Seattle’s Recycling Process & Tips to #RecycleRight

It’s a New Day for Recycling

There have been a lot of changes to the recycling industry. Recycling is alive and well, and we need your help to keep it going and make it better!

But what happens to your recyclables between your house and the manufacturers who make recycled products? Recycling at home is just the first step in making new products from old ones. But in order for us to close the loop from what get put in your blue bin at home to new recycled-content products on the shelf, we need to move from “aspirational recycling” to Recycling Right!

Top Recycling Tips

  1. Empty, Clean, and Dry. Remember to clean out your recyclables and keep them dry. No food or liquids in recycling.
  2. Recycle Right! In order to be a better recycler, only put recyclables that are accepted in Seattle’s curbside in your blue bin.
  3. When in Doubt, Find Out. Check out the Where Does it Go? Tool if you are unsure whether an item is recyclable.
  4. Keep Recycling. Recycling creates new products that offset the use of virgin materials, such as petroleum and wood.
  5. Recyclables are being processed for recycling. They are not being landfilled. Seattle’s recyclables continue to be processed and shipped to markets, and our recyclable materials are not being shipped to landfills.
Seattle Public Utilities’ Beyond Garbage: Where Does It Go?
Where Seattle’s Recycling Goes: Republic Services’ Materials Recovery Facility

Frequently Asked Questions

How is SPU responding to changing recycling markets?

SPU is working with our contractor, Republic Services, to ensure material is successfully processed, and partnering with coordinating local, state and federal agencies on regional market opportunities. Republic Services facility has implemented significant new technology and operations to meet the changing market. SPU monitors Republic to ensure materials are successfully processed and sold to available markets, both domestically and internationally. SPU has also been partnering with regional agencies and other processors on short and long-term opportunities to diversify markets and support domestic options for additional processing and incorporating recyclables into new products.

Are Seattle’s recyclables going to the landfill?

No. Seattle’s contracted recyclables processor is not allowed to send Seattle’s recyclables to the landfill. Other municipalities in our region have their own contractual relationships with the same processor which could allow some of those municipalities’ recyclables to be sent to the landfill, depending on the decision of each municipality.

Seattle’s recyclables continue to be processed and shipped, both domestically and internationally Destinations and markets for Seattle’s recyclables vary from month to month and year to year. Two-thirds of Seattle’s recycling is processed domestically. Approximately 40% of the mixed plastics are processed domestically, including a new processing partnership in British Columbia. Over 50% of Seattle’s mixed paper and cardboard is processed in Eastern Washington. All metal recycling is local and 100% of Seattle’s glass recycling is processed right here in Seattle! The other one-third of Seattle’s recyclables are exported, mostly to other manufacturing facilities in Southeast Asia, including Korea, India, Indonesia, and Thailand.

How does this affect Seattle’s customers and recycling?

SPU has not made any changes to its recycling program for the customers. Customers should continue to recycle according to the recycling guidelines and put only accepted materials in the recycling bins. Reducing contamination increases the value of recyclables. Make sure recyclables are clean, empty, and dry as food and liquids contaminate recyclables. We encourage customers to focus on reducing contamination in the recyclables they sort out at home, work, and in the community.

What is contamination in recyclables?

Contamination is any material that is different from the sorted material. A bale of paper with anything other than paper is contaminated. Contamination can include other materials, like plastics, metal, or food or liquids mixed into baled material.

Recyclable materials need to be sorted into similar materials before they are shipped out to be made into new products. That process is done at a local processing facility where the materials are sorted by machines and people. When food, liquids and materials that are not accepted for recycling are sent to the processor, the machinery and system is not set up to sort them out. They end up in the bales as contaminants.

What can the customer do to #RecycleRight?

To ensure recyclables are usable for recycling and to decrease contamination, make sure all recyclables are empty, clean and dry. Containers that previously contained food or liquid should be rinsed to remove food and liquid residue. Shake out excess liquid and air dry, if you can.

Recycle only materials that are accepted by your city’s waste collection company. When in doubt, find out. Check your local recycling guidelines to ensure you’re putting the right materials in the recycle cart. Put materials loose in the cart. Please do not bag or box recyclables. Plastic bags jam up the machinery at the recycling centers. Bagged recyclables can also be confused for trash because workers can’t see inside.

Focus on the top five categories of empty, clean, and dry materials for recycling:

  1. Paper
  2. Cardboard
  3. Plastic bottles and containers
  4. Glass bottles and jars
  5. Metal cans (aluminum, tin and steel)