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Frequently Asked Questions: More on Recycling

Q: How does recycling work?
A: There are three parts to the recycling process: collection, manufacturing and buying. These three components are so important that they are represented by the three "chasing arrows" of the recycling logo.

Collection - Don't Send Recyclables To The Landfill
In this phase, materials are separated from the waste stream and prepared to become raw materials. Different cities and municipalities have different systems for sorting and collecting materials that can be recycled. At Stanford, we collect recyclables through the curbside and campus recycling program and the public drop off center. Once collected, we sort the material on campus into various categories.

Manufacturing - Using Recycled Materials Instead Of Virgin Raw Materials
Recovering the materials is just the first step. There must also be a market for it - companies that want the materials and are able to remanufacture them into consumer products. Sometimes these companies have to invest a significant amount of money in adapting their manufacturing processes to accommodate the use of recycled materials in their products.

Buying - "Close The Loop" By Buying Products With Recycled Content
In order to make recycling economically viable, there must be a market for recycled products. If people buy them, companies will be encouraged to make them, and the whole system works.

Q: What do the three chasing arrows mean? 
A: Do you know why the recycling symbol has three chasing arrows? Each arrow represents one step in the three step process that completes the recycling loop.

  1. The first step is collection. This is when you put your recyclables into your curbside recycling bin or take them to a local drop-off center. The collected materials are then prepared to be marketed and are sold to a manufacturing facility.
  2. The manufacturing process is the second arrow in the recycling symbol. The recyclable materials are converted into new products and shipped to stores across the country to be placed on shelves as new consumer goods.
  3. The third step is where you, the consumer, purchase products made with recycled content. When you “Buy Recycled,” you complete the recycling loop.

Q: Why do we have to sort our recyclables?
A: Mixing different recyclables or contaminating them with garbage makes it more difficult to prepare and sell them to a market. Each market has certain specification for the type of material and amount of contaminants allowed. We have to meet these standards in order for those businesses to accept the material.  We have people on campus sort material into three types (cardboard, paper, and plastics, metals, and glass) to make it more economically for us to prepare the material for the markets.

Q: What happens to all the recyclables dropped off at the Stanford Recycling Center?
A: Once it is collected at the Stanford Recycling Drop-Off Center, the recycling bin is emptied into a larger container. Once the larger bin is full, it is either hauled to a mill, factory, or broker and then sold to a manufacturer who uses the material to make a new product. Glass is made into fiberglass or glassphalt used on surface roads. Newspaper and magazines often become new newspaper and magazines. Mixed paper and corrugated cardboard are used to make the thin liner in corrugated cardboard or made into another paperboard product. Aluminum cans become new aluminum cans, car parts, or any other aluminum product. Plastic soda bottles become new plastic containers, fiberfill for pillows or sleeping bags, and car parts. Steel is made into new steel products.

Q: Why are some things recyclable and others are not?
A: As technology improves more materials will become easier to recycle in communities nationwide. In order for materials to be recycled, markets must exist and there must be a demand for the end products. If stable markets do not exist, materials are often stock-piled and could ultimately end up at the landfill. PSSI wants to ensure there is a stable market for a item before it adds it to its collection. You can help create stable markets for recyclables by Buying Recycled!

Q: Why can't I recycle everything?
A: This is by far the most asked question. The shortest answer is that not everything has a market. Remember that recycling is a business with the economics driven by supply and demand - just like any other business. Is there a demand by a manufacturer for a particular material? Are they willing to pay for this material, like they would any other type of raw material? Of course, what often drives the manufacturer's demand for a material type is the consumer's demand for the end product. By buying products containing recycled materials, we "close the loop". When the loop is closed, markets are developed and recycling those materials makes more economic sense. In short, in order for anything to be recycled, it must have a market to be sold to. Be a part of the solution, Buy Recycled!

Q: I want to recycle items not accepted at the Stanford Recycling Center. How do I find out where to go?
A: There are some items that are recyclable, but we do not accept them at the Stanford Recycling Center. 
You can call the Santa Clara County Recycling Hotline at 1-800-533-8414 or visit their webpage at They will direct you to reuse and recycling opportunities for items not included in our program.

