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King County solid waste advisory committees adopt first recommendations to make regional recycling more successful

Summary

Based on recommendations from the Responsible Recycling Task Force convened by King County, the County and its 37 regional city partners are considering changes to recycling rules that would move plastic bags and wrap out of the residential comingled recycling bin and into alternate recycling channels.

Story

Changes could be coming in 2019 to what goes into the residential comingled recycling bin, as a task force convened by King County with its solid waste system partners has recommended that plastic bags and wrap be recycled separately.

The recommended change is intended to help ensure that what is put in the recycling bin can actually be made into something new, and to increase the value and volume of recyclables as international standards evolve.

King County and its partner cities will discuss plans for implementing this recommendation in early 2019. If enacted, the change would affect curbside recycling customers in King County’s 37 partnering cities (all cities except Seattle and Milton).

Customers at King County recycling and transfer stations and drop boxes could continue to recycle plastic bags and wrap, as those materials are collected separately.

Some of the initial recommendations are focused on plastic bags and wrap that have traditionally been discarded in the recycle bin but in reality create problems for recycling centers by jamming sorting equipment.

The Responsible Recycling Task Force led by King County made recommendations to the County’s two solid waste system advisory bodies: the Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Advisory Committee and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. During their October meetings, both advisory bodies adopted policy recommendations for the region based on work from the task force.

The task force will explore alternative disposal options for plastic bags and wrap to keep them out of the trash. The recommendations come in response to new rules the Chinese government established in early 2018 that restricted the amounts and types of recyclables sent there for processing.

Though these restrictions only apply to about 14 percent of all recyclable materials, mainly mixed paper and plastics, the new rules sent a shockwave through U.S. recycling markets, however markets remain in place for 86 percent of recyclable material, including organics such as food waste and yard waste. 

In response to China’s new rules, King County convened the task force, which is comprised of representatives from local governments, recycling collection companies, processors, and others. 

Last April, the task force dove into the intricacies of recycling markets in order to develop proposed actions that could be taken to ensure   recyclable materials collected in commingled bins could be processed into new products.

One of the first actions the task force took in response to China’s restrictions was a Recycle Right education campaign. Recycling right means making sure materials in the recycling bin are empty, clean and dry. 
 
“When the task force convened, one thing was clear from the outset – recycling remains the single-most important action the public can continue to do to prevent pollution, conserve finite natural resources, and combat the effects of climate change,” said King County Solid Waste Division Director Pat McLaughlin. “Even with the new rules in place, recycling is as important as ever.”

“Also, make sure to follow local city and garbage collection company guidelines – and always recycle the basics, including plastic bottles and containers; paper, cardboard, metal cans, and glass bottles and jars.”   

As part of its work, the task force sought a thorough understanding of how recycling markets were being affected by China’s rules. This includes working with existing local recycling processors to help them enhance their domestic processing work, and identifying new domestic and international markets.  

Task force members looked into whether current and emerging technologies were available to strengthen domestic recycling markets, how manufacturers could participate by reducing or finding alternative packaging options, and if any legislative actions could be taken to bolster recycling. 

With its preliminary work completed, the task force will now develop a report with proposed actions local governments and others can take to ensure that what is put in the recycling bin can and will be turned into something new. The task force anticipates this report will be ready by year’s end.

“Though it is unclear which actions will be presented, one thing is certain – just as multiple jurisdictions from both the public and private sector came together to form the Task Force, it will take that same unified and collaborative regional effort to ensure recycling remains viable and productive for the benefit of all,” McLaughlin said. 

King County operates eight transfer stations, two drop-boxes, the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, and many programs to help customers recycle. Learn more about the Solid Waste Division at kingcounty.gov/solidwaste.

RELEVANT LINKS

Responsible Recycling Task Force  
Recycle Right  
King County Solid Waste Division

QUOTES

“When the task force convened, one thing was clear from the outset – recycling is the single-most important thing the public can do to prevent pollution, conserve finite natural resources, and combat the effects of climate change.” 

“Though it is unclear which actions will be presented, one thing is certain – just as multiple jurisdictions from both the public and private sector came together to form the Task Force, it will take that same unified and collaborative regional effort to ensure recycling remains viable and productive for the benefit of all.”

- Pat McLaughlin, King County Solid Waste Division Director

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-477-4543