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  • John Love

New Recycling Service Takes What Waste Companies Leave Behind

There’s a new recycling service in town. And it takes many of the items that waste companies like Mission Trail don’t take, reducing the amount of material that ends up in our landfills which is everyone's ultimate goal.

The service is provided by Ridwell. They started offering pick-up service in Los Altos in February 2024 and I immediately signed up. The main things they take that otherwise typically go in the garbage are multilayer plastics and plastic film. Mission Trail takes anything with a recycle symbol, but most of these items don’t sport such an insignia*. Multilayer plastics are items that generally are crinkly and don’t stretch — think chip bags, food packaging, energy bar wrappers, and netting for produce. Plastic film generally is soft, quieter and stretchy – think bubble warp, Amazon packaging, bread bags, dry cleaning bags, and Ziplock bags.

How It Works

Here’s how it works. Ridwell provides a metal box, about 14” cubed (plastic doesn’t take much space!), plus a selection of cotton bags to collect each type of material – the plastics plus clothing and lightbulbs every time, plus additional items on a rotating basis including bread bag tabs and plastic caps, corks, styrofoam, and more. Every two weeks you just put the box out where a driver can easily access it, someone takes your full bags and replaces them with empty bags for the next pick-up.

There are three levels of service available, with Ridwell taking a wider range of materials at each level. I signed up for the mid-tier, which includes multi-layer plastic and plastic film, for $18/month. And I am sharing it with a neighbor who brings over her plastic before each pick-up day, cutting the cost to each of us in half.

What happens next? Ridwell boasts that 97% of the material collected gets either recycled or reused. Their recycling partners include Trex, which turns plastic film into decking materials, and for multi-layer they partner with Hydroblox, which manufactures drainage material made from 100% landfill-bound plastic, and ByFusion Global, which converts all types of plastic waste into a high-performing, advanced building material called ByBloc.

Some Trade Offs To Consider

I know that there are other options for recycling some of these materials, such as the Stanford Recycling Center and in-store drop-offs of plastic bags. For me, the confidence of knowing what Ridwell does with the materials and the convenience of them picking it up at my home make it worth the cost.

My experience after these first few pick-ups is that I’m surprised by how much plastic I recycle this way that I couldn’t recycle before. I just didn’t realize how many items we buy every day come in multi-layer plastic in particular. And given how much we’re all ordering online these days, it’s great to have a way to easily recycle the plastic shipping envelopes. Our garbage is now next to nothing, thanks also to the amount that Mission Trail does take.

Interested in finding out details? Learn more at

* A note about Mission Trail.

While Mission Trail takes anything with a recycle symbols (#1-7), they only have reliable markets for #1 PET, used to make products like clear plastic soda bottles, and #2 HDPE used to make opaque containers like milk jugs. As Ridwell takes plastics #4, which are plastic film, and #6, Styrofoam, I will be putting those items, even if they have a recycle symbol on them, in the Ridwell box instead of in my MissionTrail recycle bin. And I’ll do my best to avoid the others: #3, 5 and 7.

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