In Modesto, residents dump their household garbage into the black container, but often are confused about the purpose of the green container standing alongside.
To make it simple, city workers last week started to distribute stickers to mark the green containers for "Yard Waste, Food Waste & Paper Products Only." The stickers, in English and Spanish, will be stuck to the cans throughout the city.
For years, Modesto's green waste containers were for yard clippings and food scraps. But the city expanded the list two years ago to include paper and cardboard.
That effort was intended to boost the amount of waste that Modesto keeps out of landfills. The city doesn't have a curbside recycling program, but the green waste containers help it prevent half of the refuse from ending up at a garbage dump.
Beverly McCullough, Modesto's recycling program coordinator, said the city is launching a public information campaign after finding that many residents are not putting newspapers, junk mail and flattened cardboard boxes in the green cans.
Some are making the mistake of using the green cans for plastic bags, diapers, plastic toys, Styrofoam, computer equipment and wood scraps.
"All of those are a no-no," McCullough said.
The green cans are essentially for organic material, which is taken to the city's composting facility. There, workers have to pick out the plastic bags and other objects before a machine grinds up the material and it is spread into rows to make compost. Modesto sells the compost it makes at its Jennings Road property.
Residents are encouraged to put fruits and vegetables, paper napkins, paper towels, magazines and phone books in the green containers, but not plastics, glass or metal, garbage, toxic materials, animal waste, dirt or rocks.
The city advises customers not to overfill the containers.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.