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FoodCycle is Sunnyvale’s food scraps collection service. It is provided to all single-family homes in the city. FoodCycle will be available for multi-family homes in 2022. The innovative program uses a split cart to collect food on one side and garbage on the other. The program reduces the amount of food scraps sent to the landfill. This helps meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals in the City’s Zero Waste Strategic Plan and Climate Action Playbook.

Residential FoodCycle — split-cart sizes, what can and can't go in the cart, and program details

FoodCycling Makes an Impact


FoodCycling Made Easy

We have created a video series to help make FoodCycling easier. There are great tips for choosing a kitchen container, reducing mess, preventing odors, and learning what to FoodCycle. Even if you’ve never FoodCycled before, these videos will show you how.

Watch our new FoodCycle YouTube videos

Here are some tips from our YouTube videos:

  • Choose a container that works for you. Use the countertop pail that comes with your FoodCycle service or your own plastic tub. You can also use a decorative pail with a filter and lid. Or you can use a clear plastic bag.
  • Find a place to store it. You can keep food scraps on the counter, under the sink, next to your garbage can or in the fridge.
  • Use a clear plastic bag to line your pail and prevent leaks. Compostable bags work too, but they may get soggy. Black or opaque garbage bags are not allowed.
  • Keep food scraps in the fridge or freezer until collection day. This helps your outdoor cart stay cleaner too.

If your outdoor cart gets messy, request a clean cart exchange two times per year. See "Clean Cart Replacement Service" on What's New tab.

Use this handy sign in your kitchen to help you FoodCycle.
Want us to mail the sign to you? Call 408-730-7262.

What's New

FoodCycle in Multi-Family Homes

Multi-family units will recycle food scraps in 2022. We're rolling this out in three phases. Phases are based on location. To get started, families will receive: 

  • Introductory letter
  • Countertop pail
  • How to FoodCycle sheet

We Hear You! Feedback from 2021 Survey

In spring 2021, the City conducted another survey and cart inspection. The first City survey was conducted in 2019. Your feedback is valuable. Here are some key takeaways from the 2021 survey:

Parts of the program are still challenging. These include cleaning the cart, smells, pests and the split cart design. These challenges may keep you from using the program for all your food scraps. Watch the videos (see Tips tab) to find how FoodCycling can be mess- and odor-free, and an easy part of your routine.

Clean Cart Replacement Service

Cleaning your FoodCycle cart was one of the biggest barriers you mentioned in our survey. To help, we’re adding a service that lets any single-family resident exchange their FoodCycle cart for a clean cart twice per year.

Request Clean Cart Replacement

Split-Cart Design

We looked into changing the split-cart design, which is a common suggestion. Cart manufacturers typically won’t alter a cart unless they have over 200,000 carts that need changing since new molds are very expensive. In Sunnyvale we only have 30,000 FoodCycle carts so the option for cart vendors to alter the cart is not available. Specialty is researching options to retrofit the cart.

Why FoodCycle

When we put our food scraps in the yellow side of the cart each week, we accomplish great things for Sunnyvale. Here are the reasons why our City selected the FoodCycle program:

  • A waste composition study showed that food scraps were the largest component (33%) of Sunnyvale garbage. Diverting food scraps from residents and businesses would create an immediate improvement to our landfill diversion rate.
  • The City’s Climate Action Playbook aims to reduce Sunnyvale’s emissions of greenhouse gases. When food decomposes in landfills, it creates methane. This potent greenhouse gas creates climate change.
  • State law SB 1383 (2016) set goals of reducing organics in landfills by 50% by 2020 and 75% (from a 2014 baseline) by 2025. The State is implementing these goals and monitoring progress. The FoodCycle program helps Sunnyvale meet this State law in a way that is both cost effective and innovative.

What Happens to Food Scraps?

We’re always searching for the most sustainable and cutting-edge uses for our food scraps. Today, the best use is turning them into fertilizer that enriches soil and compost. We’ve tested using food scraps to generate energy using anaerobic digesters. We plan to do more of that in the future. Food scraps can also create an FDA-approved animal feed ingredient for omnivorous animals. Since food scraps are so high-quality and versatile, there's a variety of ways to use them.

Q & A

Read answers to frequently asked questions about FoodCycle. A few of the most common questions are below.

Why not collect food scraps with yard trimmings or in a separate container?

