Making Sense of Our Waste Stream — Sorting Out What Goes Where

Don’t break composting rules; plastic goes in the trash!  |  photos by Jenny Stein  |  post by Jen Gennari

Every cigarette butt, used straw, discarded cup, and piece of styrofoam we see snagged in our shoreline grasses or floating by our homes is a call to action. When you finish your carton of orange juice, eat the last slice of pizza, or drain your coconut water, don’t simply throw the container in the trash!

But where does it go? Recycling? The compost bin? Or in the trash.

First, Zero Waste Marin advocates changing how you shop: buy less plastic, bring your own (reusable) bags, and buy more in bulk. But once you’re through with packaging, it can be confusing to know what goes where. Mill Valley has a new tool, what goes where, that is generally accurate for Sausalito, although we have a different hauler. There are important differences, outlined below. Remember, it only matters what our hauler (Bay Cities Refuse) can process, not what happens in Mill Valley, Novato, or San Francisco.

Six years ago, the floating home community began composting, led by Blaise Simpson on Gate 6 1/2, and followed quickly by Commodore and East Pier. Yellow Ferry, West Pier and WPH were all on board by 2015. The FHA Environmental Committee worked closely with Bay Cities Refuse to provide bins, educate our community, and change trash habits. We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still more to do.

At the June 12 FHA meeting, Kim and Greg Christie of Bay Cities Refuse shared updates. Significantly, China has tightened its rules about the level of contaminated recycling it will accept. Anything over 0.5% contamination is rejected and sent back to the U.S. to be dumped in landfills. That’s one half of one percent. The waste management agencies of Marin and Sonoma counties warn, “Don’t be a wishful recycler: throwing an item you hope is recyclable in the recycling cart doesn’t mean it will get recycled.”

Greg clarified a couple of key changes about what can be recycled or composted, and what needs to go straight into the trash (aka landfill):


  • Paper products – Only clean paper goes in recycling. Pizza boxes with no grease or food residue get recycled.
  • Containers – Only clean plastic and glass containers and bottles, and metal cans, trays and foil, go in recycling. A quick rinse is usually enough (unless it is peanut butter).
  • Bottle caps and lids – Loose caps and lids go in the trash; they can only be recycled if they are screwed on.
  • Coated cartons – Waxed milk and juice cartons and other wax-coated containers—once OK for compost—now go into recycling. Aseptic/TetraPak (long shelf life) cartons go into recycling.
  • Plastic bags – These are OK in recycling if they are NOT loose. Put whatever flimsy plastic you have (newspaper bags, Mollie Stone’s green bags, and plastic grocery bags) in one larger bag and tie off.


  • Meat, bones, food scraps – It’s vital to keep these items out of recycling and out of the trash. Put them in the compost, where they belong.
  • Compost bags only – The Mollie Stone’s vegetable bags, although green, are not compostable. BioBag compost bags are Bay Cities Refuse’s preferred brand—look for the ear of corn.
  • Greasy pizza boxes – Used pizza boxes and any soiled paper such as napkins and used paper towels go in the compost. (Clean pizza boxes go in recycling).
  • Paper plates – Old-fashioned paper plates, including Chinet, are compostable, as are paper and plant-based plates and containers marked “compostable”.  A thin layer of wax or plastic—on one side only—is OK.
  • Bamboo and wooden utensils – These belong in the compost.


  • Small utensils – All forks, knives, and spoons (regardless of whether they are compostable, biodegradable or recyclable) go in the trash. This includes straws.
  • Loose plastic – If they aren’t bundled, loose plastic bags go into the trash. Loose plastic bags gum up the works and bring both compost and recycling processes to a halt.
  • Biodegradable – Unfortunately, biodegradable items take too long to break down, so they don’t work in the compost and they can’t be recycled. Anything marked “biodegradable” goes into the trash.
  • Compostable plastic cups and covers – While these items are able to be composted, they are not currently accepted by our composter. Put them in the trash.

What happens to the compost? Bay Cities Refuse takes our green waste to be processed at the West County Resource Recovery Recycling Center in Richmond. After which some of the finished compost is delivered to Martin Luther King park, by the basketball courts on Coloma Avenue, where you can shovel rich compost into your own container.

All in all, floating home residents are lucky that we have single stream recycling, and don’t need to sort (more than we do) Let’s do our part to reduce contamination: put food-free and gently-rinsed items in recycling. And let’s keep plastic bags and glass out of the compost, the better to enrich our soil and plants.