Recycling 101 for Common and Questionable Items

It probably goes without saying that waste prevention should be our primary goal. But when we cannot prevent waste, the next course of action is to dispose of these materials or recycle them in the appropriate way. This can get confusing, and many people aren't aware of some of these options for waste diversion and reclamation. The more resources that we can divert from the landfill, the better.

First, let's talk about how we can effectively reduce our waste to begin with.

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home outlined her five R's of zerowaste in this way:

1. Refuse what you do not need.

2. Reduce what you do need.

3. Reuse by using reusables (and rejecting single-use items)

4. Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.

5. Rot (compost) the rest.

And only in that order.

When we cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse, the next option is to recycle so that those resources have an opportunity to reenter the market.

I've compiled this resource for recycling items from glass to electronics and hazardous waste. Some of this information is geared specifically toward the greater Seattle area, while other resources are available nationwide.

Waste Management Curbside pickup

(Specific to the greater Seattle area - King and Snohomish Counties)

All items must be clean.


Aluminum cans, foil, and bake-ware (collect pieces of foil and scrunch them all together for easier sorting at the facility)

Steel and tin cans

Wire coat hangers (also reused at dry cleaners)

Scrap metal less than 20 lbs and under 20" in any direction

Empty aerosol cans (like, really empty)


Cardboard, magazines, newspaper, copy paper, paper cardboard, junk mail, and phone books.

Dairy and juice cartons (even with the plastic pour spout included) are accepted, however, these items do pollute this waste/recovery stream. Look for milk and juice in returnable glass containers at your local store. It's a better alternative.


Clear, brown, and green, glass bottles. Please remove plastic pour spouts. Labels are ok.


Currently accepted and recycled: clean, plastic, water bottles and similar beverage containers (leave lids on, tightly secured).

All other plastics are currently questionable because they are unable to find a market to sell them.

The trouble with recycling plastic is that the market for selling used plastic material is seriously lacking. After a brief discussion with a representative from the Cascade Recycling Center in Washington State, I learned the following hard truth:

Currently, the only real market for recyclable plastics is for the type of plastic used for water bottles and similar beverage containers. Containers such as plastic laundry bottles, clam-shell containers, and all other miscellaneous plastics have the very real potential of heading straight to the landfill.


Metal wires or cables - They jam the sorting machines. Bring these to a scrap metal collection center instead. See Scrap Metal below.

Tetra Pak cartons - Which are commonly used for shelf-stable beverages, soups and broths.

Plastic shopping bags - This is the #1 item that is commonly sent to the recycle facility that should not be. Every plastic bag must be picked out by hand by the sorters at the facility. Please collect and return bags to the drop bin at grocery stores. More on this below.

Additional information from the Cascade Recycling Center:

Waste Management Food Waste Recycling A Program for all Compostable Materials

I have been told that customers in both King and Snohomish Counties can include all compostables in their yard waste bins for weekly collection. These organic materials are taken to Cedar Grove Composting Facility. Please verify this service in your area with Waste Management before proceeding.

Acceptable items for Food & Organic Waste Recycling include:

Kitchen Scraps

Fruit and vegetables

Meat, poultry, seafood (bones and shells)

Bakery items and ingredients

Eggs and paper egg cartons

Plants, cut flowers, potting soil

Coffee grounds, filters, tea bags

Paper products (napkins, paper towels)

Ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese

Hair and nail trimmings

Not Accepted: plastic food stickers - please remove every one!

More information here:

Grocery Store Plastic Bag Bin for Plastic Film Recycling

These drop bins are commonly found at the entrance to your local grocery store. If you don't see one, just ask a store employee and they will point you in the right direction.

Clean and dry materials accepted in these bins include:

Case wrap (from paper towels, toilet paper, and water bottle cases)

Plastic shopping bags

Newspaper bags

Bread bags

Dry cleaning bags

Air pillows (from shipping – also accepted at mail centers for reuse)

Clean Ziploc bags

Clean food bags (think plastic bag holding fruit or veggies)

Furniture and electronic wrap

Plastic cereal box liners

More information here:

Preserve Program #5 Plastics

From Preserve: "We transform yogurt cups into toothbrushes and take-out containers into tableware. Through innovations in sustainable materials, recycling systems, and performance-driven design, Preserve has created low-impact, stylish products to accompany you in your day-to-day life.

As a pioneer in sustainable products, we found our roots in creating everyday household products from 100% recycled plastic. To divert even more plastic from the landfills, we took it a step further and developed our own take-back program called Gimme 5, which collects #5 plastic that we transform into new Preserve products, ultimately closing the product lifecycle loop."

