Garbage Goat

“Hi! I’m GG the Garbage Goat, and I like to talk about trash. On my blog you’ll find interesting bits of information regarding how Spokane County handles its solid waste, how our recycling is handled, and other interesting things about waste. If you have questions about recycling or solid waste, you can contact the Spokane County Regional Recycling Information Line at 509-477-6800, or contact us online.”

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Jun 20

What’s the Difference Between Curbside and Transfer Station Recycling?

Posted on June 20, 2019 at 2:13 PM by Austin Stewart

Recycling can vary significantly in different areas, and even within Spokane County you can find different recycling standards based on where and how you are disposing of your recyclables. These changes are impacted by multiple factors, from who picks up and transports your recyclables, to who ultimately handles your recyclables and sorts or packages them. Knowing these differences can inform how you recycle, and what items and commodities you want to prioritize. 


If you have curbside recycling pickup service, you do not have to sort your recyclables into separate containers, and that’s called commingled recycling—all materials are combined. Though you don’t have to sort your recyclables, you are still obligated to only put whichever materials into your recycling bin that your waste hauler allows. The list of what is and is not allowed in your recycling bin is determined by several factors. 

First, County Code 8.58.040 states the minimum types of recyclables that shall be collected in a curbside program. Next, the list is impacted by the hauler who is picking up the recycling bins deciding what they are willing to transport. The waste haulers in Spokane County are Waste Management, Sunshine Disposal, and the City of Spokane. One difference between haulers is whether or not they accept glass. When glass gets crushed in recycling trucks, it can damage the mechanisms and walls of the truck’s waste compartment, adding equipment repair costs. Because of this, Waste Management and Sunshine Disposal do not accept glass in their recycling bins, but the City of Spokane does. To find out which hauler services your area, check out Spokane County’s Curbside Pickup page

The list can also be impacted by where the recyclables are taken to. In Spokane County, commingled recyclables are likely sent to Waste Management’s SMaRT Center, and the list of materials they accept impacts what you’re able to put into your recycling bin. One reason you cannot put styrofoam or plastic bags in your recycling bin in Spokane County is because the SMaRT Center is not equipped to handle these challenging materials, and so no local hauler currently accepts them in commingled recycling bins either.

Commingled curbside recycling bins are the easiest and simplest way to handle your recyclables. You don’t have to drive anywhere to drop recyclables off, and you don’t have to worry about sorting them either. However, the service is not free, and to have curbside recycling you need to live where recycling is offered, which is regulated by Spokane County. Additionally, some landlords, homeowners associations, and other entities are not willing to pay the fee or set up curbside recycling services with the hauler. Neighborhoods who are not in the regulated recycling service area can contact the Spokane County Regional Solid Waste System to learn more about the petition process to be included in the regulated recycling service area. 

Transfer Station

Another way to dispose of your recyclables is to take them to one of the three local transfer stations. Taking recyclables to a transfer station is free, but you need transportation and time to do so. The North County and Valley transfer stations have areas for both sorted and commingled recyclables, while the Waste to Energy Transfer Station requires that recyclables be sorted. Sorted recyclables are less likely to be contaminated, so they are of higher value and easier to sell to someone who will recycle the material. Whether you sort your recyclables at the transfer station or place them all in a commingle area, your choice will have an impact on the quality and salability of your recyclables, and therefore impact the likelihood that they will be turned into new materials. 

Transfer stations are the cheapest option for recycling disposal. They also enable you to talk directly with solid waste experts, and staff at transfer stations who are trained and able to answer your questions about recycling. If making regular trips to a transfer station is not a possibility for you, consider waiting longer between trips to collect more recyclable material, or finding a neighbor or friend who will make a combined trip with you. 

The most important factor to consider when choosing your waste disposal options is what is sustainable for you. Though going to a transfer station and sorting your recyclables by hand might ensure they are kept free from contamination, regular trips and the effort required to sort your materials might not be manageable long-term. Find a balance between what is best for the environment, and what is best for you.