Recycle Right. It Matters.

New standards for recycling

With the recent changes in the recycling industry came higher standards for recyclables. Things that don’t meet these standards are worth less and harder to recycle.

Follow these tips to recycle right and keep recycling thriving:

  • Empty, Clean, and Dry. Remember to clean out your recyclables and keep them dry. No food or liquids in recycling.
  • When in Doubt, Find Out. Put only recyclables that are accepted in your recycling cart. Check out the Where Does it Go? Tool if you are unsure whether an item is recyclable.
  • Keep Bags Out. Do not put plastic bags or plastic wrap in the recycling cart, even if bundled. Keep materials loose in the cart and do not bag your recyclables.
  • Focus on the top 5 types of recyclables:
    1. Paper - office, newspaper, & magazines
    2. Cardboard - paperboard & corrugated boxes
    3. Plastic - Bottles, Containers, & Tubs
    4. Glass - Bottles & Jars
    5. Metal - Aluminum, tin & steel cans and scrap

Empty, clean and dry: no food or liquids

We used to say that if there was a little bit of food left in a container, it was good enough to recycle. Now containers need to have no food or liquids in them. Give containers a good rinse and let them dry. Or if you can't get them clean, put them in the garbage.

Leftover food can create mold that can spread to other recyclables ruining them. Liquids can ruin the fiber in paper making it harder or unable to be recycled.

When in doubt, find out

Put only recyclables that are accepted in your recycling cart. When you put other things in the cart that “might” be recyclable it causes these problems:

  • It makes it harder to sort the materials by jamming the machinery or slowing the process down to get rid of it.
  • They can end up mixed in with valuable recyclables which decreases their value, becoming a contaminant, or unwanted item.
  • When it does get sorted out at the recycling facility, it ends up in the garbage anyway.

If you are unsure whether an item is recyclable, look it up on the Where Does it Go? tool.

Keep bags out of your recycle cart

Plastic bags and plastic wrap don't belong in your recycling cart as of January 2020.

This includes:

Plastic wrap: Examples are what comes on paper towels or toilet paper, bread bags, food storage bags (like Ziplocs), cling wrap, and dry cleaning bags.

Plastic bagged recyclables: Put your stuff loose in the cart. Workers at the recycling facility cannot see what's inside the bags to properly sort them.

What you can do with your plastic bags:

Thin plastics, like bags and wrap, get tangled in recycling equipment, and the processing facility has to shut down. Stopping the equipment to remove the plastic slows processing down, driving up costs and is a potential safety risk for workers.

Photo of recycling facility sorting

Use less plastic (the best option for the environment)

  • Switch to durable bags and containers
  • Buy fruits and vegetables loose
  • Reuse the plastic bags you already have, lining trash cans or picking up pet waste


Photo of recycling facility sorting


Public Utilities

Andrew Lee, General Manager and CEO
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34018, Seattle, WA, 98124-5177
Phone: (206) 684-3000

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Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is comprised of three major direct-service providing utilities: the Water Utility, the Drainage and Wastewater Utility, and the Solid Waste Utility.