Nov 28, 2022 - News

How Seattleites are messing up recycling and composting

A plastic bag with the word 'reusable' on it

Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Plastic bags have been popping up all over Seattle lately after a local ban made them a rarity in the city for years.

  • But if you look at the green symbols and "please recycle" messages on these thicker, reusable plastic bags and think you can toss them in your curbside recycling bin, think again.

Why it matters: If you're taking the time to recycle, we assume you don't want to contaminate an entire load of recyclables by doing it wrong.

What's happening: A new statewide plastic bag ban has been driving the spread of thicker plastic bags across the region, wrote Joseph Basile, a spokesperson for King County's solid waste division, in an email to Axios.

  • The state law bans single-use plastic bags in most circumstances. But bags that are at least 2.25 thousandths of an inch thick are allowed, as long as they're made of at least 40% recycled materials.

The bottom line: You still can't recycle these plastic bags at home.

  • Both King County's solid waste division and Seattle Public Utilities said they can only be recycled if they are returned to a specialized receptacle at a store.

What they're saying: "They need to be dropped off at participating stores or disposed of in the garbage," Sabrina Register, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities, wrote in an email to Axios.

Be smart: You can search for approved bag recycling locations here.

Yes, and: You may be composting wrong as well.

Compostable plastics have also become commonplace in Seattle in recent years — and these can't go in your curbside recycle bin either.

  • "The plastic-looking compostable items are not recyclable and can contaminate recycling loads like other nonrecyclable items," Basile told Axios.

What to do: In Seattle and King County, if a container or utensil is clearly labeled "compostable," you can put it in your food and yard waste cart.

  • If you don't have a compost or yard waste bin, you should place those compostable items in the garbage, Basile said.
  • As always, food and food-soiled paper can go in compost bins.
  • You can check out more tips on composting properly in King County and Seattle on the city and county websites.

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