Advanced Recycling Info
Here you'll find answers to the most common questions asked about Pierce County's recycling program.
If your question isn't answered here, please let us know!
This list has detailed information about what is recyclable in your curbside cart or at recycling centers in Pierce County. The information in the tabs below applies to customers in Pierce County's system only (Find information for City of Tacoma here).
Use our online recycling menu to find options for things that don't belong in your curbside cart.
These are the questions we get asked most often.
Glass doesn’t belong in the curbside cart because it breaks and contaminates the other recyclables. These little pieces of glass are difficult to recover during the sorting process. Broken glass is also very abrasive (think sand). It is hard on the equipment at the sorting facilities and at the pulp mills when it ends up in bales of paper.
Picking it up in a separate bin isn’t efficient or financially sustainable. Rates would have to increase to cover the cost of added equipment and trucks (and their emissions). There would also be an increased risk of injury to the service providers, since the bins have to be picked up and dumped manually.
Even without curbside collection, glass makes up less than 6 percent of the total trash going to the landfill in Pierce County. Meanwhile, recyclable paper, plastic and metal make up almost 20 percent of the total trash—a much bigger problem and a higher priority for us to focus our efforts and resources on.
Glass collected separately from other recyclables has a much better chance of being recycled. There are currently more than 30 drop-off sites for glass around Pierce County
“Plastic” is a general term for a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials. These materials have different ingredients and are made in different ways. Because of this, not all plastics can be recycled. resin codeThat “recycling symbol” on your container is called a resin code. It identifies the type of plastic the container is made from—but it can't tell you if something is recyclable. Shape determines how a container travels through the sorting facility, and the plastics we collect are sturdy enough to hold their shape during sorting. Crinkly items are easily crushed and incorrectly sorted into paper bales. When it comes to plastic recycling, think about shapes. We ACCEPT: Plastic bottles, jars, jugs, tubs and buckets.We do NOT accept: Cold drink cups, clamshell containers, plates, trays, utensils, straws, tubes, bags, film and wrap.
Each county in Washington is responsible for the design of the recycling programs they offer. Some cities, like the City of Tacoma, manage their own solid waste systems—so they make their own decisions about their recycling programs. There are a number of factors that influence the programs, including policies, hauling companies and recycling facilities. Elected officials also make decisions about people's ability and willingness to pay for extra services. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Our choice is to manage a recycling system that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. We want the material collected in our recycling program to be recycled into new products. When an accepted item doesn't have a recycling market, it ends up going through costly collection and processing only to become garbage.
We don't want you to recycle “more” if it results in more contamination. We want you to recycle the right things and work on reducing the total amount of waste you generate.
If you are interested in learning more about solid waste management in Pierce County, attend a SWAC meeting. The Solid Waste Advisory Committee meets the second Wednesday of most months.
Recyclables are sorted using a combination of automation and manual labor, and the people who work on the sort lines have difficult jobs. The belt moves at a high speed and they must pick dozens of items per minute.
Most of this time is spent pulling out non-program items like plastic bags and plastic film while avoiding dangerous items like needles and ammunition. It just isn't reasonable to place the burden of sorting on the pickers, especially when we can make the right choices about sorting at home before the curbside cart is even picked up.
We only accept plant material in our yard waste program. If you can grow it in a garden, it can go into the bin. Fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings are acceptable. Prepared food, pizza boxes and other packaging are not.
Cabbage=YES Cole slaw=NO
In 2012, we studied the impacts of adding food waste to our system. The study included extensive public outreach; and feedback from residents influenced our decision to keep food waste out of our collection program. Learn more about the study.
The yard waste collected and composted in Pierce County becomes a high-quality, organic soil amendment called Cascade Compost. Compost and potting soil is available to purchase in bulk.
For help with avoiding wasted food in the first place, see "What's for Dinner?"
If you want to learn how to compost your food scraps at home, our environmental educators teach free classes throughout the year.
It's easy to prepare recyclables. Just follow these tips.
(see tip for metal can lids below)
(it makes them harder to sort if you do)
should be loose in the cart
But if you leave the lid attached to the can you can recycle them together.
Follow these steps:
Give your driver a hand by putting your cart in the right place on collection day.
Carts should be at the curb by 6 a.m.
All items must fit in the cart with the lid closed.