Detailed Curbside Recycling List

We know recycling can be confusing.
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.
Can it go in my recycling container?
The list below has detailed information about what is recyclable in residential curbside carts and dumpsters in Pierce County. The information only applies to customers in Pierce County's solid waste system (Tacoma Solid Waste customers have slightly different guidelines).

For items that can't be recycled curbside, use our Recycling Menu to find other disposal and recycling drop-off options.
  1. Paper
  2. Plastic
  3. Metal
  4. Glass
Books, hardcover
garbage
Alternative: Donate if in good condition
Books, paperback
recycle
Alternative: Donate if in good condition
Boxboard, paperboard
recycle
Ex: cereal, cracker, pasta, tissue, detergent boxes
Boxes, frozen food
recycle
Description: Boxes from frozen food items
Cardboard cans
garbage
Ex: Cans of Pringles or juice concentrate
Cardboard, corrugated
recycle
Preparation: Flatten boxes
Cartons, milk/juice
garbage
Description: Refrigerated, gable top
Cartons, soup/soy milk
garbage
Description: Non-refrigerated, aseptic
Coffee trays
recycle
Description: Used to carry to-go cups
Cotton balls/pads
garbage
 
Cups
garbage
Ex: disposable coffee cups
Disposable mop cloths
garbage
Ex: Swiffer cloths
Dryer sheets
garbage
 
Egg carton
garbage
 
Envelopes
recycle
Preparation: Plastic windows do not need to be removed
Envelopes, padded
garbage
 
Ice cream carton
garbage
 
Juice boxes
garbage
 
Magazines
recycle
 
Mail
recycle
 
Napkins
garbage
 
Newspapers
recycle
 
Paper (all)
recycle
Ex: copy, writing, ruled, colored, construction, etc.
Paper towels
garbage
 
Paper towel rolls
recycle
 
Parchment paper
garbage
Description: Used for cooking
Pet food bags
garbage
 
Phone books
recycle
 
Photographs
garbage
Alternative: Donate to Tinkertopia
Pizza box (greasy)
garbage

Pizza box (NO grease)
recycle
Preparation: Must be clean
Plates
garbage
 
Popcorn bag
garbage
 
Puzzles, jigsaw
garbage
Alternative: Donate if in good condition
Receipts
garbage
 
Ribbons/bows
garbage
 
Sanitizing wipes
garbage
Ex: Lysol wipes
Shredded paper
garbage
Alternative: Take unshredded documents to a free shred event
Take-out containers
garbage
 
Tissues
garbage
 
Tissue paper
garbage
 
Toilet paper rolls
recycle
 
Wax paper
garbage
 
Wrapping paper (foil)
garbage

Wrapping paper (plain)
recycle
 
Your Top 5 Questions
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. Collecting glass 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 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. The recycling symbol on plastic containers 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 facility where recyclables are sorted, and the plastics Pierce County collects are sturdy enough to hold their shape during sorting. Crinkly items are easily crushed and incorrectly sorted into bales of paper. When it comes to plastic recycling, think about shapes.

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 [Solid Waste Advisory Committee] meeting. 

Recyclables are sorted using automation and manual labor. The people who work on the sort lines at recycling facilities have difficult jobs. The belts carrying recyclables move at a high speed, and workers must pick off dozens of non-recyclable 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 cart. Fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings are acceptable. Prepared food, pizza boxes, and other packaging are not.

Cabbage = YES     Cole slaw = NO
Tomatoes = YES   Lasagna = NO

For help avoiding wasted food in the first place, see our "What's for Dinner?" webpage.

If you want to learn how to compost your food scraps at home, our environmental educators teach free classes throughout the year.

Preparation
It's easy to prepare recyclables. Just follow these tips.
DO
doGive food/drink items a quick rinse to keep your cart clean and odor free
yesRemove and discard lids
(see tip for metal can lids below)
doFlatten cardboard boxes to save space in your cart
DON'T
don'tBag your recyclables
(leave them loose in your cart)
don'tCrush cans
(it makes them harder to sort)
don'tRemove labels from cans or plastic windows from envelopes
(it's unnecessary)
Metal Can Lids
Loose lids, especially those with sharp edges, don't belong in your recycling cart.
But if you leave the lid attached to the can, you can recycle them together.

lid11.Leave the lid partially attached when you open the can.
lid22.Empty the can, rinse it out, and push the lid inside.
lid33.Pinch can together at the top so the lid stays inside.
Cart Placement
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. cart placement