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Posted on 12/09/2019

What Happens to the Materials in Blue, Green and Grey Carts After Collection? 

ACI Sorting Facility

In October 2019, the City of San Ramon began a new contract with Alameda County Industries (ACI of San Ramon) for the collection of recycling, waste, and organics materials throughout the city.

In past years, a significant portion of U.S. recycling was sent to China for sorting and processing. In July 2017, China announced “National Sword,” an environmental regulation which changed its import policies for recyclable materials and had a profound effect on recycling efforts worldwide. The effects are increased costs to sort recyclables and prepare them for market, and a tremendous decrease in the resale value of recyclable materials.

Until the import policies were enacted, China was the world’s largest processor of waste paper. In January 2018, a new set of strict contaminant thresholds for certain grades of paper and cardboard went into effect. In addition, restrictions on mixed waste-paper and various grades of plastics have resulted in very limited markets and lower prices for these materials.

Recycling revenue was historically used to partially offset the cost of the some of the solid waste services. Today,  many materials in the blue cart have significantly lower value, particularly mixed paper, which has negative value and adds to the service cost.

This is true for ACI, Waste Management, and haulers nationwide—this is one of the reasons that all four bids the City received for solid waste services came in higher than previous years.

The new ACI of San Ramon contract factors the recyclables markets into the annual rate setting methodology, so that when global recyclables markets improve, San Ramon rate payers will benefit.

Here's what happens to materials once they're collected, and how proper sorting can reduce the cost.


What Happens to Recyclables?

Collection vehicles pick up recyclables and transport them to ACI’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in San Leandro. There, the recyclable material is loaded onto a conveyer system. A combination of mechanized and manual sorting separates the recyclable materials into marketable categories. Then, sorted materials are prepared for shipping.

All materials, except for glass, are baled, then marketed and transported to recyclers, where these materials are transformed into new products.

  •  Mixed Paper and Cardboard account for the majority of the recyclable materials collected in San Ramon, which ACI of San Ramon exports to India and other Asian markets.

  • ACI sells plastic containers (milk jugs, detergent bottles) to Epic Plastics in Lodi, which makes recycled plastic landscape edging (“Bend-a-Board”). Other plastics are sold to various markets through a processor in Los Angeles for secondary sorting, recovery and marketing.

  • Glass is sent to Strategic Materials, Inc. in Fairfield, where it is cleaned, processed, and sold to make new wine bottles, fiberglass, and abrasives.

  • Aluminum, steel and other metals go to Schnitzer Steel in Oakland, Standard Iron and Metal in Oakland, and Alco Iron and Metal in San Leandro.

During the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, staff from the City of San Ramon toured ACI’s recyclables sorting facility in San Leandro. ACI of San Ramon is completing an upgrade to this facility, which will help them meet new, stricter quality standards from recyclables buyers. The upgrade includes the use of optical sorting machines to better separate plastic from paper and remove contaminants from the recyclable streams.


What Happens to Organics?

ACI of San Ramon’s proposal included a reduction in landfill materials, much of which comes from composting organic materials. Because the compost market is local, it is unaffected by the worldwide import restrictions.

Once Organics are collected, they are transported to compost facilities in Napa and Manteca, where material is sorted, shredded to speed up decomposition, and cured.

The final compost is sold in bulk to vintners, farmers, and landscapers and is also blended with other soil products, bagged, and sold at retail stores.


What Happens to Garbage?

Part of ACI of San Ramon’s proposal to reduce San Ramon’s solid waste includes programs that prevent waste in the first place, such as discouraging single-use disposable items.

When the contents of the gray containers are collected, they go straight to the Vasco Road landfill outside of Livermore—no recyclable materials are recovered.


How Can I Help Decrease the Cost of Recycling Services?

Proper sorting makes a difference!

• Please remember to place ONLY recyclable materials in your blue recyclables carts and/or bins.

• Make sure all recyclable plastic, metal and glass food containers are empty and clean to prevent contamination.

Remember: garbage, organics, and hazardous waste such as household batteries and lightbulbs DO NOT belong in your blue Recycling container.

• Place all food scraps and food-soiled paper in your green organics cart/bin.

• Decrease single-use items, especially plastics, where possible. Reducing overall waste helps minimize post-collection sorting, transportation, resale, and recycling needed—along with the amount of non-recyclable material that ends up in landfills.

For a detailed list of what belongs in each container, scan the QR code on the container labels or visit


Want to hear more about this topic from City Hall, or have another question?

Submit your #AskCityHall question by calling 925.973.2500, emailing, or mailing a question to us at Ask City Hall, City Manager’s Office, 7000 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon CA 94583