Recycling Right is critical amid the coronavirus pandemic

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Blocks of material for recycling
Photo courtesy Recology

From Recology Beyond Waste Bulletin
Recology contracts with the City of Shoreline for garbage, yard waste, and recycling for residents

King County is fortunate to have robust recycling programs that continue to thrive, but in other areas across the U.S. recycling programs have been suspended or cut due to existing and new challenges associated with the spread of coronavirus. 

And yet, curbside recycling programs play a key role in the global manufacturing supply chain now perhaps more than ever.

"Recycled materials serve as feedstocks necessary to produce essential supplies including those especially needed during this time such as paper towels, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper, and packaging for a wide range of products including boxes for shipping,” says the EPA
“Many businesses that would normally generate large amounts of recyclables have limited operations now. Therefore, household recycling is vital to the continued supply of raw materials for U.S. manufacturing sectors.”

Indeed, recycled cardboard delivers more than just Amazon orders to our homes and is essential to keep grocery and healthcare items in stock. And recycled glass will likely play a critical role as the global supply chain prepares “to make enough small glass vials to deliver [a] coronavirus vaccine around the world.” (Washington Post)

However, recycling correctly is key to ensuring that these essential materials are effectively recycled. 

Items that don’t belong in the recycling, or materials that are improperly prepared, contaminate the supply and can result in loads of otherwise recyclable material being sent to the landfill.

To help do your part, please follow these tips to recycle right:

1. When in doubt, find out (what’s accepted in your recycling cart)!

In King County, accepted items include paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, tubs and jugs (no plastic film or bags), glass bottles and jars, and metal and aluminum cans. If something doesn’t fall into one of these categories or you’re just not sure, check Recology.com or give us a call.


Confused by the chasing arrow symbol found on the bottom of most plastic items? You’re not alone. This symbol indicates the type of plastic that an item is made out of but is NOT a reliable indicator of local recyclability. 

Though products stamped with this symbol may be made from plastic, your local recycling facility may not be able to sort them and there may not be market demand for these materials. 

For example, Amazon bubble mailers are stamped with the recycling symbol, but need to be taken to a designated drop-off location in order to be properly disposed. Similarly, many plastic utensils are stamped with the recycling symbol but can’t be properly sorted at a recycling facility because of their size.

For a reminder of which items can be recycled locally, input your zip code on Recology.com find our Sorting Guides in the Helpful Resources section. You can print these out and place a copy by your recycling receptacle so you’re never in doubt when you throw something out.

2. No mixed materials

Though you can recycle both plastic and metal, products made of both materials can’t be recycled and don’t belong in your recycling cart. 

Examples include metal coffee cans with plastic lids, and the Pringles can with its metal base, plastic cap, and foil-lined cardboard sleeve. If you can easily separate the materials – remove the plastic lid from the metal coffee can – you can confidently toss these materials into your recycling cart, but if you can’t, the item should be placed in the garbage instead.

3. Don’t Wishcycle!

While we want to minimize what we landfill as much as possible, placing questionable items in the recycling cart in the hopes that they may be recycled or reused isn’t a good idea. This practice is referred to as “wishcycling” and causes much more harm than good.

Items like textiles get jammed the machinery at recycling facilities and material that doesn’t meet specific requirements will simply be sent to the landfill. Stick to the list of materials cited above and when in doubt, check it out – call or email Recology – or throw it out.

4. No plastic bags or film!

Plastic bags do not belong in your curbside recycling cart, nor does any kind of film plastic – bread bags, paper towels and toilet paper wrap , and the ubiquitous bubble wrap.

Though these items are made from plastic they wreak havoc at recycling facilities, wrapping around the gears of the sorting machinery and reducing the facility’s ability to effectively sort out recyclable materials.

To address these issues and make recycling more efficient, King County officially discontinued accepting plastic bags in curbside recycling programs in in January 2020.

Alternately, depending on where you live, you may have access to drop-off recycling options for plastic film and wrap. Visit plasticfilmrecycling.org to find out if there is a drop-off location near you. If none are available, please toss these items in the garbage.

5. Only recycle items that are empty, clean and dry.

In order to be recycled, items must be empty, clean and dry. A few drops of liquid aren’t problematic, but more will cause paper and cardboard to mold and render it unfit for recycling. 

And food on any type of packaging has the opportunity to rot and mold as it journeys from your cart to the recycling facility and onto its final destination. Materials may take long journeys in shipping containers and vendors will reject materials that smell like rotten food and send them back to the landfill.

Remember the motto, “Empty, Clean and Dry!” Before you toss containers into your recycling cart, EMPTY any food or liquid, CLEAN with a quick rinse or scrape, and tap DRY to shake out excess liquid.

6. Compost your pizza box, paper towels and paper napkins.

Because recyclables need to be empty, clean and dry, soiled items like pizza boxes and paper towels shouldn’t be recycled. Instead place food-soiled paper into your compost cart.

7. Place items loose in your recycling cart.

Starting early this year, King County no longer allows plastic bags or plastic wrap in curbside recycling carts. Please make sure you properly place EMPTY, CLEAN and DRY recyclables loose in your recycling cart. There is no need for a plastic liner. When you don’t bag your recycling, you help recycling facilities operate more efficiently and safely.

8. Break down cardboard.

Be sure to break down cardboard boxes before setting out for recycling. Doing so creates more room in your cart for other recyclables and helps recycling drivers move more efficiently through your neighborhood on collection day

9. Dispose of special-item recyclables correctly.

Special recycling programs exist for items like batteries, CFL light bulbs, Styrofoam, and more, but these items can’t be placed in curbside recycling carts. Batteries and lightbulbs are a safety hazard in trucks and at recycling facilities and can cause fires or mercury exposure, while Styrofoam breaks into to tiny particles when compacted in a recycling truck.

Thankfully numerous drop-off locations exist where you can safely and efficiently dispose of these materials. 

The Shoreline Recycling and Transfer Station 2300 N 165th St is open Mon-Fri: 7:30am – 5pm; Sat- Sun: 8:30am – 5:30pm. King county residents only.

Recology also offers curbside pickup for many of these items. Visit Recolgoy.com and input your location to schedule a pickup.

10. Reduce what you can.

The most effective way to properly dispose of materials is to avoid doing so, by keeping them out of your home in the first place. Start with a simple step like reducing your junk mail. According to Ecocycle, you could spend up to eight months of your life dealing with junk mail. 

Save yourself some time and sanity, save the trees that are critical to help combat climate change, and save the mailman an unnecessary trip to your home. We’re all in this together and our individual actions make a difference.



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