francisco collecting recyclables.
After completing their routes, the trucks head to Recycle Central at Pier 96. This 200,000 ft² Material Recovery Facility (MRF) is one of the largest and most advanced recycling facilities in the United States.
Recology employee-owners work alongside a series of advanced processing technologies including optical sorters, powerful magnets, and state-of-the-art robotics, to sort the inbound mixed recyclables into distinct commodities that are distributed to both domestic and international markets. Watch this video to learn more about the process!
Sorted materials are baled and prepared for their next destination.
Depending on the material and available market, bales are transported to their next destination and recycled into a variety of products. In some cases, like glass and aluminum, the input is identical to the output – an aluminum can is recycled back into an aluminum can, and a glass bottle becomes another glass bottle. In other cases, like paper, the material degrades over time as it is recycled.
International policies ranging from China’s National Sword policy to the more recent Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments impact the marketability of certain materials and contribute to an ever-changing commodities market.
Recology remains committed to socially and environmentally responsible resource recovery practices and continues to seek opportunities to develop domestic markets and invest in processing technology that improves our ability to recover valuable materials from the waste stream.
An overview of San Francisco’s recyclables from December 2022 – May 2023, including the final local or international destination, is outlined in the graph here. This information will be updated every six months to reflect markets for San Francisco’s recyclables.
San Francisco Recyclables Commodities:
Dec 2022 – May 2023