Don’t Trash Recycling. If We All Do Our Part, We Can Make It Work

People throughout Massachusetts are committed to recycling and want to do their part to protect our environment. But we may not always be aware that some things need to stay out of our curbside recycling bins. While we may think, “I’ll throw it in with the recycling and someone will sort it all out at the other end,” some items complicate the recycling effort.

Big recycling carts make it easier for us to recycle more. But too many of us are throwing in items that can cause problems at material recovery facilities (MRFs), the places that sort and process our recyclables.

For example, plastic bags, plastic wrap, and other stretchable plastic should not be put in the bin along with paper, cans, and bottles. Plastic bags are the #1 cause of ruined recyclables. At MRFs, workers do their best to remove unwanted items – including plastic bags – but some of these items make it through, anyway. When they do, they can jam the sorting equipment, causing stoppages and potential injury to workers.

And it’s not just plastic bags. Visit a MRF and you will see food waste, bed sheets, garden hoses, and even bowling balls moving down the conveyor belts. None of these materials belong in our curbside recycling. When they get mixed in with otherwise recyclable materials, more time and effort is needed to sort these items out or else they can ruin a whole load and  the ability to recycle it.

This is costly to our communities and the environment. So Massachusetts is working to provide user-friendly information about the do’s and don’t’s of recycling.

MassDEP is rolling out a new statewide education initiative to show that it’s easy to do your part and recycle smart. This goes along with the other work we’re doing to help cities, towns, haulers, and processors clean up what goes into recycling bins, manage their costs, install new equipment, and build new markets for their recyclables.

MassDEP and all eight Massachusetts MRFs have agreed on a list of items accepted for recycling in every community across the state. We have also identified items that are all too frequently tossed into recycling bins, but need to be handled in other ways.

At, the Smart Recycling Guide identifies what should go in your recycling bin and what shouldn’t. When items don’t belong there, you can use the Recyclopedia app to quickly and easily find out how and where to get rid of them.

When compared with disposal in landfills and incinerators, recycling remains the far better option. Recycling is good for the environment, good for our economy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  We ask that Massachusetts residents join us in recycling smart and think before throwing that plastic bag in the bin. It’s one small, but hugely impactful step. If we all do our part, we can make recycling work even better.

Commissioner Martin Suuberg is the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

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