Recycling KnowNos ~ Part 7: Questions? Ask the Recyclopedia


Submitted by the Bedford Department of Public Works

As Bedford’s Recycling Coordinator, Ed McGrath frequently gets questions about what can and cannot be put out in the recycling bin.

Should the cap be left on a milk container? Can straws be recycled? What about plastic utensils? Paper Towels? How clean do containers have to be?

“I understand the confusion,” McGrath said. “People see the headlines about China closing its markets and read stories of the doom and gloom of the recycling industry.

“While China’s decision upset the apple cart, the recycling industry is evolving and new outlets for materials that have been collected are emerging.”


Click this image to visit the Recycle Smart Massachusetts web page – Courtesy image (c) 2019 all rights reserved

According to McGrath, there is a resource for residents to use to get the answers to their questions. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) met with the operators of the material recovery facilities (or MRFs) in the state to come up with one list of acceptable recycles. One outcome of this meeting is the development of a website ( that has a lot of information about recycling in the Bay State.


“One feature of this website I want to call people’s attention to is the Recyclopedia,” McGrath said. “You can enter the item or material in question and the Recyclopedia will tell you whether or not it can be recycled in the curbside program.”

The website also features a Smart Recycling Guide that shows what can and cannot go in the recycling bin, a video showing why plastic bags shouldn’t be in a recycling bin, and a Recycling FAQ.

About Recycling Know-Nos

The Bedford Citizen has teamed up with Ed McGrath from the Bedford Department of Public Works in a new segment called “Know-Nos of recycling” to explain what happens once you put something in the recycle bin. We’ll also explain why it’s so important to only put the correct stuff in your recycle bins.  If you have questions, please send them along.

ICYMI: Links to earlier columns

  1. Don’t Bag Recyclables
  2. Batteries
  3. Cartons
  4. Pizza Boxes
  5. Styrofoam
  6. Plastics

Recycling is good.  It helps the environment, helps the town, and makes you feel you’re doing your part.  That being said, not all things are easy to recycle, no matter what you may think.  Putting your Styrofoam coffee cup in the bin might feel right, but is actually detrimental and costly to us in Bedford.  There are other things that fall into the category of “should” be recycled, but without understanding what happens “downstream,” your wishful thinking could end up causing more trouble.  You may not have been aware that all recycled material gets sorted, and one of the most cost-effective sorts happens at your bin. Understanding what happens after your recycling bucket has been collected can help make that downstream work easier.  Accordingly, we are embarking on a new series that hopefully will answer the “whys “ and “whats” of recycling here in Bedford.

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: or 781-325-8606

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