Recycling Changes

Beginning June 1, 2022, bottles and jugs are the only types of plastic accepted for recycling in Jefferson County Washington. Here’s the new recycling flyer. Read the 3/31/2022 press release.

Why are we changing what plastics we take?

Because we don’t know where the dairy tubs, plant pots, and buckets are being sent and have no way of knowing their fate. These could end up in a in a third-world country without the means to handle them in an environmentally responsible way, and we don’t want that to happen. In 2015, we were assured that these plastics had a sustainable market, so we made the switch. Because we don’t know the end market for these plastics we are going back to the bottles and jugs we accepted from 1992-2015.

We also hope that taking only plastic bottles and jugs will simplify what is recyclable in the plastic and cans bin.

Contamination is a BIG problem! Our plastic contamination rate in the county has been very high since we made the change in 2015. Here is an example of plastics that have never been recyclable in our system but continue to be put in bins by citizens:

Plastic contamination from a drop box audit in 2021

What can I recycle?

See our recycling flyer here. By carefully sorting our recycling, 95-98% becomes a new product! According to the EPA, only about 30% of recycling in single stream systems (put it all in one can) gets recycled due to contamination.

Plastic bottles and jugs

Examples are bottles that contain beverages like water and juice; shampoo and body lotion bottles; jugs that contain dish soap or laundry detergent.

Make sure your bottles and jugs are clean and empty so they don’t contaminate all the good ones. Please remove the cap as it can be a hazard to the workers nearby when the plastic is compacted into a bale for shipment. According to our sorting facility in Tacoma, our bottles and jugs are recycled at end markets on the west coast (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, or California). When plastic bottles are recycled they can be made into lots of things: t-shirts, sweaters, fleece jackets, insulation for jackets and sleeping bags, carpeting and more bottles!

Do not put plastic bottles that have contained hazardous materials like motor oil, antifreeze, weed killer, etc. in the recycling. These must go in the trash. If these containers still have material in them, take them to a Household Hazard Waste collections event.

Steel or “tin” cans and aluminum cans

Examples are food cans, pet food cans, aluminum drink cans.

Tin cans are actually made of steel and are very recyclable! They can be melted down into lots of products like more cans, re-bar, bicycle frames, car parts, appliances, and even paper clips. Labels are OK. Loose lids are not OK because they can be a safety hazard for workers and get caught in the machinery at the Materials Recovery Facility. Make sure your cans are clean and empty or this causes contamination.

Aluminum cans

THE most recyclable item on our list! They can go from your recycling bin to become another aluminum can in as little as 2 weeks. They have the highest value too. Aluminum can be recycled into a lot of different products such as tractor trailer and car bodies as well as airplanes. Mostly, aluminum cans become new aluminum cans. Recycling aluminum does not reduce the quality of the metal, so it can be recycled indefinitely. Producing new cans from recycled aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to produce cans from raw materials.

Glass bottles and jars

Examples are beverage bottles, food jars like jam, pickles, etc.

All types of used glass containers can be melted down indefinitely to make new glass products. It is actually easier and cheaper to manufacture new glass containers from recycled glass than from raw material. Our glass bottles and jars go to Strategic Materials in Seattle to be made into new glass bottles. If you recycled just 5 glass containers a week, you’d be saving enough energy to power a compact fluorescent bulb for 35 hours! Please remove any metal or plastic lids. Labels on the bottles are OK. Make sure your glass bottles and jars are clean and empty so they don’t contaminate all the other clean ones.

NO blue glass. Clear, green, and brown bottles can be melted to make more brown bottles. The cobalt blue color is not possible to separate and will contaminate the rest of the glass. We recommend reusing blue glass containers for flower vases, or not buying anything in blue glass in the first place.

NO Pyrex and other types of tempered glass. Pyrex bakeware is indeed a form of glass, but because of the way it is manufactured to withstand high temperatures, it is not recyclable. All glass needs to melt at the same temperature to be recycled. Other kinds of glass, like windows, ovenware, crystal beverage containers, etc. are manufactured through a different process. If these materials are introduced into the glass container manufacturing process, they can cause production problems and defective containers. We recommend donating usable Pyrex items, and placing broken Pyrex in the trash. Window glass, mirrors, light bulbs, etc. are not recyclable.

Corrugated cardboard

Examples are cardboard boxes, corrugated dividers, etc.

Clean corrugated cardboard goes to the Port Townsend Paper Mill where it becomes more cardboard or kraft paper. Look for the wavy paper between the top and bottom sheets. That indicates corrugated cardboard. Cardboard must be clean, dry, free of food waste, with no plastic or waxed coating.

Paper boxes for cereal, crackers, shoes, etc. are NOT recyclable in the cardboard bins. They go in the Mixed Paper bins.

