RECYCLING CHANGE: No more plastic bags/film in your curbside bin

Just announced: A change in what you can put in curbside recycling bins: Plastic bags and film are out as of the start of next year. Here’s the announcement:

Changes are coming next year to how materials are collected for recycling in Seattle and King County.

Beginning Jan. 1, garbage and recycling collection programs will no longer accept plastic bags and plastic wrap in curbside recycling carts and bins. Instead, customers will be asked to take those separated materials to a drop-off location for remanufacturing or place them in the garbage for disposal.

Plastic bags and wrap are often wet or have food waste on them when placed in the curbside recycling and contaminate other materials. Additionally, at recycling facilities, these plastics can jam sorting and processing equipment, leading to frequent shutdowns so workers can remove the tangled materials.

Bringing plastic bags and wrap to a drop-off location keeps the bundled recyclables cleaner and easier to manufacture into new products.

“Recycling is one of the best ways to protect the environment and fight climate change, but to make it work we have to do it right,” said King County Solid Waste Division Director Pat McLaughlin. “Keeping problem items out of our bins at home will save money because we won’t have to throw out good recyclable materials that get contaminated from dirty plastic bags.”

“Our goal is to ensure what goes into the recycling cart gets recycled at its highest value. We want everyone to Recycle Right,” noted Jeff Fowler, Seattle Public Utilities Solid Waste Deputy Director. “Removing plastic bags and wrap from our curbside recycling mix will have a positive impact on the quality of our other recyclable materials and the efficiency of the facilities that process those materials.”

The changes were recommended by a task force of city, county and solid waste industry representatives that was established to research improvements that could be made to the recycling system following China’s change in allowable levels of contamination in bundled recyclables.

Find plastic bag and wrap drop-off locations at King County and Seattle Public Utilities are working to expand drop-off locations that accept plastic bags and plastic wrap for recycling.

While throwing plastic bags and wrap in the garbage is the least desirable action, it’s better to toss them out rather than contaminate other recyclables.

The lookup shows dropoff spots in this area include the Admiral and Roxbury Safeways and Westwood Village Target. P.S. For a refresher course on “recycling right” – covering other items too – go here.

60 Replies to "RECYCLING CHANGE: No more plastic bags/film in your curbside bin"

  • Geneseehill60 October 17, 2019 (9:43 am)

    I hope there will be a drop-off place in the Alaska Junction.

    • sbre October 17, 2019 (7:12 pm)

      Just checked the list to see that all Safeway’s, QFC’s, Target’s and Fred Meyer’s are  drop-off locations, so it won’t be too difficult to keep from having to throw them into the trash. 

  • Matt P October 17, 2019 (10:08 am)

    I never thought those were recyclable anyway.

  • Brian Feusagach October 17, 2019 (10:17 am)

    From previous SPU mailings, they were happy to take such plastics IF
    they were all together so they could be easily removed at sorting
    centers. But I guess that hasn’t been very effective …. The plastic film
    recycling website above does have some good guidelines about what to
    include (copied and pasted here for convenience): Please recycle only clean, dry plastic bags and film. Remove receipts or any other items from bags.
    Examples include:

    • Retail, carryout, produce, newspaper, bread, and dry cleaning bags (clean, dry and free of receipts and clothes hangers)
    • Zip-top food storage bags (clean and dry)
    • Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels), bubble wrap and air pillows (deflate)
    • Product wrap on cases of water/soda bottles, paper towels, napkins,
      disposable cups, bathroom tissue, diapers, and female sanitary products
    • Furniture and electronic wrap
    • Plastic cereal box liners (but if it tears like paper, do not include)
    • Any film packaging or bag that has the How2Recycle Label

    Do NOT include:

    • Degradable/compostable bags or film packaging
    • Pre-washed salad mix bags
    • Frozen food bags
    • Candy bar wrappers
    • Chip bags
    • Six-pack rings
  • psps October 17, 2019 (10:20 am)

    I put my recycling (almost all paper and cardboard) in one large plastic garbage bag and put that in the bin.  Is that still allowed?

