Recycling rates in King County are some of the highest in the nation. The statewide ban on single-use plastic bags that took effect Oct. 1 is also improving efforts to reduce waste and recover valuable resources.
But officials here say there’s still a lot of room for improvement. In honor of America Recycles Day on Monday, recycling company Recology provided KNKX with a tour of its newest materials recovery facility in the region. Located in south Seattle, the $7 million asset was built and began operating in 2014.
Inside the warehouse-like structure, a maze of green and yellow metal staircases and scaffolding leads up to whirring conveyor belts overhead.
Every day, batches of all the items people put in their blue bins arrive here and are transformed into tidy bales of clean commodities. High-tech sorting machines use infrared cameras, air jets and magnets to separate the recyclables.
But first, dozens of workers in protective gear pull a whole lot of thin plastics and other garbage from the piles.
Recology’s government and community relations manager, Quinn Apuzzo, says trash makes up around 10 percent of what arrives at this plant.
“So, things like garden hoses, Christmas lights, dirty diapers. None of those items are recyclable, and some are obviously not recyclable. But some are also items that people just get confused about — or they really, really wish they could recycle,” she said. “They put them in their blue bin, in the hope that someone can figure out how to recycle them down the line. And unfortunately, that’s just not how the system works.”