The Interview: Naama Brenner-Abramovitch!

I had the pleasure of sitting down with and picking the brain of Naama Brenner-Abramovitch, Recycling Specialist for Napa Recycling and Waste Services. Naama is a treasure trove of information and she spends her time educating the community on how we can do better at the individual consumer level to make a difference on a larger scale. Our conversation flew by and there was so much more we could have discussed, so we are excited to make this the first of many interviews.

Just to be clear, all municipalities are different and Naama’s information about what goes where does not necessarily reflect the rules of the different recycling centers around the country or world. While we think this discussion will be helpful for everyone to hear, please make sure you double check any info she shares here with your local recycling company.

With that, please enjoy my conversation with the wonderful Naama Brenner-Abramovitch!

KP:       Waste management can be such a complicated topic and we know every municipality does it slightly differently. At the same time, it is so important that people do it right so as much as possible ends up getting recycled or composted, vs. going in the landfill. Can you give an overview of how you would like people to think about the process?

NB-A:   I would like to encourage people to take a step back and start with the question “how can I reduce the waste I generate regularly and move my personal habits to reflect a more circular economy?”. Before we start discussing how to recycle, compost or otherwise dispose of items, we need to think about how every item that we use has to go somewhere. Generally speaking, people today are so disconnected from the waste that they generate. Take a paper coffee cup for example: an item that is used for 30 minutes, more or less. There is so much that goes into making that cup, from the trees being cut down, to the energy used at every step of the process, to whatever material is being used for the liquid barrier, the transportation, etc., not to mention what happens to it after its short use. The carbon footprint for that cup is huge and by bringing your own reusable cup, you can make a big difference. We’re all used to hearing the 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, but the one that comes first and arguably matters most is Refuse. Bring your own reusable items and do your part to decrease the amount of single use items being used. Then, after using your reusable items as many times as you possibly can, upcycle it by figuring out ways you can use it for another purpose. Then and only then, start thinking about how to recycle the item. Research your local recycling guidelines (Napa’s can be found here as an example) and take the time to sort and dispose of the items correctly. If you are unhappy with the items that are not on your local list, use your voice to reach out to both your local recycling company and also the manufacturers themselves, as they need to hear from their customers that they are unhappy with the materials being used, that they are not recyclable. We are very fortunate in Napa that we have composting as a service, but that is not the case everywhere. Food in the landfill creates methane gas which escapes the landfill and impacts our air quality in a very negative way. If your local municipality does not offer a composting service, reach out to them and let them know how important it is to you as a consumer. We all need to do our part at an individual level if we want to see changes nationally and even globally. 

KP:       How do the recycling and composting processes work?

 NB-A:   This should be two separate conversations. In the meantime, this video is a great overview.

KP:       How does the landfill process work?  

NB-A:   Here in Napa, we have a transfer station, not a landfill, and it is at a totally different location than the recycling and composting facility and is transported in different trucks. We, along with a number of other transfer stations in the area, collect everything and then it gets transported to the landfill in Solano County. You can assume that every item that goes to the transfer station will go into the landfill, even if it is recyclable or compostable. We just don’t have the resources to sort through every single piece of garbage, which is why it is so important that individuals take sorting their waste seriously. 

KP:       If something can be both recycled and composted (i.e. a cardboard box), which is the preferred option?

NB-A:   It depends on the item but generally speaking, recycling is a better option because it gives it another cycle of life before it ends up in the compost. Cardboard for instance has a lot of value if it is dry and clean and it can have a few more lives before it ends up being broken down in the compost.


KP:       What are items that you often see being recycled and/or composted that are wrong?

NB-A:   This should also be an entire stand-alone conversation, but some very common mistakes are:

  • Paper cups with a poly (plastic) liner cannot be composted unless they are certified compostable and they can never be recycled.  
  • Plastic bags cannot be recycled, even if they have that cute little triangle. Plastic bags are terrible for the recycling machines and end up causing clogs that need to be fixed by a human, which is both incredibly time-consuming and dangerous.     
  • Pizza boxes are compostable but not recyclableif they have any pizza grease or food remnants in them.  

