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Plastic bag ban now in effect
Ordinances have started in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and unincorporated Thurston County banning plastic carryout bags.
Learn more about these ordinances.

Quick Links

Plastic bag ordinance home

Plastic Bottles Pile Up As Mountains of Waste (MSNBC)

videoicon"The Story of Stuff" video on plastic bottles

The concerns about plastic

In the environment

One of the largest problem with plastics is improper disposal by consumers. Plastic items make their way into the environment, especially our oceans. It is on all our beaches and throughout all our waterways. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is filled with millions of pounds of trash, most of it plastic.

seal with bag around head
  • The United Nations Environment Program report estimates 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floats on our near the surface of every square mile of ocean.
  • 107 billion pounds of plastic were produced in North America in 2002.
  • The U.S. generated 31 million tons of plastic waste in 2010.
  • The overall U.S. plastics recycling rate is only 8 percent.

Plastics stay in the environment for a very long time. Most commonly used plastics do not mineralize (or go away) in the ocean and instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Because the ocean is a cold, dark place, this process happens slower in water than on land. Plastic can harm fish and other wildlife in two main ways:

carcass of bird that ingested plastic debris

Direct impacts—Studies show that fish and other marine life eat plastic because it often looks like their food: plastic bags/jellyfish; bottle caps/squid; plastic bits/fish eggs, etc. Plastics cause irritation or damage to the digestive system. If plastics are kept in the gut instead of passing through, the animal feels full (of plastic not food). They do not eat and this leads to malnutrition or starvation.

Indirect impacts—Plastic debris acts like a sponge. It accumulates pollutants up to 100,000 to 1,000,000 times the levels found in seawater. It is still unclear whether these pollutants can seep from plastic debris into the organisms that happen to eat the debris. More research is needed to help better understand these areas.


In your food

Ironically, the additives in plastics that make them great food containers are also the ones that cause health concerns.

Plastic water bottles: Bisphenol A (BPA) is a key building block for making polycarbonate plastics such as water bottles, with 2.3 billion pounds of it manufactured annually in the U.S. BPA has been shown to leach from the containers into the food it contains, and scientists have linked BPA exposure to health issues including cancers, immune disorders, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity.

canned goods

Plastic wrap and food packaging: Polyvinyl chloride and DEHP (a colorless liquid added for flexibility) are found in food wrap and packaging used for various foods such as milk, fish and oils. While low levels of these chemicals are believed to be harmless, high levels have been linked to asthma, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive problems. The Environmental Protection Agency believes that DEHP will eventually be proven to be a human carcinogen.

Cans: BPA is used to line cans to prevent corrosion and food contamination. Tara Parker-Pope states in her April 22, 2008 New York Times article, "A Hard Plastic Is Raising Hard Questions," that most human toxic exposure comes from canned foods. She says, "Virtually every canned product, even those labeled organic, has a liner with BPA."

Baby products: Millions of baby bottles and cans of baby formula, manufactured with BPA, have been sold annually for decades. Parker-Pope's article indicates that babies who drink from polycarbonate bottles ingest an estimated 10 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. Pacifiers and teethers can contain polyvinyl chloride (known as PVC or vinyl) or DEHP.


How to reduce your use

One of the best ways of reducing your impact is to become more aware of your consumption and production of trash. Reduce what you buy and avoid disposable products or those with excess packaging. Reuse what you can. Recycle all products that are accepted in our local programs.

Share your ideas with us at ThurstonSolidWaste@co.thurston.wa.us

woman with reusable water bottle
  • Bring your own bag when shopping. There are even reusable produce bags on the market now.
  • Carry a travel mug for your daily caffeine fix. Some places even charge you less.
  • Quit the bottled water habit. You can stay just as hydrated with a reusable bottle made of stainless steel, aluminum, or glass.
  • Learn what you can recycle. Find out what plastics your community recycler accepts. Explore other recycling resources: UPS stores will take back shipping peanuts; many office supply chains will take back used printer cartridges. Go to www.WhereDoITakeMy.org for locations
  • Buy glass food storage containers instead of plastic. Don’t cook in plastic. Heat can cause hazardous chemicals to leach out of some polymers.
  • Skip the baggies and sandwich bags. Use reusable containers or reusable sandwich bags.
  • Purchase items in bulk with less packaging. Avoid individually wrapped food servings, or make your own using reusable containers.
  • Think durable not disposable – razors, pens, lighters, etc.
  • Tell the restaurant to leave out the Spork kit with your to-go order. Keep reusable utensils in your desk, purse, and car.

Plastic water bottles

Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation in the world, adding 29 billion water bottles a year to the problem. In order to make all these bottles, manufacturers use 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve month.

Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle.

pollution of water body from plastic bottles

So why don’t more people drink water straight from the kitchen faucet? Some people drink bottled water because they think it is better for them than water out of the tap, but that’s not true. In the United States, local governments make sure water from the faucet is safe. There is also growing concern that chemicals in the bottles themselves may leach into the water.

People love the convenience of bottled water. But maybe if they realized the problems it causes, they would try drinking from a glass at home or carrying water in a refillable steel container instead of plastic.

Plastic bottle recycling can help—instead of going out with the trash, plastic bottles can be turned into items like carpeting or cozy fleece clothing.

Unfortunately, for every six water bottles we use, only one makes it to the recycling bin. The rest are sent to landfills. Or, even worse, they end up as trash on the land and in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Plastic bottles take many hundreds of years to disintegrate.

Water is good for you, so keep drinking it. But think about how often you use water bottles, and see if you can make a change.

And yes, you can make a difference. Remember this: Recycling one plastic bottle can save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for six hours.


Plastics recycling in Thurston County

Knowing which plastics are recyclable can be tricky. There are so many different kinds and, unfortunately, not everything that features a recycle symbol is truly recyclable. It all depends on whether recycling plants will actually accept the materials, regardless of whether the manufacturers imprint the familiar "chasing arrow" symbol on the bottom.  Please follow these guidelines when you place items in your curbside recycle cart or one of Thurston County's blue bin locations.

YES—put these items in your curbside recycle cart:

picture of man with plastic bottles at recyle center
  • Plastic bottles and jars with a top more narrow than the base. No lids or caps.
  • Plastic tubs that originally held dairy items such as yogurt, margarine or sour cream. No lids or clear tubs.
  • Plastic buckets, such as kitty litter or detergent buckets. Buckets must be clean. No lids or handles.
  • Rigid plastic plant pots that are clean. No dirt or soil.

NO—these items do NOT go in your cart:

  • No plastic bags. Check with your local grocery store to see if they have a plastic bag drop-off bin.
  • No plastic take-out containers or frozen food trays. This includes the trays, tubs, and clamshell containers that hold take-out food, deli items or produce.
  • Styrofoam. Clean foam block and food containers can be recycled at the Waste and Recovery Center and DART in Tumwater.

History of plastics and types


Contact us

Call Solid Waste Hotline at (360) 867-2491 or Thurston Solid Waste.

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