Seattle, King County will stop accepting plastic bags in recycle bins

SEATTLE -- Seattle and King County residents were encouraged to find alternative options to dispose of or reuse their plastic bags. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, Seattle and King County will no longer accept plastic bags or plastic film in recycling bins.

Jeff Gaisford, Recycling and Environmental Services Manager for King County, says of all the tons of recyclables processed at facilities throughout the county, less than one percent of it was plastic bags or plastic film.

However, that small amount caused big problems.

“The plastic bags get wrapped up in some of the equipment and you can literally see it wrapping up in the equipment as the day goes on,” said Gaisford. “They’re unable to sort those materials effectively.”

Gaisford explained the tangled plastic film prevents the processing machine’s screens from filtering out trash and waste. For nearly half the staff at one recycling facility, it was their sole job to get the plastic out.

“At least once a day, often twice a day because they need to go in and they literally their employees cutting with box cutters the bags off that equipment,” said Gaisford.

To prevent the cluster and save time, Seattle and King County will no longer accept recycle bins with plastic bags inside. A national program called Plastic Film Recycling provides bins for people to drop off their clean and dry plastic bags for recycling. Gaisford encouraged people to utilize the bins at any of the 125 participating retailers.

“We are working with the organization that runs that program to try to expand the number of stores that are taking back those materials and help them get ready to probably get more plastic bags than they’re getting currently,” said Gaisford.

The program has a place on its website where people can search their zip code and find a drop-off bin near them. Gaisford said the city and county hope to have more bins available at more locations by January 2020. The program often recycles the plastic into other products.

“When those materials get made back into new products, we’re not having to extract resources through mines or forests to create new materials. So, when it comes into the recycling system, it’s going to come back as something else.”

Shoppers like Cindy Koutnik cut out their plastic bag use altogether. She said she's been using reusable bags for the last six years.

“We all have to do our part, and this is so simple. And honestly, I like the handle. It’s easier than a paper bag to carry. It’s easier than a plastic bag,” said Koutnik. “You just leave them in the car and grab them when you go.”

“People are really avid recyclers. They want to recycle right, they just need to know how. And we want to make it as easy as possible for them,” said Gaisford.