Here are some ways to find organizations & people who could use your reusable items:
1)Palo Alto’s Recycle Where:
2)County Recycling Hotline at 1-800-533-8414or
3)San Mateo County’s Reuse Center at
4)Consider joining a local Freecycle or Freesharing group at

Q: Where can I find the definition of terms on consumer labels, like "recyclable" or "natural"?
A: Demand for environmentally friendly products is on the rise but consumer labels can be confusing. Canada and the European Union have established criteria for eco-products, but the US does not. Products claim to be natural, nontoxic, environmentally preferred, and hypoallergenic, but what do these terms mean? Visit or for information on eco-labels.

Q: What do the terms "recycled", "recyclable", "post-consumer" and "pre-consumer" mean?
A: Recycled means that a product is made all or in part from a material that was once something else, like a can or bottle.

Recyclable merely indicates that a product or package can be recycled and used to make something else.

Post-consumer is a term for material that has been returned, recycled, and reborn into a second life. It refers to materials that has served its intended use and has been recycled by a consumer or business. By looking for the highest post-consumer content you can find, you help build demand for material collected in community recycling programs.

Pre-consumer is material that was discarded, or leftover, when used to make something else. It refers to material such as factory trimmings, damaged or obsolete products, and overruns generated by manufacturers. Such materials have been recycled for decades.

Q: What is Product Stewardship?
A: Product Stewardship, also known as Extended Product Responsibility or Manufacturer Responsibility, is becoming a popular tool to use to reduce landfill waste by designing products with the end in mind.

Product stewardship is a product-centered approach to environmental protection. It calls on those in the product life cycle--manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers--to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products. Product stewardship recognizes that product manufacturers can and must take on new responsibilities to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

The product stewardship approach provides incentives to manufacturers to consider the entire lifecycle impact of a product and its packaging - energy and materials consumption, air and water emissions, the amount of toxics in the product, worker safety, and waste disposal - in product design, and to take increasing responsibility for the end-of-life management of the products they produce.

The objective of product stewardship is to encourage manufacturers to redesign products with fewer toxics, and to make them more durable, reusable, and recyclable, and with recycled materials. The challenge of product stewardship is to move beyond disposal to facilitate a paradigm shift toward "zero waste" and “sustainable production."

Where Is It Being Used?
Product Stewardship principles are being used in electronics, carpet, gas cylinders, mercury products, paint, pesticides, and tires, and are also being considered for expansion into everyday common objects.


Q: How much volume of our trash is packaging (boxes, bags, wrappers)?
A: 30% by volume or about 50% by weight. Every 30-40 days we discard our own weight in packaging.

Q: How many pounds of trash does the average American produce each year?
A: In 2014, Americans generated about 258 million tons of trash and recycled 66.4 million tons and composted 23 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.6 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.44 pounds per person per day.

The state of the economy has a strong impact on consumption and waste generation. Waste generation increases during times of strong economic growth and decreases during times of economic decline. To learn more about waste generation in the US see the US EPA report Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.


Q: How has California's Bottle Bill helped bottle and can recycling?
A: When AB 2020 passed in September of 1986, there was no incentive to recycle bottles and cans other than the "scrap value" recycling centers were willing to pay. California Redemption Value (CRV) introduced in 1987 allowed Californians to collect one cent for each beverage container recycled. Since then, more than 160 billion aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage containers have been recycled in the state. In 2005 alone, Californians recycled an all-time record 12.4 billion beverage containers, 61 percent of the 20.5 billion that were purchased in the state. Assembly Bill 3056 signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegge, starting in January 2007, raised the CRV to $.05 for containers less than 24 ounces; $.10 for containers 24 ounces or larger.

For more information, see CalRecycle.

Q: Ever ask a beverage container why you should recycle? 
A: Ask around and you're not likely to find a single bottle or can that doesn't believe in recycling. They're all for it. And you should be, too. Why? Because if we didn't recycle, we'd have a state covered with empty beverage containers. Literally. Just consider this trashy fact: Since 1987, Californians have given new life to more than 120 billion cans and bottles by recycling. That's enough containers to circle the earth more than 375 times.

