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A Green Cart Primer...You Think You Know, But Do You?

The real dirt on what to feed your organic waste container. And, heads up, "compostable" plates and silverware are NOT permissible.

When it comes to using curbside organic waste containers, many Alameda residents find it’s not so easy being green. 

A soupy mix of food scraps, congealed leftovers and greasy soiled pizza boxes can turn your green cart into a stinky, slimy mess. 

Fortunately, Alameda County Industries (ACI) — Alameda’s garbage and recycling vendor —has announced that residents can seal their green cart contents in approved compostable bags. 

In order to increase participation in the organic recycling program, Newby Island landfill made the decision to allow such bags, said ACI Spokesperson Teresa Montgomery. Paper bags or newspaper are still preferred, she said.

You can view the list of permissible compostable bags here

That’s the good news. 

Unfortunately, disposable plates, silverware and cups made out of potatoes, corn or other seemingly earth-friendly plastic substitutes are not allowed into Alameda's green carts.

This type of bioware should be placed in your gray garbage bin unless it is marked with a recycling symbol and the number 1-7. In that case, it can be put in your blue recycling bin.

Montgomery noted that some bioware products are not truly organic (they are petroleum based) and some do not adequately breakdown at the organic landfill.

Here is a basic overview of what can go in your green and blue carts. For tips on how to keep your kitchen pail and/or green cart clean, look here.

What about coated or mixed-material products?

Most frozen food boxes have plastic films and coatings that could contaminate material in the green cart, so they should go in the blue bin.

The thin plastic (or PLA) lining inside paper cups and many other paper products is a contaminant for both compost and recycling. It’s better to use reusable cups and/or to buy plastic, glass, aluminum alternatives if available.

Milk cartons with plastic spouts require special handling to be recycled. It is recommended the plastic spout be removed and tossed into the garbage before putting the carton itself into the green or blue bin. If not, it will get screened out at the compost facility or at a paper recycling facility.

 “It is better to buy milk in plastic jugs and put the empties in the blue bin,” said Montgomery. “These can be more readily recycled.” 

Other mixed-type products which should go into the blue cart, not the green one, are asceptic or tetrapak juice or broth boxes.  

“These boxes have many layers of different materials in them, and if you can find a substitute product for them, such as glass, cans or plastic," she said, "we recommend you substitute those instead."

How should dead animals be handled?  

Dead animals should not go in the green cart. Small dead animals such as mice, rats and small birds should be bagged and placed in the gray garbage cart. Contact animal control for larger animal removal – (squirrels, large birds, raccoons, cats, dogs, etc.). And, of course, never directly touch dead animals!

Jumping on the green cart bandwagon  

Montgomery hopes Newby Island's decision to allow food waste to be put in certified compostable bags before going into green carts will reduce the “ick” factor many people complain about.

“The goal in the Bay Area is to reduce what’s going into landfills from our communities by 75 percent,” said Montgomery. “We need to encourage increased use of our green carts to attain that level.”    

If you missed the chance to place your summertime watermelon rinds in your green cart, there is still time to redeem yourself in the eyes of your environmentally conscious neighbors. 

Pumpkin carving season will be here soon. Scoop away.

Carol Parker September 13, 2011 at 02:50 AM
J.S. and Cecelia - the story has now been updated with answers to your questions.
Cecelia Leong September 13, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Thanks for the information.
Denise Shelton September 13, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Thanks for the great information! Can you clarify? My understanding that regular plastic disposable utensils or picnic ware should go in the grey cart. Is this right or can they now be recycled in the blue?
Carol Parker September 14, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Plastic dishware marked with a recycling symbol and the numbers 1-7 can go in the blue bin. All else goes in the gray bin.
Jon Spangler September 18, 2011 at 04:14 PM
We use a 10-liter step-lid container with a plastic liner inside for most of our kitchen waste (corn husks, corn cobs, kale stalks, onion skins, etc.). Several layers of newspapers at the bottom - and sometimes in intermediate layers - soak up moisture and help keep odors at bay. Once a week the inner plastic liner's contents gets dumped in the green bin, or more often in warmer weather or if it starts to get odiferous. We rinse it out and let it air-dry outside overnight then repeat the process. The wetter, messier, and other stuff that tends to attract fruit flies (chicken and fish trimmings, for instance) usually goes into a paper bag and gets carried directly out to the green bin. Less-nasty wet stuff like fruit trimmings usually goes into an empty waxed-paper milk carton that sits on the counter and is closed with a clothes pin or two until we hand-carry it out. Hot weather and more fresh fruit mean that we get a bit more exercise. The important thing in Alameda's recycling system is to source-separate by bin color (green, blue, and gray) inside your home, preferably in several locations. This makes it easy to stay organized. Once you have set up dedicated containers in your home for each color of recycling bin it is a simple thing to divert most of what we used to call "trash," with no change in cleanliness or personal energy requirements.

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