    • dsa October 17, 2019 (11:02 am)

      PSPS, it says: Beginning Jan. 1, garbage and recycling collection programs will no longer accept plastic bags

    • Tracey October 17, 2019 (11:20 am)

      From the recycle website below.  They’ve never wanted recyclabes bagged in plastic for the reason below.Plastic bagged recyclables: Put your stuff loose in the cart. Workers at the recycling facility cannot see what’s inside the bags to properly sort them.

    • CC October 17, 2019 (11:24 am)

      From the SPU website:Keep materials loose in the cart and do not bag your recyclables.

    • nerd October 17, 2019 (12:47 pm)

      We put recycling in paper grocery bags and then toss them out of these bags into the recycling bin. We save plastic bags for various travel needs, like packing shoes

  • Maria October 17, 2019 (10:28 am)

    Huh, I thought this was always the case — I recall being instructed on this years ago when I asked what I could do with the Costco multi-container plastic shrink wrap.  I’ve been bagging plastic  product shrink wrap , bubble wrap, and plastic mailers  and taking them to Safeway or Lowe’s for years.   It has not been a big deal.  Saved a lot of space.

  • HS October 17, 2019 (11:01 am)

    A shout out to our local eco store on California Ave ‘Public’ or A Public Shop online, where you can buy sustainable stuff in lieu of plastic – veggie bags, container covers, etc. I found it by walking by and it seemed appropriate to share here.

    • WSB October 17, 2019 (11:04 am)

      We use reusable produce bags and grocery bags, but this makes me think it’s time to ramp up – for example, we still wind up with a plastic bag if we get takeout teriyaki. Time to BYOB(ag) there too.

      • ARPigeonPoint October 17, 2019 (11:12 am)

        Is this change referring to putting plastic bags (like grocery bags) in the recycling bins for the purpose of attempting to recycle them or is it referring to using a plastic bag to put your recycling in to carry out to the bin?  I use large clear plastic bags to keep my paper recycling from getting contaminated by cans and bottles and such.  Are we no longer allowed to do this?  If not, should we just put all paper in our compost bin?  Because, seriously…

        • WSB October 17, 2019 (11:49 am)

          We got a warning note some time back about having paper towels in the garbage container; it informed us that they needed to go in the yard-waste/food-waste container, so we’ve been doing that ever since. Dry mixed unsoiled paper is still OK for the co-mingled recycling, SPU says.

        • Tracey October 17, 2019 (12:16 pm)

          ARPigeonPoint… I don’t think they’ve ever wanted you to bag paper for recycling.  Other things in your bin should already be clean and dry….as for your neighbours…who knows.  I understand your concern and wonder why we ever went to commingled recycling.  Easier for us, but less efficient for the reasons you point out.  

          • ARPigeonPoint October 17, 2019 (12:43 pm)

            I should clarify.  I actually put my paper recycling in paper grocery bags to walk out to the bin, but I put my cans/bottles, etc. in a large clear plastic bag.

          • KM October 17, 2019 (1:34 pm)

            I think a lot of people do this, but it’s is not currently allowed and hasn’t been for some time.

      • Matt P October 17, 2019 (11:19 am)

        They make good garbage bags for smaller bathroom trashcans.

  • anonyme October 17, 2019 (11:23 am)

    Most of these bags were never recycled anyway.  Time to do away with them completely; there are lots of other options now.  Our oceans are choking with them.

  • MJ October 17, 2019 (11:29 am)

    Plastic produce bags work well for kitty litter cleaning and disposal in garbage.

    • KM October 17, 2019 (1:36 pm)

      We gave up plastic produce bags years ago, and we still find plastic bags in our lives that we have a hard time avoiding—bread bags, packaging door goods shipped to the house, bags on the sidewalk in usable condition, etc. we seem to always have enough for a once-a-day scooping!

  • ITotallyAgreeWithYou October 17, 2019 (11:34 am)

    I have faith in we Seattlites to put the extra effort into this change. We get it! Any plastic bag, product wrap, plastic shipping bags, dry cleaning bags, dry pet food bags, etc I acquire end up as garbage bags. I even bring home items from work that will other wise be tossed. I haven’t bought garbage bags in 17 years. I can’t stand to waste money on something for which it’s sole purpose is to be thrown away! Thank you for the list above- I’ll refresh my knowledge and be sure to put items in the right place!

  • jsparra October 17, 2019 (11:50 am)

    Can I have a 4th bin to put those in and have them picked up please?