7.4 Cubic Yards
Recycling a ton of #1 PET bottles saves that much space in landfill.

One Extra Large T-Shirt
That's what you can make with 14 - 20-ounce #1 PET clear plastic bottles.

Seinfeld, Gilligan's Island, The Osbournes, King of the Hill and Clifford
You could watch all of them back-to-back with the energy saved from recycling one aluminum can. What's good for the bottle is good for the TV!

34 Pounds
Add up all the PET bottles each California household uses in a year and that's what you get.

90 Days
That's how long it takes a recycled aluminum can to make it back on the shelf as something useful.

80-100 Years
No, that's not the life expectancy of a giant tortoise. That's the lifespan of an aluminum can that gets tossed into a landfill instead of a recycling bin.

700 Years
Toss a plastic bottle in the trash and that's about how long it will sit in a landfill taking up space and refusing to degrade.

1 Million Years
Put a glass bottle in a landfill and that's how long it'll sit there doing nothing. Recycle it and it can live forever.

Thanks to Department of Conservation for this article:

Q: What is the Shop Smart Campaign?
A: The choices you make in the grocery store affect both your grocery bill and the quality of your environment. The good news is - what’s better for the environment is almost always better for your budget. You could save as much as $2000 per year for your family by avoiding disposables and individual serving sizes.

Fruit juice costs almost twice as much in small boxes as juice made from concentrates. After the initial expense for a thermos, you can save over and over by refilling it from concentrates or larger bottles of juice. Cookies and chips are twice as expensive in individual sizes. Compare the grocery store shelf tags to see how much you can save per ounce. Complete packing your waste-less lunch by including a cloth napkin and using a reusable bag and you have just eliminated the need for buying paper napkins and lunch bags.

Breakfast cereals have an even bigger difference in price. Oatmeal in individual serving sizes costs over three times as much as the same amount in a big box. Dry cereal in serving size boxes uses much more packaging, including a plastic wrap to keep them together, and costs over twice as much as buying a regular box of cereal. Each time you go up a size in cereal boxes, you get more food and less packaging for your money.

At work, do you have individual packets of sugar? If so, your business pays over five times the cost of the sugar to have it packaged that way. The sugar itself costs less than 3 cents per ounce and the packaging costs an additional 13 cents per ounce! Does your business supply disposable cups for coffee? All of the sugar wrappers, the coffee cups and wooden stir sticks go into the garbage, wasting resources as well as money. Encouraging staff to bring their own cups and spoons will decrease lunch room waste.

What difference does a little packaging make in the big picture? When you consider that 30% of our collected trash is packaging, you can see how it adds up. Every time you choose less packaging or choose to reuse something, you help your community reduce waste. Protect our limited resources, lengthen the useful life of our landfills, and make your grocery money go further.

The Save Money and the Environment Too Campaign is brought to you by 110 Bay Area cities and counties, BART and more than 400 supermarkets, including Safeway, Andronicos, Cala/Bell Food Co. For more information on waste prevention and reuse, call 1-800-CLEAN-UP.

Q: How can I reduce paper waste by changing my margins?
A: Open a new Microsoft Word document. From the drop down File menu, click on Page Setup. From the Margins tab, change the Left, Right, Top and Bottom margins to 0.75". At the bottom of that screen, select Default. This one change will reduce paper consumption by about 4.75 percent. If it spread nationally, that would result in 380,000 tons less paper consumed. This idea has been formalized by Tamara Krinsky. She has created a website to promote the idea (, has started a petition to Microsoft, and has gotten some national press through a story on National Public Radio.

A study for Penn State University found that the campus could save $120,000 per year if they adopted this practice throughout the university. If the financial motivation isn't enough, consider the environmental impact. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the paper industry is the number one consumer of fresh water. The industry is also the third-largest industrial producer of global warming pollution.

Q: What are some waste minimization practices that I could use in my office/building/business/home?
A: 1. Purchasing office equipment with waste prevention in mind (e.g. electronic interface, double-sided capabilities; sourcing and purchasing for durability, etc.).

2. Creating accrual mechanisms to use savings in disposal costs to fund further waste reduction initiatives.

3. Active program to sell or donate surplus property.

4. Working with vendors to reduce transportation packaging (e.g. require vendors shipping on a pallet to take it back with the next delivery; redesign shipping packaging for waste minimization or recyclability, etc).

