Blog Post

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) recently released Recycle Smart, a statewide initiative focused on putting the right materials in recycling bins and separating “problem materials” that cause contamination and drive up the cost of recycling. The goal of this initiative is to reduce contamination in materials sent to Massachusetts Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs). Contamination in recycling is an important issue because it compromises a MRF’s ability to efficiently and cost-effectively sort materials into bales of marketable recyclable materials. While MRFs have always faced challenges with addressing contamination, this issue is particularly relevant now because China’s National Sword policy has disrupted the global marketplace for mixed paper and mixed plastics.

The Recycle Smart initiative is centered around a new webpage, which includes a downloadable Smart Recycling Guide featuring the standard recycling materials that are accepted by all Material Recovery Facilities in Massachusetts and a searchable Recyclopedia which enables users to search on hundreds of individual items to learn how to properly manage them. The following categories of materials should be included in single stream recycling bins:

  • Metal food and beverage cans
  • Plastic bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Paper and cardboard, including mixed paper, newspaper, magazines, and boxes

Key items that SHOULD NOT be placed in single stream recycling include:

  • Tanglers, such as plastic bags, plastic wrap, clothing, and wires: These items wrap around sorting equipment, causing outages and equipment failures at MRFs.
  • Food and Liquid: Food containers need to be emptied and rinsed before placing them in a recycling bin.

An infographic on the Recycle Smart website summarizes key materials.

The Recycle Smart website includes a search tool to look up what to do with specific items, such as paper cups (trash), aluminum foil (recyclable), and pizza boxes (recyclable if empty with no food residue). While the messaging for the Recycle Smart campaign is geared primarily towards a residential audience, the same guidelines apply for recycling collected in businesses and institutions.

Some materials that cannot be recycled with traditional items, such as plastic bags, plastic wrap  and bulky rigid plastics, can be recycled if collected separately and taken to a drop-off location. See the Find-a-Recycler tool on the RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts website to locate outlets for these materials. RecyclingWorks can assist your business with conforming to the updated recycling guidance by providing new waste bin signage, training staff, and finding outlets for materials that cannot be included in single stream recycling. Contact the RecyclingWorks hotline at 888-254-5525 or to request this assistance.