FAQ

About Recycling in Massachusetts


What you need to know to Do Your Part, Recycle Smart.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What can I do to recycle better?

Keep plastic bags out of household recycling. Maybe you’ve been putting your recyclables in plastic bags for years, but plastic bags, plastic wrap and other stretchable plastic cannot be recycled along with paper, cans, and bottles. In fact, plastic bags are the #1 cause of ruined recyclables. If you use them to bag your recyclables, all your recyclables are treated as trash (exception: some Boston neighborhoods require residents to bag recyclables). At the recycling sorting facility, plastic bags get caught in the machinery, causing work stoppage and worker injuries.

However, plastic bags and wrap are collected at many grocery stores. Next time you head to the supermarket, bring along your plastic bags and put them in the labeled recycling bin!

Stick to the list and only place approved recyclable items in recycling bins or carts. What belongs in your bin and what doesn’t? As a rule of thumb, remember: bottles, cans, jars, jugs, and paper. It’s easier than ever to get it right when you use the Smart Recycling Guide, which lists items accepted for recycling in every Massachusetts community. If it’s not on the list, check for separate drop-off locations by using our Recyclopedia app.

Keep it clean and make sure your recyclables are free of food and liquids. Rinse containers to remove food and drink residue. A little pizza grease on the box is okay, but pizza slices are not recyclable!

Spread the word! Once you learn how easy it is to recycle smart, tell your neighbors and friends so everyone can do their part.

Can’t I toss anything with a recycling triangle into the bin? Isn’t it better to recycle more and put less in the trash?

You sound like someone who wants to recycle as much as possible – which is great – but not every item with the recycling triangle can be recycled with the rest of your household items. In fact, some items with the recycling logo, like plastic bags, create real problems at the recycling facility because they get caught in machine gears causing work shutdowns, worker injuries, and increased recycling costs. These items may be recyclable elsewhere − check if a specific item is recyclable, and where to recycle it, by using our Recyclopedia app.

What happens to what I recycle? Where does it all go?

If recycling is a mystery to you, you’re not alone. Whether you place recyclables in a bin at your curb or take them to a community recycling center, they eventually wind up in the same place: one of several Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) in Massachusetts.

Once at the MRF, the materials are loaded onto a series of conveyor belts for sorting. Workers attempt to remove non-recyclables – including plastic bags and bagged trash. Some of these items make it through and jam the sorting equipment. As the “good” recyclables − paper, cardboard, glass, metal and plastic containers − move along the conveyor belts, they get separated mechanically and crushed. The cleanly separated materials are compressed into bales and shipped to businesses that transform them into new items. Understanding the process helps all of us do a better job recycling.

What changes are happening with recycling in Massachusetts?

Two related issues are having a major effect on recycling in Massachusetts. The first and most significant issue is that too many of us are putting things in our recycling bins that cause problems at recycling facilities. Things like plastic bags, diapers, trash, food waste, garden hoses, bowling balls, clothing, and the list goes on.

Because our recyclables aren’t clean enough, countries such as China are refusing to import our recyclables to make new products and packaging. Recyclables are a commodity and are subject to the laws of supply and demand. Less demand means lower value. All of this has a financial impact on our local communities.

To insure our recyclables find a second life, we all need to make a better effort to Recycle Smart and stick to the list of approved recycling items.

Recycling is more complicated than I thought. Do the benefits of recycling outweigh the cost to my community?

Yes! Recycling has helped cities and towns reduce their disposal costs, create jobs, and protect the environment by reducing the amount of trash we burn or bury. By placing only approved materials in your household recycling, you will be doing your part to improve the recycling effort that supports local jobs and preserves our environment.

What else can be done to fix the current recycling challenges?

Be a smart recycler. Keeping plastic bags and plastic wrap out of household recycling is the most important thing you can do.

On the state level, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) provides funding to selected communities to educate residents on better recycling habits, using the Recycling IQ Kit (download here).
“Do Your Part, Recycle Smart,” a statewide recycling education initiative, will kick off this summer to help residents learn about good recycling habits. The website where you found this FAQ is part of that effort.

Recycle Smart

Empty and rinse all containers

No plastic bags, plastic wrap, or recycling in plastic bags

If in doubt, check the Recyclopedia for specific items