Waste Bans 101: Less Trash for a Cleaner Mass…achusetts

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, we thought we’d get a little academic. Don’t run away – we promise it’s interesting! This month, we are focusing on one of the strategies the state uses to reduce the amount of stuff we send to incineration and landfill: the Massachusetts Waste Bans.

No idea what a waste ban is? Don’t worry! Recycle Smart is here to explain. 

Cat putting on glasses

Here’s something you probably already know: Trash is defined as anything worthless, useless, or discarded.  But what if we told you that nearly half of what we put in our trash actually isn’t worthless or useless?  That’s right – 49% of what we throw away each year could have been reused, recycled, or composted!*  That’s a LOT of wasted opportunity.  Enter, the waste bans.

Some of the many items sold at TGE *Every three years, municipal waste combustion facilities conduct waste characterization studies. A team of trained workers take random samples of the trash delivered to the facility over 3 days. The samples are sorted into a variety of categories to help us understand exactly what people are throwing away!

What's a waste ban? 💡

DYK Massachusetts was one of the first states to implement a waste ban on easy-to-recycle and/or toxic materials?  The term “waste ban” is industry speak for “the things that are either too good or too bad to trash.”  In a nutshell, the waste bans were created to:   

  1. Promote reuse, waste reduction, and recycling by keeping good stuff out of the trash  
  2. Protect human health and the environment by keeping toxic stuff out of the trash   
  3. Prolong the life of our landfills and incinerators while mitigating their environmental impacts
  4. Support local recycling and composting businesses by ensuring a reliable supply of materials

…all good things! Our first waste ban went into effect on December 31, 1990, and prohibited lead acid batteries from landfill and incineration. Since then, MA has added several more items to the list.

To our fellow recycling nerds – want to read up on ALL the waste bans? Scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for a quick peek or check out MassDEP’s Waste Ban Fact Sheet!

The reason you’ve probably never heard of the waste bans is because lots of them don’t directly impact residents; but when they do, we often use different terms. For example, you probably never realized that your leaves and yard waste are collected separately because leaves and yard waste are on the waste ban list. 🤯

Similarly, this fall you may start to notice some changes in the way your city or town handles mattresses and textiles. That’s because on November 1, 2022 those two materials will be added to the list of waste bans and, with a few exceptions**, should stop being collected with the trash.

MA has been a leader in waste reduction, and we’ve set some pretty high goals for ourselves. We’re trying to reduce our trash by 30% (from 5.7 million tons in 2018 to 4 million tons in 2030), and 90% by 2050 – and the waste bans are an integral part of our strategy. Remember: once something is trashed, its useful life is over. By keeping stuff that can be reused, recycled, or composted out of the trash, we are saving valuable space in our landfills, reducing greenhouse gasses, and prolonging the useful life of valuable resources!

Why Mattresses and Textiles?

Can you guess how many mattresses MA residents throw out each year? 🤔 A whopping 300,000! That’s a lot of potential material that could be used to make new products. In fact, over 75% of mattress and box spring components can be easily disassembled and recycled. 

An example of circularity: box springs and steel innersprings are usually made from recycled scrap steel, which when recovered by a mattress recycler, can be used again and made into steel appliances and building materials!

Mattresses also take up a lot of space. Keeping mattresses out of the trash will make a huge dent in our waste stream. The good news? Our cities and towns have been working toward removing mattresses from the trash for years. Since 2016, over 125,000 mattresses have already been recycled as a result of those efforts (with help from MassDEP’s Mattress Recycling Incentive grant). And that number is only going to go up because of the waste ban.

See? It’s all coming together 😎.

So, what exactly does that mean for you?

The answer: instead of putting your mattress out with the trash, your city or town may be collecting them for recycling, either as curbside pick-ups or drop-offs at recycling centers. Lots of communities already have mattress recycling programs set up and many more will be starting by November 1.

If you’re not sure what to do with your old mattress, there are a few options to consider. You could donate it if it’s in good condition (we recommend a quick google search to find donation sites). You could give it away on a local gifting group, like Buy Nothing or Freecycle. If you are buying new, you can check with the retailer to see if they will recycle your old one. And of course, you can recycle it by contacting your city or town to see what they offer! If you aren’t sure which option is best for you, sleep on it 😴.

