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Recycling Mistakes Are Ruining Your Good Intentions

Posted by Johnine Larsen on May 30, 2018
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You recycle because you care about the environment and want to do your part. But recycling mistakes—yours, mine, and your neighbor’s—are spoiling everything.

On January 1 of this year, China announced that it would stop accepting recycling from the United States. Why? Because we aren’t good at recycling. There was so much non-recyclable items mixed in with the recyclable items that China couldn’t do anything with it. Sometimes people optimistically recycle non-reclycable items like clothing or mirrors. Sometimes people are lazy. The result is the same: we’ve turned recycling bins into just another trash bin.

On top of attempting to recycle non-recyclable things, we also throw away many things that can be recycled. It’s estimated that the recyclable materials in the U.S. waste stream would generate over $7 billion if they were recycled.

We’re losing on both sides of this battle, and the environment is suffering for it.

So what to do about it? Brush up on our recycling knowledge. The rules have likely changed since you formed your first recycling habits, and it’s likely you’re missing out on some of the latest info. Here’s our guide to recycling in Seattle to make the world a better, greener place:


Before you toss anything in your recycling bin:

  • Throw away the lid or cap
  • Empty it, scrape out food residue, and rinse it clean
  • Remove all plastic tape from cardboard boxes



If you want your used items to actually be recycled and not sorted into the garbage later on:

  • Don’t put your recycling in bags, as even recyclable bags are often not opened at recycling facilities. Just drop items loose into your recycling bin.
  • Don’t tie up big pieces of cardboard with twine. Again, just put them in loose. If you have cardboard too big to fit in the bin, break it down and stack it beside your recycle bin.



Recycling Myths

Urban legends and bad information about recycling have circulated throughout society, so let’s clear some things up. Don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen prey to these myths—many people have.

Myth: Remove labels from cans and bottles.
Truth: Labels can be recycled.

Myth: Only certain “numbered” plastic can be recycled.
Truth: The chasing arrow symbols and numbers on plastic containers don’t mean anything in Seattle. You can ignored them.

Myth: If it’s plastic or glass, always recycle it.
Truth: Regardless of material, if it’s smaller than a post-it-note, it can’t be recycled.


Which Bin?

Here in Seattle, we have the option of tossing items in the recycling bin, yard waste bin, or trash bin. Appropriate sorting matters far more than optimistic recycling. Here’s how to accurately dispose of your waste.

Recycle Yard Waste Garbage
Aluminum foil (clean) X
Aluminum foil (dirty)
Disposable coffee cups
Juice containers
Packing peanuts
Photo paper
Pizza boxes
Plastic bottle caps
Plastic packing tape
Shredded paper
Take-out containers
Used tissues or paper towels
Wrapping paper (shiny)
Wrapping paper (plain)


King Country provides a more exhaustive list of what you can and can’t recycle.