How to Reduce Plastic Waste

Four speakers offered lots of tips on reducing and avoiding plastic waste at our September program, “How Can I Become More Plastic Free?”

Shirley Freriks (shown in photo), a strong advocate for recycling since the early 1990s, suggested a variety of ways people reduce their own plastic usage, Elena Petkova of Recology explained how to make sure plastic gets recycled, Laura Porter of Byrd’s Filling Station at 219 S. San Mateo Drive in San Mateo promoted shopping with refillable containers, and Karen Noryko introduced Ridwell, a service that picks up plastic and difficult items, such as clothing, light bulbs and even leftover Halloween candy, to recycle from front porches for $14 a month. Ridwell recently began offering service in Burlingame.

photo of Shirley Freriks

General Recommendations

  • Most plastic is petroleum based. Bioplastics are made of at least 20 percent renewable plants. Some bioplasticsare compostable, but they generally require an industrial composting facility to process these materials.
  • Don’t buy water in plastic bottles. In addition to being difficult to recycle, these bottles leach toxins into the water when they are left in the sun.
  • Food warmed in plastic trays absorbs toxins when heated in a microwave.
  • Artificial turf releases toxic chemicals, especially when exposed to sun, rain and other weather conditions.
  • Polyester clothes slough off microplastics when they are washed and dried. GuppyFriend washing bags and Cora Balls reduce microplastic pollution in your laundry.
  • Cigarette butts are the No.1 item picked up during beach cleanups. They have plastic in the filters.
  • Most cities in San Mateo County have enacted an Disposable Food Ware Ordinance that became law October 1 that requires restaurants to use fiber-based, compostable food ware for take-out orders, but enforcement will depend on consumers who speak up when establishments don’t comply.
  • If a company ships things to you padded with bubble wrap or Styrofoam, complain to the company. Shirley Freriks has convinced many firms to reduce plastic by writing directly to company presidents.
  • Producers of products need to encouraged to take responsibility for making containers that are replaceable or recyclable.
sea turtle in plastic

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) trapped in a drifting abandoned net, Mediterranean Sea.

General Recycling Tips

  • The main Burlingame Public Library, the Safeway store on Howard Avenue and Ridwell all accept plastic film that it recycles via Trex, which turns it into composite decking and benches. Trex has strict rules about the types of plastic it recycles. Here are the types of plastic that Trex accepts.
  • TerraCycle is a private U.S.-based recycling business that runs a volunteer-based recycling platform to collect non-recyclable pre-consumer and post-consumer waste on behalf of corporate donors or municipalities to turn it into raw material to be used in new products.
  • Both Trex and TerraCycle offer school recycling programs.


Recology Recycling Tips

  • Recology, which provides recycling for most cities in San Mateo County, offers a searchable website that explains how to recycle different items.
  • Recology accepts all plastic containers marked with a “1” through “7” in the little recycling triangle on the bottom of containers if they hold their shape. However, items marked “1” or “2” have the highest chance of being recycled; the others will be recycled if Recology can find a market for them.
  • Recology can’t recycle black plastic or “soft plastics” that you can wrinkle or crinkle because they gum up their machinery. These should be recycled at locations that recycle plastic with Trex (see above) or placed in the black recycling container that goes to landfill.
  • Composting is the single best thing you can do to help combat food waste, which generates methane in landfills. San Mateo County offers free composting classes. When you complete the course, they’ll ship a free compost container to you.
  • You don’t need to wash plastic items before recycling them. Just wipe them out or rinse them a little.
  • If a container or bottle has liquid dripping from it, put the lid on it before recycling it.
  • Milk cartons can be recycled.
  • TetraPaks cannot be recycled.
  • Batteries can be placed in a plastic bag on top of your landfill recycling container on your pickup day. Residents who live in multifamily complexes can ask their building manager to request a battery bucket.