    • WSB October 17, 2019 (12:02 pm)

      Actually, you can! Join Ridwell:

      • Christina October 18, 2019 (9:44 pm)

        I love Ridwell! In addition to all those categories, you can recycle styrofoam through them ($9 for each pick up of a huge bag – you let them know when you have a full bag and they pick up with the usual categories). It’s worth the yearly Ridwell cost to not have to drive to Kent to drop off styrofoam and other hard to recycle items!

    • Erin October 17, 2019 (12:44 pm)

      We’ve been Ridwell customers for ~6 months and absolutely LOVE it.  They make it super convenient to recycle so many harder to recycle items – thin plastics, batteries, styrofoam, etc!  The service is truly such a wonderful addition to Seattle.  You can use my personal share link to sign up and get an extra month free:

  • SJoy October 17, 2019 (12:22 pm)

    I must be having a hard time comprehending things today because I am super confused. Can we still put plastic in the garbage can? I know that might not be the environmentally friendly thing to ask but I am wondering about all plastic in general – plastic bags that hold the garbage in the kitchen and the bathroom, ziplock bags, poop bags as well as the plastic wrap we use over food etc… Just trying to understand :(  

    • WSB October 17, 2019 (12:29 pm)

      Yes. That hasn’t changed.

  • Jim P. October 17, 2019 (12:39 pm)

    “Bringing plastic bags and wrap to a drop-off location keeps the bundled
    recyclables cleaner and easier to manufacture into new products.”Well, *that* sure sounds energy efficient.  Hop in the car (for those of you who *can* drive) and drive a few miles to drop off a pound or so of plastic bags?  Right.  Take a massive long time to get enough plastic this way to make the trip worth the carbon.

  • carol October 17, 2019 (12:53 pm)

    Thanks WSB for mentioning Ridwell.  Their service is available in West Seattle, and I am a happy customer.  They pick up every 2 weeks, and will pick up: film, clothing/threads, batteries and light bulbs and each pick up they have a rotating category which in recent memory has include eyeglasses, pet food, cords, etc.  While I could go to drop these off at various drop off sites, I love the convenience and also they partner with various non-profits for some collections. 

  • Bronson October 17, 2019 (1:06 pm)

    What about the blue recyclable plastic bags?

  • KBear October 17, 2019 (1:41 pm)

    I have always wondered where people got the idea they could put their recycling in plastic bags. SPU makes it pretty clear they don’t want you to do this. Recycling instructions are readily available on their web site, in the mailers they send out several times a year, and on the bins themselves. 

  • D October 17, 2019 (1:42 pm)

    Hopefully soon we’ll be using more biotechnology to recycle most if not all plastic waste.

  • 2 Much Whine October 17, 2019 (1:46 pm)

    I am absolutely thrilled by this thread!  I saw that there were 25 comments and thought I’d come here and find it filled with people upset that the city is telling them what to do.  Instead I find comments looking for clarification and wondering how best to support this new mandate.  I know this this will change our recycling slightly because we made some incorrect recycling choices in the past.  Hopefully if everyone tweaks their recycling habits a little we can help make the world a better place.  Thanks West Seattle for being cool.

  • arbora October 17, 2019 (1:57 pm)

    I’m also a very happy Ridwell customer!

  • onion October 17, 2019 (3:21 pm)

    I only have multiple masters degrees and already have trouble deciphering what waste products go where. I do my best, but WTF.

  • Asking for a friend.... October 17, 2019 (3:29 pm)

    …any specific handling of pupper poo bags?  Is there a bin for that? 

    • Maria October 17, 2019 (4:37 pm)

      I laugh at commenters who don’t get jokes or sarcasm, but I’m stumped here because you sound convincingly sincere with your question.  Obviously once the pupper’s poo is in the bag, the plastic is contaminated and therefore it is garbage.  :)

      • AFAF... October 17, 2019 (6:35 pm)

        … hehe. :) 

  • Chris October 17, 2019 (4:24 pm)

    We have people walk by and put their dog poo bags in our yard waste, our recycling and our trash.    We  finally gave up trying to take them out of where they do not belong & pulled our cans into our yard.     It just became too frustrating.

    • Susanna23 October 17, 2019 (5:01 pm)

      @Chris, Isn’t that where your cans should be (in your yard) when it is not a pick up day?

