Advanced Recycling Info

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!
Want to talk to a person?
Call (253) 798-2179
Monday to Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Can it go into my curbside recycling cart?
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.
  1. Paper
  2. Plastic
  3. Metal
  4. Glass
Books, hardcover
garbage
Books, paperback
recycle
Boxboard, paperboard
recycle
Cereal, cracker, pasta, tissue, detergent boxes
Boxes, frozen food
recycle
boxes from frozen food items
Cardboard cans
garbage
Pringles, juice concentrate
Cardboard, corrugated
recycle
Flatten boxes to save space in your cart.
Cartons, milk/juice
garbage
Refrigerated, gable top
Cartons, soup/soy milk
garbage
Non-refrigerated, aseptic
Coffee trays
recycle
To carry to-go cups
Cotton balls/pads
garbage
 
Cups
garbage
Disposable coffee and fast food drink cups
Disposable mop cloths
garbage
Swiffer cloths
Dryer sheets
garbage
 
Egg carton
garbage
 
Envelopes
recycle
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
Copy, writing, ruled, colored, construction, etc.
Paper towels
garbage
 
Paper towel rolls
recycle
 
Parchment paper
garbage
Used for cooking
Pet food bags
garbage
 
Phone books
recycle
 
Photographs
garbage
Donate to Tinkertopia
Pizza box, greasy
garbage
Never put pizza boxes in your yard waste container.
Pizza box, NO grease
recycle
Must be clean. Never put in your yard waste container.
Plates
garbage
 
Popcorn bag
garbage
 
Puzzles, Jigsaw
garbage
Receipts
garbage
 
Ribbons, bows
garbage
 
Sanitizing wipes
garbage
Lysol wipes, etc.
Take-out containers
garbage
 
Tissues
garbage
 
Tissue paper
garbage
 
Toilet paper rolls
recycle
 
Wax paper
garbage
 
Wrapping paper, foil
garbage
Foil and metallic paper cannot be recycled
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.
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
Tomatoes=YES Lasagna=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.

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'tRemove can labels or plastic windows from envelopes
don'tCrush cans
(it makes them harder to sort if you do)
don'tBag your recyclables—they
should be loose in the cart
Metal Can Lids
Loose lids, especially those with sharp edges, don't belong in your cart.
But if you leave the lid attached to the can you can recycle them together.

Follow these steps:
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