Massachusetts residents have long been known to recycle – in fact, a 2015 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) report shows that nearly 95% of MA residents say they recycle on a regular basis! In the spirit of the new school year and starting fresh, we have some tips and tools on how to recycle even better and smarter in your home, business, or community.

What’s the deal with contamination?

You may have heard through the grapevine that there is a problem with contamination in our recycling industry. Contamination occurs when incorrect items are put in the recycling bin or sorted wrong. Down the line, this can lead to machinery malfunctions, increases in recycling costs, and unsafe work environments for the 13,000 MA employees working in the industry. This video shows the process of where your recyclables go after placed in your bin. When recyclables are contaminated, entire truckloads can be thrown away. The challenges of contamination have led to the implementation of China’s National Sword Policy. Some common contaminants include plastic bags and films, food waste, Styrofoam, and hazardous waste.

This may seem daunting, but there are lots of ways that you can help!

Common Contaminant: Plastic Bags


What can residents do?

  • Keep plastic bags out of your bin and collect them separately! In fact, nearly 50% of MA residents mistakenly believe that plastic bags can go in the recycling bin. Recyclables should never be bagged unless explicitly noted by your town. This handy map lets you enter your zip code and locate drop off spots for these films, often at grocery stores and big box stores like Walmart or Target.
  • Avoid “wishcycling”, or placing non-recyclable items in the recycling bin with the hope that they will be recycled. Every resident can play their part using the Recycleopedia Tool developed by the MassDEP. This is a great database that also provides answers to many of your recycling and contamination questions.
  • Safely dispose of hazardous waste by attending a community collection event. Hazardous waste can include, but is not limited to, paint, pesticides, automobile fluids, and batteries. This interactive map provides details about opportunities across the state, and check out our CET events page to see upcoming household hazardous waste events.
  • Empty and rinse out your containers to avoid any leftover food scraps or liquids. Things like beverage bottles and to-go containers can be the biggest culprits!
  • Consider composting if you are seeing a trend of food waste in your home. Composting has many benefits to the environment and your wallet, and there are tons of resources to help you get started!
  • Properly dispose of your mercury-containing items such as CFLs, fluorescent tubes, and some thermostats. Visit the Keep Mercury from Rising website to learn how to dispose of mercury in your community. Remember to not recycle or trash these items!
  • Spread the word! Educating your friends, family, and community is one of the easiest ways to help reduce contamination in the recycling bin. The MassDEP has designed some simple graphics to share through the Recycle Right initiative.

What can businesses do?

The Center for EcoTechnology administers a program called RecyclingWorks MA, which is funded by the MassDEP. RecyclingWorks offers free assistance to businesses and institutions on recycling programs and much of this guidance can help with contamination reduction. To learn more, call the hotline at (888) 254-5525 or send an email to