Food scraps composting capacity in and near the Bay Area is very limited. It is also expensive and difficult to permit new facilities that compost food, whether mixed with yard trimmings or not. Combining food scraps with yard trimmings in Sunnyvale would generate 20,000 tons of material and there are no facilities available to take that quantity. Keeping the food scraps separate from yard trimmings enables more options for reuse, whether processed into animal feed or used in anaerobic digestion for energy. If we used a separate container for food scraps, the extra trucks and carts needed would increase collection costs and cause additional wear and tear on the streets from collection truck traffic. Residents would also have to store four carts instead of three.

Is the food scraps program available to businesses, schools and residents of apartments?

Businesses and schools are required by a mandatory food scraps collection law, Assembly Bill 1826, to separate and recycle their organics. The City has been collecting food scraps from businesses for more than five years; the program collects over 3,000 tons per year and is growing steadily as more businesses are added. Most Sunnyvale public schools and many private schools also are recycling their food scraps in their kitchens and cafeterias and many schools have active student “Green Teams” that assist with keeping the material free of contaminants.

All homes receiving single-family cart service, including townhomes with that service, are included in the FoodCycle program. Apartments with “bin” service are not currently included in the program; however, a *drop-off option for residents of apartments and condominiums in Sunnyvale is available at the SMaRT Station® Recycling Center.

  • There is no charge to drop-off.
  • Bag all items in clear plastic bags or compostable bags.

If you live in an apartment or condo, you may pick up a countertop pail for food scrap collection at the SMaRT Station office or Utilities counter at City Hall. Bring proof of residency to receive a pail.

*For details see the Program tab

What happens to the food scraps once they are collected?

Food scraps are unloaded at the SMaRT Station. There a “bag-breaking” machine breaks apart and discards plastic or compostable bags. After going through a few more steps, food scraps are converted to a liquid mash. This mash is nutrient-rich and has many uses, such as:

  • Fertilizer that enriches soil and compost
  • Energy source for anaerobic digesters, including Sunnyvale’s Water Pollution Control Plant
  • FDA-approved animal feed ingredient for pigs, poultry or fish

Uses for food mash vary depending on market demand and available processing techniques. Food mash is versatile, so we can make the best choice based on environmental impact, technology and cost.

Why is the food scraps side of the cart so large?

At the City's request, Specialty Solid Waste worked with the cart and truck manufacturers to test several designs, including (1) making the food side of the cart narrower and (2) angling the cart divider to increase the capacity of the garbage side. The first design caused garbage to fall into and contaminate the food scraps side of the truck. The second resulted in bagged garbage failing to fall out of the cart during collection. The current cart design enables both compartments to empty reliably into the correct sides of the truck. Even so, the City and Specialty continue to work with the cart manufacturer to find other methods for reduce the size of the food scraps compartment.

Is it ok to put food scraps in a plastic bag?

Yes. In fact, you have several options: 1) use purchased compostable bags; 2) reuse produce, bread or other plastic bags if they are clear (not opaque); or 3) line your countertop pail or wrap your food scraps in newspaper. The plastic and paper will get screened out when the food scraps are pre-processed, so they will not impact the final product. We have confirmed that Costco and Amazon carry both compostable and clear bags in the three-gallon size that fit the City-issued pail.

More FoodCycle tips

Is this program costing or saving the City money? If it’s saving money, will residents see a reduction in rates?

The City pays our vendor to turn the food scraps into a mash so there is a cost associated with processing. However, by keeping the material out of the landfill, we save money by eliminating SMaRT Station processing and landfill disposal costs. The resulting net operational savings will help moderate garbage rates in the future.

How has this program affected garbage rates for single-family homes?

This chart shows the split cart rate changes by fiscal year. Rates decreased in FY 2019/20 because we reduced material sent to landfill by 18%. It increased 4% this past fiscal year because of an increase in processing costs.

Split Cart Rate Changes by Fiscal Year

Cart Size FY 2017/18 FY 208/19 FY 2019/20 FY 2020/21 FY 2021/22
27-Split $40.83 $41.65 (↑2%) $37.36 (↓10%) $37.36 (0%) $38.85 (↑4%)
43 - Split $45.96 $46.88 (↑2%) $41.47 (↓12%) $41.47 (0%) $43.13 (↑4%)
64 - Split $52.90 $53.96 (↑2%) $46.67 (↓14%) $46.67 (0%) $48.54 (↑4%)
Last Updated: Nov 4, 2021