Online Lesson: Where does all our waste go?

When you throw away garbage, where does it go? “Away” is actually a place — find out where your trash goes after you throw it away. Grade Level: 2 - 5, Time commitment: 15 - 60 min | April 30, 2020

We throw away items all the time without really knowing where they end up. This lesson will teach you about where all that stuff goes!

If you would like to learn about where everything goes in more depth than this lesson will address, open this Google Earth map and take an interactive journey through where all our items go! After clicking on the link, click the “present” button and navigate your way through using the arrows located on the bottom left hand side of your screen. Or you can just continue reading!


The stuff you throw away into the green or blue toters at home gets picked up along the curb by a garbage truck. If you live in Bellingham, Ferndale, or Blaine, this garbage truck works for a company called the Sanitary Service Company. If you live in Lynden, Everson, Nooksack, or Sumas, your garbage will be picked up by a garbage truck from Nooksack Valley Disposal.

After your garbage is dumped into the truck, it is brought to a transfer station in Ferndale where it will be crushed into one-ton blocks and placed into a semi-truck or on a train to be brought to The Roosevelt Landfill in Roosevelt, WA, or the Columbia Ridge Landfill near the Columbia River on the border between Oregon and Washington. The garbage will travel over 400 miles before finally getting buried in the landfill!


Recycling in Whatcom County is taken to Northwest Recycling, Inc. in downtown Bellingham.
After the items have been separated at the facility, they will be sent out to other places. Read on to find out where!

Plastics are sent to a combination of domestic markets for further sorting and processing. Some may also be sent to Malaysia or Indonesia. That is over 8,000 miles away! We are lucky in Whatcom County because our plastics are still being recycled. Unfortunately, most of the country is having to put plastics into landfills because there isn’t much of a market to reuse them like here in Whatcom County.

Mixed paper
Mixed paper is sent to a combination of domestic mills in Wenatchee, WA and Longview, WA. Some may also get sent to Indonesia. Mixed paper are items like cereal boxes, junk mail, phonebooks, paperboard packaging, etc. The company that collects our mixed paper reprocesses it into linerboard and other coated paper products that are used to make packaging for consumer goods.

Newspaper is sent to Wenatchee, WA, where they are made into those trays that go between layers of apples in big boxes!

Corrugated Cardboard
Bales of corrugated cardboard are hauled to Longview, WA where they are made into new containerboard, which is then used to manufacture new cardboard boxes and kraft paper for making paper grocery sacks.

Glass Bottles
Glass bottles are sent to another sorting facility in Seattle to be sorted by color. The glass is then shipped to a glass furnace in Seattle to be made into new bottles. These two facilities are located side by side.

Aluminum Cans
Whatcom County aluminum cans are baled and sold to a Corporation in California to be sorted further. Their cans then go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama where they are melted into aluminum sheets to be made back into new cans, filled and back on grocery shelves within 60 days.

Steel Cans
Steel cans are sent to a steel mill in Seattle where they are smelted and made into rebar.

Food and Yard Waste

If you have a green Food Plus bin at home where you throw away your food scraps and yard trimmings, your bin will get picked up and delivered to Green Earth Technology in Lynden. At Green Earth Technology, when the truck reaches the facility, they pile up what they collected and they heat it up to temperatures exceeding 150 degrees to kill weed seeds & pathogens. Their composting facility diverts over 20,000 tons of materials from the Whatcom area landfill every year! Some of the compost that is created from their facility is then sold here in Whatcom County where people buy it and grow more food! It is a great example of how recycling is supposed to work! If you would like to learn more about what they do at Green Earth Technology, watch this video!

Take Action: How can you send less to the landfill?

Conduct a home waste audit!

Each of us can make a difference and reduce the amount of waste we throw away into the landfills, but first, we need to figure out just how much waste we are producing and what kinds of materials we are throwing away in our households.

Take a picture or video of what you discover during your home waste audit and send them to us or tag us on Instagram (@resources_protects)!

Do this project now!


Continue Learning!

There are lots of topics for you to choose from. Don’t stop here; move on to discover another lesson! New lessons uploaded each week.

Take the next lesson

Dive In

Join the fight for clean water, thriving forests and healthy communities.