Number #5 plastics are rigid and include plastic clothing hangers, plastic scoops, lids, and "crinkly" plastics like grape bags and product wrapping. If it "crinkles" in your hand.. it is probably #5. If it is rigid, it is probably #5.

Drop off bins are located in Whole Foods Stores nationwide.

If you don't have access to a Whole Foods, collect items until you have a full box, and ship by ground mail to:

Preserve Gimme 5

823 State Route 13

Cortland, NY 13045-6574

More information here:

Styro Recycle, LLC for styrofoam and bubblewrap

This drop-off location in Kent, Washington accepts: Polystyrene (Styrofoam), clear bubble wrap, packing peanuts, Styrofoam takeout containers, Styrofoam wrapping. Must be clean and dry.

Free Drop-off.

(A better option for bubble wrap is to drop it at local mail centers for reuse.)

Styro Recycle LLC

23418 68th Ave

Kent, WA 98032

Open 9-5, closed on Sundays

More information here:

Secondary option for Styrofoam drop off:

Seattle Lighting Clearance Outlet

26 S. Hanford St. Seattle, WA 98134

Third option for Styrofoam drop off:

Recology Stores in WA, OR, and CA (small fee for collection)

Find your location here:

Goodwill for fabric, electronics, batteries

From the Goodwill website:

“Our outlet locations double as recycling facilities where our teams sort, bundle and distribute the unsold goods.  We are able to recycle nearly everything we collect; paper for pulp, clothing for rags, glass for counter tops – even metal, electrical cords and light strings.  We also work with local recycling programs to help keep waste out of landfills.  Textiles are also sold on the international market and can also provide funding for programs.”

Electronics Recycling through Goodwill

"Goodwill has partnered with E-Cycle Washington to recycle most unsold or non-working electronics. E-Cycle Washington is a free program that makes it easy for Washington residents to recycle their broken, obsolete or worn-out electronics. Electronic products contain valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic chemicals that should be kept out of landfills."

Items Accepted include:







portable DVD players


They are not able to accept printers, keyboards, toner cartridges or cell phones at this time. (Take these to Best Buy instead)

Textile Recycling through Goodwill

"Torn or stained apparel, linens, single shoes, gloves and socks were once considered garbage. Goodwill accepts ALL textile donations, in any condition (except wet or contaminated with hazardous materials) so they can be re-used or recycled into new products."

More information:

Best Buy for electronics

Best Buy accepts electronics and appliances of all kinds.

Electronic cables, digital cameras, headphones, computers, webcams, mice and keyboards, etc.

For more items check here:

Recology a drop-off opportunity in WA, OR, and CA

Free Drop off for these items:

Textiles(up to 32 gallons)

Florescent light bulbs (up to 10)

A small fee to recycle items like:

Bicycles, batteries, Styrofoam, electronics, small appliances, and latex paint

Contact your local Recology center for specifics.

Household Hazardous Waste Drop Points (In various cities)

From their Website: "Household hazardous wastes (HHW) are household products that contain potentially hazardous ingredients that require special care when disposing of them. HHW's are products

that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients, such as oil-based paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides. Improper disposal of HHW can pollute the environment and pose a threat to human health."

Items accepted at HHW drop points:

Compact florescent tubes and bulbs (CFLs – also accepted at Home Depot and Lowes), chemicals, cleaners, solvents, fungicides, floor wax, cooking oil, bleach, moth balls, mercury, smoke detectors.

Oil-based paints, batteries, etc.

Earth 911 – an online resource for recycling information.

Enter your zip code and item to find recycling options for over 350 materials.

Terracycle - an online resource for hard-to-recycle items

Available programs include: energy bar wrappers, cigarette waste, oral care including toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, fabric care product packaging, food pouches, and Brita water filters.

Scrap Metal Collection Centers

Generally Accepted: Steel, iron and cast iron, copper, aluminum, stainless steel, brass, car batteries, electric motors, lead, lawn mowers, satellite dishes, BBQ Grills, Exercise Equipment.

Search online for a collection point in your area.  

Spring Back Mattress Recycling NW for used mattresses and box springs

Spring Back Mattress Recycling NW is a division of the NW Furniture Bank.  “Over 30 million mattresses are sent to landfills across the country each year! 90% of a mattress can be recycled."

$20 per piece, must be dry.

Drop Off Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m

Medical Waste:

Check your location here:


Packaging materials are commonly accepted at independently-owned mail centers (packing peanuts, bubble wrap, air pillows).

Cardboard boxes and shipping envelopes may be collected and then gifted to movers and/or Ebay sellers on Craigslist.

Cork is often reclaimed at local food co-ops

Another helpful resource specific to Seattle:

I will do my best to update this list as needed. Please comment below if you have anything to add!

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