KP:       What happens to items that are thrown in the trash that could be recycled or composted?  

NB-A:   The short answer is that they go into the landfill, which is such a shame not only for the landfill itself and the finite amount of space in our planet, but because those items are lost resources that impact our environment. Food ending up in the landfill generates methane. Recyclable items like aluminum, glass, paper, etc. are materials that took a lot of energy and resources to make in the first place and will need to be made again in the future. Aluminum and glass are infinitely recyclable, so it is such a shame to waste those resources by throwing them in a landfill.  

KP:       What happens to items that are thrown in the recycling/compost that should not be there?

NB-A:   Items that are not meant or able to be recycled cause all sorts of issues. They can do damage to the machines by clogging them up and when that happens, all operations have to come to a halt so that the employees can jump onto the machines and into the mess to pull them out. This is not only very dangerous for them, but it also takes time away from the job they are there to do and makes them less efficient, which ends up costing taxpayers more money in the long run. I want to reiterate this again: no plastic bags in the recycling ever.  

KP:       Okay we are going to ask some rapid-fire questions. I’ll name an item and you tell me where the consumer should put it: ·     ·     

Bottles and jars with lids – do we leave the lid on or take it off and recycle them separately?

Single-use coffee cup lids need to be sent to the landfill unless they are certified compostable. Plastic water bottles, yogurt containers and anything else with a lid that is the same material as the bottle or container should be recycled with the lid on. If the lid is a different material (i.e. a plastic lid on a glass bottle), put the lid in the landfill and recycle the larger container.  ·     

Labels on glass or plastic jars?    

You can leave them on.   

Do we need to clean out the jars and if so, how well?  

Yes, please remove all food and liquid. It

doesn’t need to be pristine though.

Cardboard boxes with plastic tape?   

You can recycle them, even with the tape on it. If you want to go the extra mile, go ahead and remove the tape and put it in the landfill, but it will still get recycled with the tape left on. ·     

Plastic bottle pumps?  

Recycle them with the bottle they came in, and please make sure the container is empty. 


Recycle if clean.

Pizza boxes?  


Plastic takeout containers?

Recycle but make sure they are clean of all food and that the plastic utensils are removed (plastic utensils are too small to be recycled, they need to go into the landfill).



Wax coated milk/juice paper bottles?  What about the little plastic spout?

Recycle, leave the plastic spout intact with the lid screwed on.    

Plastic bags/films?

Landfill (side note: we are going to do a separate post about how and where to recycle thin plastics, but the recycling facility cannot process them).    

Cotton balls?   

Depends on what is on them. If they have makeup on them, they need to go to the landfill. If they are clean or have rubbing alcohol or similar compounds on them, they can be composted.

Broken glass?


Small, hard plastics? i.e. plastic lids without bottles?   

Landfill, unless you can put it back on the plastic bottle it came on.    

Egg cartons?   

If clean, rigid plastic or clean cardboard, recycle. If dirty cardboard (like if you put your shells back in the carton after cracking the eggs), compost. If Styrofoam, landfill.  

Wine corks?  

If natural cork, compost. If synthetic cork, landfill.  

Wine bottles?


Kids’ art with crayon/paint/marker art?

Most likely landfill, unless it is just marker. Anything with paint, crayons, stickers, glue, etc. needs to go in the landfill.   


Collect all of the broken crayons and melt them into new crayons (you can get a silicone mold from most art supply stores). Otherwise, landfill.

Dog poop? Other pet poop?   

Dog poop and cat poop/litter need to go in the landfill. Chicken, rabbit or horse poop can all be composted.

I hoped you enjoyed my conversation with Naama as much as I did! There are so many more topics we can dive into and I am looking forward to continuing to learn with her and bring that knowledge to you all. Please let us know what questions you have for Naama!

 Thanks for reading!