Where do San Francisco’s recyclables go?

San Francisco has a three-stream materials collection system with recycling in blue bins, composting in green bins, and trash in black or gray bins. Keeping these materials separated ensures recyclables are given a second life while reducing the amount of fossil fuels and virgin materials needed to make new products.

Materials collected in the blue bin are transported to Recology’s Recycle Central at Pier 96 where they are separated by material type and then baled and prepared for sale. Depending on the material and available market, they are transported and recycled into a variety of products. In some cases, the input is identical to the output – an aluminum can may be recycled into another aluminum can and back on store shelves in six weeks. Other materials, like paper, degrade over time, limiting the number of times they can be recycled into new products.

Baled Commodities


An overview of San Francisco’s recyclables sold from January – April 2021, including the final local or international destination, is outlined here. This information will be updated every six months to reflect markets for San Francisco's recyclables.

San Francisco recyclables commodities Pie Chart

Recyclables collected in the blue bin are sold to domestic and global markets, becoming feedstock to make new products. There are several factors that can impact the sale and marketability of San Francisco’s recyclables. For example, paper contaminated by food and liquids from unemptied containers can compromise the quality of the material, resulting in less revenue when sold.

International policies, such as China’s National Sword and Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments, place limits on contamination levels or the transboundary movement of certain materials, like plastics. This is why it’s important to reduce contamination and recycle only the materials accepted in San Francisco’s blue bin recycling program.
 

What belongs in the blue recycling bin?

3 easy steps to ensure recyclables have a second life:

  • Make sure it’s an accepted material. Recyclables in San Francisco are generally paper and cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic. Visit SFRecycles.org for more details.
  • Keep it clean. Make sure materials are free from liquids and food
  • Keep it loose. Put recyclables in the blue bin loose, do not use a plastic bag (paper bags are okay)
     

What items are commonly misplaced in the blue bin?

Materials that do not belong in the blue bin are contaminants. They can cause operational issues at the recycling facility and impact the marketability of correctly placed recyclables. Make sure to keep the these commonly misplaced items out of the blue bin:

  • Recyclables bagged in plastic
  • Loose plastic bags
  • Garden hoses
  • Car parts
  • Needles and medical waste
  • Batteries and electronics
  • Cassettes & VHS tapes
  • Food debris or liquid left in containers  
     

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