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New year marks start of new rules for recycling plastics in Seattle-King County, glass in Tacoma

Seth Wenig
AP Photo
In this May 7, 2019 photo, a forklift moves through stacks of recyclables at a GDB International warehouse in Monmouth Junction, N.J.

It's not only a new year but Jan. 1 also marks the start of new regulations on recycling for residents of King and Pierce counties.  

Seattle Public Utilities and King County Solid Waste are no longer accepting plastic bags or plastic wraps in curbside bins. (Pierce County already made this change). Instead, residents are asked to bundle these thin plastics up at home and take them to drop off sites at retail stores.

The main reason for the change is that thin plastics get caught in the gears of the sorting machines that separate different kinds of recycling. 

Thin plastics caught in the gears of a recycling sorter.They have to be cut out, which can result in hour-long shutdowns of the machines.
Credit Recology
Thin plastics caught in the gears of a recycling sorter.They have to be cut out, which can result in hour-long shutdowns of the machines.

“Some shut down twice a day for up to an hour or more in order for people to actually climb into the equipment and cut the bags out,” says Susan Fife-Ferris, a director in solid waste with Seattle Public Utilities.

Fife-Ferris says loose plastics also easily slip in with other commodities and can contaminate entire bales of paper, for example, reducing their value and making them much harder to sell on the recycling market, which has tightened dramatically since China stepped up its requirements.

If your plastic bags or film are dirty, SPU says you should throw them in the trash. You can also put clean ones in the trash, but the hope is that most people go the extra mile and recycle them.

“What the consumer can do is take it back to the grocer’s, like the Fred Meyer’s. They have bins in the front of their store and then they take it back to the back and they have balers,” says Heather Trim, Executive Director of the non-profit, Zero Waste Washington.

“They bale it up and they backhaul it back to their distribution centers.”

From there, she says the bales of plastic can be recycled and made into things like 'Trex' lumber. Trim says although it will require some adjustment, the change in how we handle these plastics will help make recycling all kinds of things much more effective.

Also new as of Jan. 1: Tacoma residents can no longer put glass in their curbside bins, and must instead bring them to drop-off boxes for recycling.  They're also paying a surcharge of nearly $3 a month to maintain other recycling services.  


Where to find drop off sites for thin plastic bags and films:

King County recycling guidelines:

Pierce county recycling changes:

Where to drop off glass for recycling in Pierce County:


Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to