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  • Kim Jelfs

Ever wonder what happens to your recyclables?

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

GreenTown Zero Waste Team members took a field trip to find out!

Mission Trail Waste Systems provides the trash collection service in Los Altos. To get processed, the trash and compost loads go to Milpitas and the recycling loads go to San Leandro.

Our team toured the San Leandro Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where Alameda County Industries (ACI) processes about 300 tons of materials per day—including what’s in the blue recyclables carts of Los Altos residents.

At the MRF, the loads of materials journey on a network of sifting machines and conveyor belts. Staff sorts items by hand to pick out large items that cannot be recycled at the MRF (we saw carpet padding, hoses, strollers, insulation, and a suitcase to name just a few!) as well as organic or hazardous waste. In addition to hand sorting, the MRF has specialized machinery with magnets and optical equipment with robotic arms to separate cardboard, glass, metals, and different types of plastic. Eventually, the process’s end product is sorted by type and goes to storage piles or is baled for sale.

Key takeaways:

  • Let’s do our part to recycle responsibly and safely: Please keep ACI workers safe by not putting hazardous waste (needles or other sharp objects, fluorescent bulbs, paint, etc.) in our blue recyclables carts.

  • Know that loose plastic bags, box packing strips, ropes, and VHS and cassette tapes can clog machinery and cause a shutdown, bringing everything to a standstill.

  • Use reusable travel mugs and silverware. Know that “compostable” paper cups and “compostable” plasticware don’t break down in the current composting system—so they go in the trash.

  • Put recyclables directly into the blue recyclables cart—DO NOT bag in trash bags or they will immediately be sorted out for the landfill.

  • Rinse recyclables to get rid of food particles, air dry if possible, and replace lids and tops before putting them directly in the blue recyclables cart.

  • Don’t “wish-cycle” plastics! Plastic film, snack and chip wrappers, and loose plastic bags do not belong in your blue recyclables cart—they are trash. Check if your supermarket has a collection bin for plastic film (such as used for packaging) and loose plastic bags.

See for yourself! Video tour of the MRF is on ACI’s website:

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