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‘Where does it go?’ — No big changes for Seattle recycling… yet

Inside a Seattle sorting facility (Image: CHS)

The short version: After a study, there will be no immediate changes to Seattle’s curbside recycling program — even though your “aspirational recycling” efforts are gumming up the system.

The long version is more detailed.

Seattle and King County are loving recycling to death. People are so excited about putting items in the blue bin instead of the black one, that it’s become a problem. The two main culprits are not properly cleaning items before recycling them, and putting things in recycling that aren’t actually recyclable – a phenomenon called aspirational recycling.

Residents are putting items in so often that China, which had been the market for about half of our recyclables, pulled out of the market. (It’s not just us. China is refusing recyclables from across the country.) The problem, say experts, are that items like plastic wrap, individual plastic bags, and soiled glass and plastic among others, gum up the works in the recycling machinery.

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There had been some reports that huge piles of recyclables were ending up in landfills, but that is not accurate. Seattle Public Utilities has been able to find other markets for the recyclables, said Sabrina Register, SPU spokesperson.

To try and figure out some longer-term solutions, King County convened the Responsible Recycling Task Force in April 2018 to study the issue. They released their report January 10 with no immediate big changes for Seattle but recommendations that will eventually apply to the city.

Parts that may one day apply within the city include forbidding plastic bags and wrap from recycling bins, and expanding the Wrap Recycling Action Program, which uses businesses as a drop-off point for plastic bags. The closest to Capitol Hill seems to be the QFC in University Village.

They also suggest exploring other options for what to do with shredded paper, which in Seattle is currently supposed to go in the food and yard waste container (as long as there’s no envelopes with plastic windows).

The group also expressed support for a few pro-recycling bills in Olympia this session.

One would create a statewide program to make plastics easier to recycle. That bill, SB 5397 is moving along through the committee system, having already passed two votes.

Another bill would create a center within the state Department of Ecology to find ways to create a market for recyclables is passing through both houses as HB 1543 and SB 5545.

A third would ban the use of single use plastic bags. SB 5323 has passed out of the Senate and now heads to the house. It’s unclear what impact, if any it will have in Seattle, since the city banned these bags years ago.

Along those same lines, but not mentioned by the task force, SB 5077 would ban the use of plastic straws in the state. It too has passed out of the Senate.

Now that the county task force has made its recommendations, a different task force, the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, will review the findings. The mayor and city council will also be briefed on the initial findings and have input, Register said.

Any decision on potential changes, however, won’t rise to the level of elected officials. These sorts of changes can take place at the department level. If there are, ultimately, any alterations, it will likely be a year before implementation, Register said. Such changes would include some public outreach to let people know they’re happening.

For now, Register said it is important to remember that there are no changes to curbside recycling — so you should take responsibility into your own hands and make sure things are going where they belong. If you’re not sure what to do with a particular piece of waste (recycle, trash or compost) visit the city’s Where Does It Go page. That page along with other waste-related info, is also available on SPU’s smartphone app on both iTunes and Android.

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Dave Cow
Dave Cow
2 years ago

Our “family” is recycle retarded. I provided the recycle brochure to the members,but don’t read it! Non-rinsed milk containers and plastic wrap in the bins,that I have to weed out.
The latest change is leave the lids on plastic containers. OOPS! Guilty of taking them off. Not anymore.

I get cash for my aluminum cans,locally. Mostly rinsed out and crushed ones. I even tear apart aluminum aerosol containers and rip out the non-usable parts. Now,I have seen plastic aerosol containers marked with a 7 inside the recycle triangle.
We are good about cardboard and paper,but not plastics!

roger a Pisano
2 years ago

I work in a school the kids there dont recy. right itell them how but they dont care I tell the teachers they tell me what can we do they need to see a video and take a test maybe then they will know where to put the right stuff in the trash thank you for your time

2 years ago

and the world will be a better place!