The DOs and DON’Ts of plastic bags and recycling — Seattle’s guide to keeping the emerald city green

By Brett Stav
Seattle Public Utilities

Photo from Seattle Public Utilities

In Seattle, there’s a lot of baggage when it comes to reusing, recycling, and composting plastic bags. So it “bags” the question: where and how should bags be disposed? It’s more complicated than you might think, but to help, we put together some tips that’ll help you stay as green as the Emerald City:

1. DO recycle clean grocery, dry cleaning, and newspaper bags.
Clean plastics bags can be easily recycled, don’t be afraid to put them in your recycling bin instead of in the trash.

2. DO stuff multiple plastic bags into one to prevent them from flying away and causing litter or clogging the recycling machinery.

The entire point of recycling is to reduce the unnecessary waste in the environment. Start reducing early by making sure loose bags don’t get caught in the wind while they’re waiting to be picked up.

3. DO put long-cut shredded paper in a clear bag with your recycling.
The paper will be recycled right along with the bag. If you have tiny confetti-like paper, you can put that in your food and yard cart.

4. DO put out extra recycling next to your cart in a paper bag or cardboard box if your cart is full.
Don’t be tempted to throw your extra recycling in the trash, it’ll get picked up just fine if it’s all together.

5. DON’T toss a bag full of random recyclable items into the recycling cart.
That’s the easiest way to slow down recycling centers. The workers at the recycling facility can’t see what’s inside the bag to easily sort them. Empty the bag into the recycling cart instead.


6. DO put frozen food, produce, bread, and Ziploc-type bags in the garbage.
Even if they’re clean, those kinds of bags can have bits of food and moisture in them that ruins their recyclability. Feel guilty about throwing them away? Donate them to a local dog park or reuse them.

7. DO use a plastic bag to line your garbage can.
It helps keep odors in, pests out and the neighborhood clean of litter.

8. DO double-bag your pet’s doo-doo.
Be polite, it’s the kind thing to do.

Food & Yard

9. DO use uncoated paper bags and compostable kitchen scrap bags to store and carry food scraps to your cart.
For a full list of approved bags and local stores where you can find them, visit and search “compostable bags.” Compostable bags will naturally break down in compost heaps, returning nutrients to the ground.

10. DON’T put plastic bags in your food and yard waste cart.
It can ruin the compost.

11. DON’T put biodegradable bags in your food and yard cart. Biodegradable does not necessarily mean compostable. Some biodegradable bags require heat and moisture beyond compostable bags to break down.

12. DON’T put compostable pet waste bags in your food and yard cart. Don’t even use compostable pet waste bags, as pet waste belongs in the garbage and compostable bags only turn into compost at compost facilities.

At the Store

Plastic carryout bags are banned in Seattle. Large paper bags are available at stores for a nickel. You can still get plastic produce bags, smaller paper bags or thick, reusable plastic bags at many retailers.

Please help reduce waste and bring reusable bags with you next time you shop. (end)

For more information, visit

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  4. Eileen says:

    Thank you for reminding all of these tips but sorry I don’t agree that a plastic bag is always needed to line the garbage can. If you are using a compost bin for vegetable and other food waste your actual garbage will not attract pests. Using a plastic bag to line the garbage can is the excuse people use of getting plastic bags for free from the grocery store and not bringing their own bags to shop. If your entire garbage fits into the can with the lid securely closed then more plastics are not needed. Not everyone will buy ecological compostable bags so the less plastic used is always better if possible.


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