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Seattleites recycling more than ever before

Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp
A model Seattle family of recyclers: Bing Tso, Janet Gwilym and their kids put more than 70% of their waste each week into recycling and yard waste bins. Their trash fits into tiny receptacle at their feet.

Seattle residents and businesses have hit an all-time high for recycling rates. And from the front yard of a model recycling family in Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn gave the city a pat on the back:

“53 percent – an all-time high– 53 percent of the waste produced in the city of Seattle is taken out of the waste-stream and recycled,” McGinn said.

According to the city’s annual recycling report, individual families are doing even better when taken out of the overall average – 70% of their waste avoiding landfills. The average household is recycling about twenty pounds of material every week. 

Still some confusion

Changes in collection methods have helped a lot: people no longer have to separate their recyclables, and nearly all food waste can be composted along with yard clippings.

But, city officials admit, there’s still quite a bit of confusion. Bret Stav analyzes the waste stream for Seattle Public Utilities.

“Right now, more than half of the material that people are putting in the garbage is still recyclable," Stave says. "People are still putting in paper. They’re still putting in food that could either be composted or recycled.”

If you’re not sure, say, where that paper cup or milk carton should go ...

Stav says Seattle mails out a flyer every spring outlining exactly which waste can go where – and you can get that information anytime by calling or ordering it online. The Seattle Public Utilities website also has a link labeled “How do I get rid of this.” And there's even an online game called "Where does it go" so you can test your recycling knowledge.

Goals and slackers

The city’s long-term goal is to recycle 70 percent of its waste overall by the year 2025.  It's shooting for 60 percent by the end of next year. 

Apartment dwellers are slacking, however. They’re currently lagging behind the rest of the population at a recycling rate of less than 30%.

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