A guide to recycling in San Francisco

Program overview
When to recycle
Where recycling ends up
Recycling containers
Paper and cardboard
Bulky items
Construction debris
Household Hazardous Waste

Program overview

The City of San Francisco provides weekly curbside recycling collection for single-family homes and residential buildings with up to five units. It has one of the most progressive recycling programs in the country, requiring residents to separate their recyclables, organic material and landfill trash for curbside collection.


Early 1900s: San Francisco Bay Area “scavengers” sift through refuse and recycle glass bottles, rags, paper and clothes, eventually leading to the formal creation of two collection companies.

1921: San Francisco begins regulating the scavenger service, setting rates and requiring permits for operation. Scavenger’s Protective Association (the predecessor to Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Company) and Sunset Scavenger Company are given exclusive refuse collection licenses for the city, which are still held today.

1935: The two companies merge to become Sanitary Fill Company (today known as Recology San Francisco)

1996: The Household Hazardous Waste Pick-Up Program is established for disabled and elderly residents who don’t drive. It’s now available for all San Francisco residents.

1999: San Francisco waste collector Recology introduces the option of curbside organic recycling.

2001: San Francisco establishes single-stream recycling.

2002: Recycle Central plant opens.

2002: San Francisco sets the goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. Currently, the city diverts 80 percent of its waste from the landfill – the highest rate in North America.

2009: San Francisco passes the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance

Who collects recycling?

Curbside collection of trash, recycling and organics is provided by Recology.

When to recycle

Recycling and organics are collected weekly, on the same day as your trash collection.

Where recycling ends up
  • Glass, plastic, non-ferrous metals including aluminum and tin cans and paper are shipped to paper mills, glass plants and other manufacturers to be made into new products.
  • Organics in the green bin are composted into nutrient-rich soil. Read about the different types here.
  • Paint recycled through Household Hazardous Waste facilities is available for free to residents and non-residents at San Francisco’s transfer station. Find hours and directions here.
  • Large items, like furniture, that arrive at the transfer station in good condition are sent to a repair facility and then taken to thrift stores for resale.
  • Used tires are taken to a company that shreds and recycles the rubber.
  • Christmas trees collected during the first two weeks of January are chipped and used as boiler fuel at waste-to-energy facilities.
  • Styrofoam is recycled into baseboards and moldings.
Recycling containers
recycling in san francisco

There are few limits on what you can recycle in San Francisco, and all items go in one bin. From Recology SF.

Residents are provided with a 32- or 64-gallon green compost cart and a blue recycling cart.

Extra recyclables can be placed in a paper bag or cardboard box.

Paper and cardboard

Materials accepted in curbside collection:

  • Paper bags
  • Non-waxed cardboard
  • Cereal boxes and paperboard
  • Computer and office paper
  • Egg cartons
  • Envelopes
  • Junk mail and magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Packing paper
  • Phonebooks
  • Shredded paper (in sealed paper bags, labeled)
  • Non-metallic wrapping paper
  • Cardboard boxes (broken down to 2′ x 3′ or smaller and tied with string or placed in a cardboard box)

Not accepted:

  • Foil- or plastic-backed paper
  • Waxed cardboard
  • Wood
  • Soiled paper products like pizza boxes (these are collected curbside in the green organics bin)

Materials accepted in curbside collection: Rigid and hard plastics, including:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic buckets
  • CD, DVD cases
  • Coffee cup lids
  • Molded plastic packaging
  • Plastic wine corks
  • Plastic cups, plates and utensils
  • Plastic flower pots, trays
  • Detergent bottles
  • Plastic toys
  • Food containers and lids

Not accepted:

  • Styrofoam packaging peanuts (Styrofoam can be taken to the transfer station for recycling)
  • Plastic bags, wrappers or film
  • Plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” (“compostable” items are collected curbside in the green organics bin)

Materials accepted in curbside collection:

  • Aluminum cans and trays
  • Aluminum foil (in softball-sized or smaller balls)
  • Tin caps and lids
  • Empty or dry paint cans
  • Empty spray cans
  • Tin cans

Not accepted:

  • Scrap metal

Materials accepted in curbside collection:

  • All glass bottles and jars

Not accepted:

  • Glass mirrors or windows

Materials accepted in curbside collection:

  • Food scraps (fresh and spoiled), including: bread, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit, meat, tea bags, vegetables and seafood
  • Food-soiled paper: coffee filters, greasy pizza boxes, paper ice cream containers, used napkins and tissues, waxy paper beverage cartons and take-out containers
  • Vegetation: leaves, flowers, yard trimmings, branches and brush (less than 6 inches in diameter and 4 feet long) (Can also be placed in boxes or brown paper bags weighing less than 40 lbs.)
  • Other waste: cotton balls, non-synthetic hair, fur and feathers, compostable plastics, waxed cardboard and paper, small pieces of lumber and sawdust, vegetable wood crates and wooden chop sticks

Not accepted:

  • “Biodegradable” plastic
  • Cat litter and pet waste
  • Textiles
  • Cooking oil
  • Natural corks
  • Diapers
  • Dirt, rocks or stones
  • Flower pots and trays
  • Liquids
  • Plywood, pressboard, painted or stained wood

Residents can recycle small household batteries by placing them in a clear plastic bag set atop their black (trash) bin on their collection day. The contacts on lithium batteries (which are marked with “Li” or “Li-ion”) should be taped over.

In addition, batteries can be taken to the Recology Household Hazardous Waste Facility, or the transfer station (limit 5 gallons a month). For directions and hours, click here.


Residents can dispose of household electronics for free at the city’s transfer station.

Items accepted at no charge:

  • All batteries, up to 5 gallons a month
  • Fluorescent lamps and CFLs, up to 30 per month
  •  TVs of any size
  • Computer monitors, laptops and other LCD devices
  • Phones
  • VCR and DVD players
  • Microwave ovens

Hours and directions are available here. Residential customers of Recology can also schedule a free curbside collection via the Recycle My Junk program. Schedule by calling 415-330-1300 (if you are a Recology Sunset Scavenger customers) or 415-626-4000 (if you are a Recology Golden Gate customer).

Appliances and furniture

Residential customers of Recology can recycle large items through the Recycle My Junk program, which offers up to two free curbside collections per year. Schedule by calling 415-330-1300 (if you are a Recology Sunset Scavenger customers) or 415-626-4000 (if you are a Recology Golden Gate customer). Don’t forget to write the letters “RMJ” on a piece of paper and attach it to one of your items so that city workers know it is set out for pick-up.

Accepted items:

  • Household appliances: washers, dryers, refrigerators (remove doors for safety), water heaters, stoves, microwave ovens, toasters and other small appliances
  • Mattresses (including foundations and box springs)
  • Furniture: sofas, chairs, tables, dressers, bookshelves, desks, cabinets, file cabinets, exercise equipment, etc.
  • Textiles: clothing, towels, bedding (in a box or bag marked “textiles”)
  • Carpets and padding (must be in rolls no longer than 4 feet, weighing no more than 60 lbs.)
  • Long loose items: lumber, window blinds, pipes, brooms, etc. (tied into bundles no longer than 5 feet, weighing no more than 60 lbs.)
  • Small loose items: pots and pans, other housewares (placed in boxes or bags weighing no more than 30 lbs.)
Construction debris

Recology customers can recycle small amounts of construction debris (10 bags or less) through the Recycle My Junk curbside program. Schedule by calling 415-330-1300 (if you are a Recology Sunset Scavenger customers) or 415-626-4000 (if you are a Recology Golden Gate customer).

For larger projects, 9- to 30-cubic-yard debris boxes can also be ordered, for a fee. Find out how here.

Household hazardous waste

San Francisco residents can bring household hazardous products to the Recology Household Hazardous Waste Facility for safe disposal. Fees depend on the type and amount of waste. Collection is limited to 15 gallons per day, per residence. Find the facility’s address and hours here.

Materials accepted:

  • Latex paint (6 gallons or more)
  • Fluorescent tubes and bulbs (6 or more)
  • Oil paint and other finishes
  • Solvents and thinners
  • Used motor oil and auto products
  • Fuels
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Pesticides and garden chemicals
  • Roofing tar and adhesives
  • Photo chemicals
  • Used cooking oil
  • Asbestos (see requirements here)
  • Mercury thermometers and thermostats
  • Road flares

Not accepted:

  • Ammunition
  • Gas tanks larger than 20 lbs.
  • Unlabeled containers
  • Containers larger than 5 gallons

Items including motor oil and larger amounts of latex paint or fluorescent tubes and bulbs also can be taken to drop-off neighborhood sites.

In addition, San Francisco residents can recycle large amounts of household hazardous waste
through the city’s Pick-Up program. More information on requirements and how to schedule an appointment can be found here.

Source URLs

SF Environment