recycling | KUOW News and Information

recycling

KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Do you ever come across an item — bottle caps, Styrofoam — you’re not sure you can recycle? Or did you read the story about China no longer accepting our recyclables and panic?

Washington recyclers are worried they could soon have no place to send your discarded paper and plastics. That’s because China has decided the U.S. is letting food and garbage contaminate too much of its unwanted milk jugs and other recyclables.

China is the biggest buyer of recyclable plastic, paper and metal from the U.S. Starting next year, China will no longer take our recyclables. They say those materials are coming over with food scraps or types of plastic that can’t be recycled.

Oregon regulators have received more than a dozen requests from companies that want to throw recyclable materials into landfills, and they're expecting more as China cracks down on waste imports from the U.S.

Oregonians love to recycle, so it makes sense that we're still putting paper and plastic into our recycling bins week after week.

Apparently, we haven’t been doing a very good job of sorting our trash from our recycling — and the Chinese government has noticed.

China doesn't want loads of our paper and plastic waste that often have contaminants like dirty diapers inside.

So, the government is cracking down on the shipment of recyclable material from the U.S. By the end of the year, much of the mixed plastic and paper in our recycling bins will be banned from China.

David Williams, a 20-year full-time resident of Orcas Island, sorts through garbage and recycling in the back of his truck on Sunday, July 30, 2017, on the tipping floor of the Orcas Island Transfer Station on Orcas Island. KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

When writer Knute Berger was a kid in the 1960s, vacationing on Shaw Island, his family had a creative way of dumping some of their trash.

Few inventions in modern history have been as successful as plastic. It's in vehicles and building materials and most of our electronic devices. We wrap stuff in it and even wear it.

Now a research team has tallied up how much plastic has been produced and where much of it has gone. Turns out, it's literally almost everywhere.

Paul Savino’s first patient of the day collapsed under the weight of an overgrown child. He's seen these symptoms before.

“What we have here are a couple of dowel joints that have popped and one that has snapped,” he said. “But the patient will survive, I dare say.”

A piece of sandpaper, some wood glue and 20 minutes later, the toddler-sized wooden chair was back on its feet.

Katrina Spade of the Urban Death Project.
Courtesy of Urban Death Project/Rania Spade

Bill Radke speaks with Katrina Spade, founder and director of the Urban Death Project, about the system she designed to compost human remains. She plans to test the system at Washington State University soon. 

If you live in an apartment complex in the greater Seattle area, you might open your door this summer and find a pair of college students in green polos on your front step. They won’t try to get you to vote, buy their wares or convert you. They just want you to recycle.

Oregon Bottle Deposit Set To Double Next Year

Jul 22, 2016

The bottle deposit rate in Oregon will double next year from 5 to 10 cents. Officials are trying to boost return rates, which have been slowly falling since Oregon became the first state to pass a bottle bill in 1971.

The law required a 5-cent deposit on certain drink containers, which is returned when people bring back containers. The results were immediate. Oregon achieved a 90 percent return rate, reducing litter and the number of containers in landfills significantly.

Three days after its launch, BIKETOWN, Portland's new bike share program sponsored by Nike, had 1,381 people sign up for annual memberships and 2,237 people buy a day pass or single ride users.

Both of these numbers have exceeded expectations for the first few days of the program, said Dani Simons, director of communications and external affairs for Motivate, BIKETOWN's operating company.

High above the Pacific Ocean in a plane headed for Hong Kong, most of the passengers are fast asleep.

But not Jim Puckett. His eyes are fixed on the glowing screen of his laptop. Little orange markers dot a satellite image. He squints at the pixelated terrain trying to make out telltale signs.

He’s searching for America’s electronic waste.

“People have the right to know where their stuff goes,” he says.

Does this orange peel belong in the trash, recycling or compost?
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

It probably comes as little surprise that Seattle gets an A for recycling.

Seventy percent of all our trash ends up in compost or recycling; just 30 percent goes to the landfill.

Seattle Suspends $1 Fine For Failure To Compost

Apr 22, 2015
From left, Janet Gwilym, a resident of Beacon Hill, with her children, Morgan Gwilym-Tso, Alana Gwilym-Tso. Behind them, Mayor Ed Murray and Cortona Café co-owner Jason Davison.
KUOW Photo/Sara Bernard

Breathe easy, Seattle. The proposed fines for not following Seattle’s new food composting rule have been delayed.

The fines were originally scheduled to start July 1. But on Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray said he would suspend those fines for the rest of the year. The earliest they could go into effect -- and that's a big if -- is January 2016.