  • Reuse > Recycle October 17, 2019 (5:35 pm)

    This is part of the  trickle down effect of China not accepting most recyclables anymore. 

  • christine October 17, 2019 (5:46 pm) is a great service you can sign up for.  For a monthly fee they take batteries, light bulbs, clothes, Plastic Film & have a 5th rotating category.  Been using them for 6 months now.  Super customer service!

  • psps October 17, 2019 (7:38 pm)

    I guess we’ll start putting all of our loose paper in the garbage now. Insisting that it all be loose in the recycling bin is stupid because it will fly all over the place when they dump it out.

    • WSB October 17, 2019 (8:38 pm)

      We’ve never bagged the paper separately and haven’t seen a problem.

    • Monika October 20, 2019 (9:34 am)

      Put it in a paper bag, put paper bag in the bin if you feel it’s such a problem. We put it in loose and never have had a problem with it “fly(ing) all over the place”

  • Question October 17, 2019 (7:43 pm)

    How should we handle shredded paper going forward? I got a note on my recycling bin last year saying to bag all shredded paper and put it all in one plastic bag inside of the recycling bin. I’m guessing this is no longer an option but still need to regularly dispose of shredded paper. 

    • uncle loco October 18, 2019 (5:07 am)

      I’ve been putting my shredded paper in the food/yard waste bin (loose- not bagged) and never had a problem.

    • KM October 18, 2019 (5:17 am)

      Put it in compost (without the plastic bag, obviously) 

  • Lynda B October 17, 2019 (8:30 pm)

    Seattle Lighting in SODO will take styrofoam.  Found that out recently.  :)

    • sam-c October 22, 2019 (1:34 pm)

      That’s good to know.Thanks!    

  • KM October 17, 2019 (10:00 pm)

    Consumers don’t see what happens at the plant, and how much that we put in our recycling bin ends up in the landfill after it leave our house. No reporting mechanism exists that I know of that informs households how much of their “recycled” items ends up in the landfill anyhow. Recycling, especially “hopeful recycling”, has caused a lot of problems with how we view our environmental impact. 

  • Herongrrrl October 17, 2019 (10:36 pm)

    This is a great thread! It might be helpful for folks to know that most of our recycling here in the US is market driven–waste haulers will only collect what they can sell to be remanufactured into other products. So as markets change, or there are issues with supplies (as with China getting fed up with the high level of garbage contaminating recyclables from the US), what may be accepted in your curbside recycling bin will change. While virtually anything CAN be recycled, that doesn’t mean it is cost-effective for a waste hauling company to try to gather it for resale, or for a business to do the physical recycling of an item. What you can recycle curbside in Seattle and King County is the same in many cases, but not all, and ultimately depends on the particular company contracted to collect recycling in your particular neighborhood (you can find out at SPU or King County Solid Waste websites, depending on the property you’re wondering about).Because there are inconsistencies between what can and can’t be recycled in different neighborhoods, it can be confusing and frustrating to figure out where things go. I really appreciate seeing how many folks here are committed to figuring out the right way to do it, to keep things out of landfills and oceans!

  • carole October 17, 2019 (10:46 pm)

    All new residents in our building get copies of SPU’s picture sheets showing what goes where. We just download from their site.  And still, we get recyclables dumped in plastic bags, containers that haven’t been washed, cans not rinsed, etc.  This week someone tossed Ziploc sandwich bags in the food waste bin.  Our commercial units are the worst; they toss paper, food waste, garbage all in one bag and toss in the dumpster.  We have pictures posted everywhere. Does no good.  

  • anonyme October 18, 2019 (6:25 am)

    There are two options for shredded paper.  You can either put it in a paper bag and then into recycling, or you can place it in the yard waste container. 

  • John October 18, 2019 (9:51 am)

    What about burning trash? I have a neighbor Im pretty sure burns trash It is a rubber smell

  • OP October 19, 2019 (12:39 pm)

    So I’ll drive my car to a recycling station, spewing dreaded fossil fuels into the atmosphere and take time out of my day just to recycle some dirty plastic bags. Yeah, not gonna happen….

    • oakley34 October 20, 2019 (12:02 pm)

      do you go to a grocery store?  because many of them are plastic bag recycling centers…

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