As Spokane County Waste Manager Deb Geiger and an employee picked through a small bin of plastic bottles, which would normally be recyclable, she removed the cap from one and poured out a generous serving of chocolate milk.
“I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to go anywhere but the trash,” Geiger said.
That bin, one of many dropped off by customers at the Spokane Valley Transfer and Recycling Station, was full of plastics that could be recycled, if the lids were removed and the liquids were rinsed out.
Spokane County has restricted what recycling it accepts at transfer stations, and is now requiring people who drop of their recycling to sort it. Those changes are similar to others that governments and recycling centers around the nation have had to consider as China and other East Asian countries stopped buying American and European recyclables.
In addition to changes at drop-off locations, Spokane County and other local governments and businesses are also asking their customers to remember the basics, such as cleaning the recycling and throwing away anything not on their official recycling list. Otherwise, it will end up in a landfill or contaminate other items that could have been recycled.
According to a report in the Bureau of International Recycling, a nonprofit that compiles reports for the industry, East Asian countries used to accept 60% of all plastic scraps, but in the past several years, China – which accepted the bulk of recyclables – Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia restricted permits for recycling and imports. That dramatically reduced the demand for materials that they would have recycled.
That means the vendors that are still willing to buy recyclables only want high-quality materials.
Geiger recommend people only recycle what is on approved county recycling lists instead of going off of a recycling symbol, or recycling something that was marketed as recyclable by the company it was purchased from. That includes plastic Starbucks lids, which are not accepted. The drop-off locations are now only accepting plastic No. 1 and No. 2, cardboard, paper bags, newspapers and other paper, tin cans, aluminum cans and scrap metals and glass.
Curbside pick up for Spokane and Spokane County is mostly the same items, but resident can check with whichever company hauls their recyclables, and both the city and the county have a list of accepted materials on their website.
Geiger said Spokane County has sought out local vendors and mills to buy their recycling and found some success, but glass is still a problem. Currently, the glass that is dropped off is stored in a trailer. She said the county is looking into a few pilot programs, or finding a way to use it in construction.
Updated recycling lists
The North County Transfer & Recycling Station at 22123 N. Elk-Chattaroy Road in Colbert and the Valley Transfer & Recycling Station at 3941 N. Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley are accepting these items for drop-off:
- Plastics, Nos. 1 and 2
- Flattened cardboard
- Magazines, cereal boxes, paper bags and egg cartons
- Colored paper and manila envelopes
- White office paper and newspaper
- Tin cans and scrap metal
- Aluminum cans
Community members who live in Spokane County, Airway Heights, Deer Park, Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley can follow this link to go to Waste Management Northwest’s guide for recycling to find out if an item is garbage, or recyclable: wmnorthwest.com/spokane/.