You want a cup of decaf. Your significant other is craving the fully caffeinated stuff. With the simple push of a button, Keurig's single-serving K-Cup coffee pods can make both of you happy.

But those convenient little plastic pods can pile up quickly, and they're not recyclable. And that's created a monster of an environmental mess, says Mike Hachey. Literally.

Recology CleanScapes Driver Rodney Watkins issues a red tag.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Beware the red tag, the scarlet letter of Seattle waste.

The bright red tag says you’ve violated the city’s new trash law, making it illegal to put food into trash cans.

“I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” said Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, a waste contractor for the city. He’s on the front lines of enforcing these rules.

Oregon Expands Its Electronics Recycling Program

Dec 29, 2014

Oregon is expanding its electronic waste recycling program. Starting Jan 1, Oregon e-waste collection facilities will start accepting printers, computer keyboards and mice for recycling.

For the past six years, the Oregon E-Cycles program has collected computers, monitors and televisions for recycling at 270 drop-off sites across the state.

Major changes are underway, with more on the horizon for Oregon’s pioneering bottle deposit system.

Those changes -- the biggest since the Bottle Bill's adoption a generation ago -- have been slowly playing out as grocery stores close their return stations in favor of centralized off-site redemption centers.

And the state will soon determine if the deposit paid for each bottle and can of soda, water or beer will remain at a nickel or double to a dime.

Those changes are all about increasing the rate of empties -- and deposits -- that get returned.

This is the first part of a three-part series, "What A Waste: Why We Have To Stop Throwing Food Away."

Wasting 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. certainly has its drawbacks:

It's not feeding people in need, it's expensive and it does a lot of environmental damage.

NW Colleges Showcase Innovations In Campus Sustainability

Nov 7, 2014

In the Reuse Room at Portland State University, everything is free and the door is always open.

Students and staff can walk into the converted mailroom anytime to donate or take supplies, ranging from three-ring binders to iPods.

Compost, Seattleites! (Or Risk Being Fined)

Sep 22, 2014
Flickr Photo/Dianne Yee (CC-BY-NC-ND)

It'll be a busy day at Seattle city hall Monday. Mayor Ed Murray is proposing his first city budget since he was elected last fall.

Among other things, the mayor is expected to announce funding for more police officers and for his preschool proposal.

Further down the agenda, though, is a smaller item that could add up to something big.

Let me guess how you feel about your urine: Get that smelly stuff away from me as fast as possible?

A small group of environmentalists in Vermont isn't as squeamish. Instead of flushing their pee down the drain, they're collecting it with special toilets that separate No. 1 and No. 2.

Then they're pooling the urine of the 170 volunteers in the pilot project (a quart or so, per person, daily) and eventually giving it to a farmer, who's putting it on her hay fields in place of synthetic fertilizer. The goal is to collect 6,000 gallons this year.

Flickr Photo/vmax137 (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The cost of housing in the city is making many people think small, to embrace the micro movement that loves to reuse and recycle. Enter the idea of a shipping container as a building — a natural in a port city like Seattle, which handles 1.6 million container units in a year.

As California deals with a historic drought, more communities are looking to recycling sewage and storm runoff as a way to deal with the water crisis.

At the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Ron Wildermuth, manager of public and government affairs for the West Basin Municipal Water District.

Best Recycling Advice: Don't Agonize Over It

Jan 2, 2014
Flickr Photo/Chelsea Nesvig

Northwest denizens are known to take their recycling responsibilities seriously. But it can be confusing to keep on top of all the rules. Tom Watson from the King County Recycling and Environmental Services in Seattle told Steve Scher on The Record that you don't need to agonize too much about it.

The same shiny gift wrap and bright bows that make Christmas presents so enticing are exactly what give recycling centers headaches the day after Christmas.

KUOW Photo/Jamala Henderson

The loading dock at Total Reclaim in Seattle is piled high with electronic discards: phones, old TVs and computer carcasses. It is also deafening: Computer boards are shredded, and trucks roar in with new loads.

KUOW Photo/Derek Wang

Seattle trash pickup could be reduced to every other week by 2015 if the Seattle City Council votes on Monday to keep that option on the table for the next year.

If the action passes as expected, biweekly service won’t be definite, however: Mayor-elect Ed Murray and  council members will still need to pass the legislation early next year.

Flickr Photo/Meaduva

Seattle city council members are scheduled to vote Monday on legislation that could change where the city's food and yard waste ends up. But the latest plan is raising a stink east of the Cascades.

John Ryan

Close to half of the garbage generated in America doesn’t come from individual homes or businesses. It comes from construction sites.