5. Reusing and/or redistribute packing materials from central distribution centers.

6. Promoting inter-office reusable envelopes for mail and review/improve campus systems for reclaiming extra envelopes for reuse.

7. Replacing paper documents with online alternatives wherever possible (e.g. telephone directories, course catalogs, room selection, bill payment, grade distribution, etc.).

8. Active program to reduce unwanted bulk mail from off-campus sources (e.g. creating an opt-out registry, send out bulk mail removal postcards on behalf of former residents, encouraging the cancellation of unnecessary or duplicate subscriptions etc.).

9. Implementing printing initiatives which prohibit or discourage unlimited printing in computer labs and copy rooms (e.g. pay-per sheet pricing, etc.).

10. Promoting the use of printer settings and paper reduction software and margin reductions (e.g. GreenPrint).

11. Creating an office supplies exchange program.

12. Offering discounts or other incentives for using reusable mugs.

13. Offering reusable dinnerware and utensils in lunch rooms and cafeterias.

14. Converting all-you-can-eat dining facilities to pay-per-portion system.

15. Establishing post-consumer waste and biodegradable dinnerware composting program.

16. Creating and promoting a system to report wasteful practices and offer suggestions for waste reduction.

17. Creating active program to educate employee and students about waste minimization practices (e.g. incorporating waste minimization information into new employee / new student orientation programs; giving regular presentations to campus groups and departments; setting up public displays, etc.).

18. Recognizing waste reduction / materials management roles in relevant staff job descriptions including administrative assistants, purchasing officials, and building proctors.

Q: How can I find how to reduce waste from school lunches?
A: The PTA Go Green Initiative and Obentec, designers of the Laptop Lunch system, have formed a partnership to promote waste-free lunches in schools. According to these organizations, a family that packs prepackaged lunches will spend an average of $4.02 a day per lunch or $723.60 per school year, while a family that packs waste-free lunches will spend $2.65 a day per lunch or $477.00 per school year.

Visit for more information.

Q: Where can I find websites that talk about recycling and are geared toward children?
A: There are websites that promotes reduce, reuse, recycle, and close the loop in a fun way that is appropriate for kids. They have coloring and craft activities, games, clubs, and newsletters. Check out our website for links.

Q: What is construction and demolition waste and how do we reduce or recycle it?
A: According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for at least 28% of the total tonnage in California landfills. C&D is any material generated by a construction or demolition project. Load composition can vary depending on whether the material is generated by a new construction, a remodel, or a demolition project. Generally, C&D includes asphalt, concrete, cardboard, drywall, metals, organic material, reusable items, and wood.

PSSI offers discounts to homeowners and contractors on roll-off boxes that contain clean source-separate recyclable material such as wood or green waste. Most other mixed construction and demolition debris placed in our roll-off boxes is taken to a C&D recycler where concrete, wood, metals, drywall, cardboard, and other recyclable items are separated and recycled. Unrecycable items are landfilled. Introduced in January 1999, this practice has significantly increased our diversion rate.

But, before we recycle we should reuse C&D material. Whole House Building Supply (WHBS) located on Pulgas Avenue in East Palo Alto has helped reduce the amount of material destined for the landfill by selling salvaged building materials to customers looking for quality but low-cost items.

WHBS operates a warehouse in East Palo Alto where customers can look for unique and/or used building material. They accept donations of marble and granite, beveled glass, windows and doors, hardwood floors, ironwork, moldings, kitchen cabinets, fixtures, and the list goes on. When houses are set for demolition, WHBS can arrange an estate “salvage sale” and sell everything from wood flooring to kitchen cabinets to moldings and ironwork. You name it, they sell it.

Not only does WHBS help reduce the impact on landfills during a renovation project, they also provide homeowners a documentation letter showing the value of their tax-deductible contributions. They are able to do this because they share a percentage of their sales with the non-profit organization, East Palo Alto Council of Tenants, which promotes affordable and fair housing.

To find out more about current salvage sales, how salvage sales work, how to donate building materials and view some of their inventory contact Whole House Building Supply at (650) 856-0634 or