You lost me at textiles...

First things first – what is a textile? We know the term can be a little confusing. When we say textiles, we mean anything from clothing (shirts, sweaters, pants) to footwear (sneakers, sandals, cleats) to accessories (bags, belts, hats) to linens (sheets, towels, and more). Now let’s get into it!

About 230,000 TONS of textiles are disposed of annually in Massachusetts – 95% of which could have been reused, resold, or remade into something new instead. Call us purists, but we don’t love using the term “recycled” when it comes to textiles because they aren’t recycled in the way bottles and cans are and they shouldn’t go in with your regular recycling. In fact, there are many paths unwanted textiles can take:

  • Donated textiles can be given or resold to people who need them here in the US and abroad.
  • Textiles in poor condition can become industrial wiping cloths, aka “shop rags”. There’s even a company that makes them in MA!
  • And anything that cannot be resold can be remanufactured into insulation used by a variety of industries (e.g., automotive, home furnishings, and carpet padding).

clothes piling upTextile recovery isn’t new – you’ve probably walked or driven by collection boxes in your neighborhood. But with the upcoming waste ban, there will be even more options available to make it easier for you to keep textiles out of the trash. For example, some communities are offering curbside pickup and/or transfer station drop off options. 

So when you’re getting ready to clean out your closet, keep this in mind:  Even if it’s torn, out of style, and/or ugly – it can be donated (as long as it’s dry)!

What Comes Next

We’re excited about the new waste bans, and we hope you are too.  By keeping mattresses and textiles out of the trash, Massachusetts will be better able to meet our waste reduction goals. Now that you know that unwanted mattresses and textiles have so much potential life, be sure to look for those donation and recycling options in your city or town. And tell your friends!

** We know not ALL mattresses and textiles can have a second life. There is a high tolerance for dirty mattresses when it comes to recycling them, but if your mattress is full of bed bugs or water logged, please make sure it gets trashed.  If you’ve got clothes that are covered in paint, grease, or mold, they should also go in the trash.  Just keep in mind for all the others, there are options that will lead to a cleaner, greener Massachusetts.

Curious about all the current waste bans?
What started in 1990 has grown over the last 30 years as more materials were banned from the trash. The full list includes: recyclables (paper, glass, metal, and plastic containers), leaves and yard waste, large appliances, tires, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), automotive batteries, construction materials, and food waste. By adding mattresses and textiles as part of our 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan, we’re keeping materials with huge potential for reuse and recycling out of the trash and fostering a circular economy.

📢 Special shout out to our amazing intern, Emily Wong! 📢
Emily’s research on the waste bans was critical for this newsletter, and we couldn’t have put this together without her hard work. Thank you, Emily!

Spotlight on Reusable Containers: Recirclable

Photo: Boston Building Resources (BBR)

Recirclabe’s Ulrike Müller and Margie Bell with Doug Shube of Shubie’s

As we close out the summer, we wanted to dedicate our last Summer of Reuse Spotlight section to a Reduce, Reuse, Repair Micro-Grantee working toward reducing take-out waste.

Recirclable is a brand new, woman-owned business that provides restaurants with reusable containers and an app that allows both customers and restaurant managers to keep track of those reusables. The company is a labor of love brought about by two women in Arlington who saw that there was an increase in take-out waste during the pandemic and decided to do something about it. Kudos to Ulrike Müller and Margie Bell for taking on this challenge!

Building materials for reuse

One thing we love about Recirclable is that their app allows restaurants to see the fruits of their reuse efforts in real time. For example, at one restaurant, 300 single-use bowls were saved from the trash, by investing in just 30 reusable bowls. And reports indicate the containers still look like new, with plenty of life left in them – what a win for reuse!

Currently, Recirclable is working with three restaurants. Visit the Press section of their website, or follow on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to learn more.

Want to see more reusables in your favorite take-out restaurant? Let them know that you’re interested in this kind of program! This kind of behavior change can take time to develop since both the restaurants and customers need to see positive outcomes before they take the plunge, but Recirclable shows it’s possible to make a big impact on restaurant waste with just one small change. 👏

📚 What We're Reading

Keep on recyclin’,

The Recycle Smart Team at MassDEP