Pierce County curtails recycling program as Tacoma mulls fee increase, glass changes

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Recycling is changing in Pierce County, and eventually Tacoma.

The county and city’s recycling programs have had to adjust their business models after China banned the import of most categories of recyclable items in 2017. Local recycling programs now face higher costs of shipping to re-manufacturers elsewhere, including in the United States and Canada.

The county changes mean shredded paper, paper milk and juice cartons, and plastic plant pots are no longer accepted in the recycling program, either curbside or drop-off.

According to news release from Pierce County’s Planning and Public Works on Thursday, the changes eliminate materials “known to contaminate the recycling stream and ensure the recyclables can be marketed to re-manufacturers.”

The changes took effect in April after a county staff review last fall that also involved meeting with disposal company representatives that serve residents. The proposed changes won the support of the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee in December.

More information about the county changes are at www.piercecountywa.gov/recycle

“Our tips for keeping contamination out of your recycling cart are to recycle the right things and don’t put things in the cart hoping they’ll be recycled,” Ryan Dicks, Pierce County planning and public works sustainable resources administrator, said in the release. “We also need to think about ways to reduce waste, such as bringing reusable bottles and mugs with you and repairing items instead of replacing them.”

The county changes do not include the service areas of Tacoma, Ruston, Auburn, Pacific or Joint Base Lewis-McChord.


Although the county actions don’t affect Tacoma, changes will eventually make their way to the city’s residential customers via the city’s own recycling program review.

In April, following a community survey on proposed changes to Tacoma’s program, the city’s Solid Waste Management recommended the following plan, a hybrid of some of the options originally presented:

Maintain residential curbside recycling, removing shredded paper and plastic bags from the list of accepted items. According to a city FAQ: “Paper has a much higher probability of being recycled via a shred truck service. If people use home shredders, it should go in the garbage.”

Stop curbside glass collection and provide satellite recycling centers and/or satellite glass drop-off boxes.

Add $3.40 surcharge per customer per month to cover the increased costs of recycling and provide resources for improved recycling education. The surcharge would be added to bills starting Sept. 1.

Members of the Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee supported the plan, which now goes to a City Council study session June 11. The measure eventually will go before the council as a resolution later that month. More details on that plan, including how to offer input ahead of the council meetings, is at TacomaRecycles.org/Changes