What Happens to Recyclables in Seattle

We know that recycling is good for the environment, but most people are as yet unaware of what happens behind the scenes. 

Do you know the answers to these questions:

  • What happens to your recyclables after you put them in the bin? 
  • How are they recycled? 
  • How much of a difference does it make? 
  • Do they really even get recycled?

So to answer those questions, here is the full, unadulterated truth about recycling.


Where Does My Recycling Go In Seattle?

The story starts once you put your recyclables into the bin, or take them out to the dump. In some cases, you may need to take your recyclables to specific organizations that recycle products the dump doesn’t. What happens next?

In most cases, the material is sorted by people and machines, compressed into bales, and then sent to recyclers (domestic or international) to be made into new things such as clothes, carpets, bottles, and much more.

Recycling Glass In Seattle

You’ll be interested to know that 100% of glass and metals are recycled in Seattle itself. This constitutes roughly 28% of Seattle’s recyclables. Of the remaining 72%, 38% is recycled in the Northwest (or in North America), and 34% goes to Asia for recycling.

glass recycling stats chart seattle

How Much Of Recycling Goes Into Landfills?

Sadly, some ‘recyclables’ do end up in landfills, even after they’re sorted and put in the right bin. Here is why:

  • Contamination. If the recyclables you send in aren’t clean, dry, or you haven’t followed instructions correctly, then a recyclable material is rendered non recyclable.
  • Non recyclable materials are recycled. If you send in something for recycling that isn’t recyclable. Plastic bags are a good example. They wreak havoc with the machinery and need to be disentangled and thrown out.

If you’re worried that the city services or the recycling plant dump out everything you send in for recycling, rest assured that doesn’t happen. The recyclables processor Seattle contracts with is not allowed to send recyclables to the landfill.

Am I Recycling Right?

Let’s go over the steps involved in recycling correctly, so you know your efforts aren’t being wasted. Next, we’ll discuss how much time you should put into it.

How To Recycle

  1. Make sure containers and bottles are completely empty
  2. Wash them with soap and shake dry
  3. Place on the dish rack to dry overnight
  4. Remove labels, caps etc. as required
  5. Place in the recycling bin
  6. For bulky materials such as scrap metal, check your city/county’s size and weight restrictions

You should ideally be spending less than a couple minutes per day on sorting your recyclables. That’s easy once you form a habit and know what to do. Usually, the most time-consuming step is emptying out the container completely, because shampoo bottles and jars of peanut butter etc. can be hard to scrape clean. However, if you form a habit to use every last drop, you’ll have to go to the grocery store less often!

It’s difficult remembering all the items that can or can’t be recycled and what goes in the bin, so we recommend printing out a list of what your city/county accepts for curbside recycling. However, don’t forget the other two Rs of sustainability – reduce and reuse!

Problems Caused by Not Following Directions

People are sometimes overzealous, and send in non recyclable items for recycling. It’s called “wishful recycling”, and unfortunately, it’s a real problem in Seattle. Three reasons why.

  1. Firstly, because getting rid of the trash creates more work for the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). 
  2. Secondly, people sometimes don’t clean their bottles and containers properly, and remnants of food and moisture can cause recyclables such as paper to go moldy. 
  3. Finally non recyclable items often end up in bales where they don’t belong, such as contaminants. This can cause the quality of the bales to go down, and was one of the main reasons why China stopped accepting recycled plastic from America.

Common examples of contaminants include:

  • Plastic bags
  • Glass shards
  • Loose shredded paper
  • Food scraps
  • Non recyclable plastics

Does Recycling Really Make a Difference?


Recycling puts less pressure on Earth’s resources in both raw materials and energy. The energy spent in creating fresh materials can be redirected into recycling used materials. Not only does this use less energy, but it also means that more of the Earth’s natural resources are conserved.

Another big benefit is that recycling keeps your garbage from ending up in the dump, and helps chip away at the garbage disposal problem. Millions of tons of trash end up in landfills and oceans every year, polluting our Earth.

The State of Recycling in Seattle

Want to know the truth about recycling in Seattle? You don’t have to brace yourself, because it’s all good news.

King County has adopted a policy to work towards Zero Waste by 2030. This means that anything which can be reused or recycled will be used, and none of these resources will end up in the garbage. Roughly 75% of garbage constitutes resources, so the Zero Waste policy will bring about a huge change, keeping thousands of tons of recyclables from ending up in landfills.

Everything from glass to paper, cardboard, metal, electronics and food waste is recycled and reused. Food waste scraps, for instance, are composted locally and the resulting compost enriches gardens in King County.

Need Help Recycling?

If you’re spring cleaning or clearing out your dorm room or a deceased relative’s home, you’ll find a mountain of recyclables on your hands, and not enough time to clean them and put them in the bin. Even if you had the time, it’ll be a lot of work!

If you need help, contact Action Junk Hauling. We’ll collect your trash, sort it into recyclables and junk, and take your recyclable materials to the transfer station after following the proper procedure. For an affordable sum, we’ll make sure your trash is taken care of in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Schedule Junk Removal Today

Choose Seattle's top-rated Junk Removal Company – Action Junk Hauling. We're professional, quick, and affordable. Call or schedule online to get started:

Instant Quote

Junk Removal starting at $130