There are a number of benefits to recycling cardboard. It reduces energy and water usage while cutting the production of greenhouse gas and certain air pollutants like total reduced sulfur (TRS), volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). Recycling cardboard also reduces the demand for virgin timber. It takes approximately three tons of trees to manufacture just one ton of virgin cardboard.

Mixed paper

Examples are office paper, junk mail, newspaper, paper bags, boxes (cereal, crackers, shoes, toothpaste, etc.)

All of these types of paper products are recyclable in your paper bin. They are sent to a paper company in Longview, WA to become more paper products.

NO Tetra-pak or beverage cartons. They are NOT recyclable because they contain paper, plastic, and aluminum in laminated layers. The layers are very difficult to separate and must be handled by very sophisticated and complex machinery. Most communities that accept these cartons for recycling send them to the landfill because there is no place to recycle them. Please put the cartons in the trash and don’t contaminate our recycling system.

Frequenty asked questions

How do I find out what to do with hard-to-recycle items?

Here is a helpful resource for many items that can be recycled, reused, or repaired: Moving It On is an excellent resource to find new homes from Appliances to Yard Waste. We are grateful for Maraiah Lynn Nadeau for compiling and updating this information!


What can’t I recycle?

In short, if it’s not on our flyer, it is not accepted in Jefferson County recycling bins because we cannot verify that the items are being recycled in an environmentally responsible way.

Recycling isn’t the same as it used to be. A few years ago, China accepted much of the world’s plastic, textile, and paper recycling. But in 2018, China tightened restrictions on what it would accept due to the high level of contaminated material sent by the U.S.

Now, it’s time for the United States to take responsibility to recycle these streams of waste domestically in order to improve the “materials security” of the nation. That means keeping and processing more recyclable material inside the U.S., which will also reduce the carbon footprint of the current approach to recycling.

How clean do containers need to be before going into the recycling bin?

Recyclables don’t have to be dishwasher clean. Empty them out, give it a quick rinse, shake off the water and voila! You are good to go!

Begin by mechanically scraping food waste into your compost bucket or trash. Then save the container until you are done with the dishes and use your dirty dish water. This way you will be using water that would be going down the drain anyway. If you don’t have any dishwater handy don’t use hot water, cold will do just fine. After you rinse it out, shake off the water so other items won’t get wet and throw them in your bin!

Do I need to take the labels off jars and cans?
Can caps and lids be recycled?
Metal, yes, but they must be attached to the can or smashed inside so they don’t fall out and damage the machinery.

Plastic, no. Plastic lids are often of a mixed resin grade that are not recyclable. Flat lids of any type fall between rollers and other equipment components and damage the machinery.

Can plastic bags be recycled with plastic containers?
No. Plastic bags are very damaging to the plastic bottle sorting machinery by getting wrapped up in the rollers.

You can bring your plastic bags and other film products (bread bags, zip lock bags, dry cleaner bags, bubble wrap, etc.) to recycle them via receptacles at QFC, Safeway, and the Food Co-op.

Can aluminum foil be recycled with cans?
No, not in our system.
Are prescription pill bottles recyclable?
No, not in our system.
Is it OK to recycle envelopes that have cellophane windows?
Can recycling save energy?

Yes it can! Here are some fun facts:

  • If you look at the big picture of what it takes to create a product from scratch — to get the raw materials, transport them, process them and manufacture them — making goods with recycled material like paper, plastic, glass, and metal is a major energy saver.
  • Manufacturing one ton of office and computer paper with recycled paper stock can save nearly 3,000 kilowatt hours over the same ton of paper made with virgin wood products.
  • A ton of soda cans made with recycled aluminum saves an amazing 21,000 kilowatt hours by reducing the virgin bauxite ore that would have to be mined, shipped, and refined. That’s a 95% energy savings.
  • A ton of plastic containers made with recycled plastic conserves about 7,200 kilowatt hours.
  • Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for four hours.
  • Steel recycling saves enough energy to electrically power the equivalent of 18 million homes for a year.
Is recycling worth it?

This helpful video explains why recycling is complicated these days.

Read our Contamination Reduction and Outreach Plan (CROP) mandated by the Washington State Department of Ecology

View the May 24, 2021 BoCC Workshop on Recycling – Here’s a link to the AVCaptureAll recording of the workshop. After opening the webpage, scroll down the agenda to 1:30 p.m. and click on the workshop link in the agenda. That will take you to the start of Al Cairns’, Solid Waste Manager, presentation on recycling to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC.)

Watch a Zoom presentation on the recycling changes given by Laura Tucker, Education and Outreach Coordinator, on Saturday, 4/23/2022.

Listen to a KPTZ broadcast about recycling in Jefferson County.