Recycling Know No’s Number 9 ~ Found in the Bins!

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By Ed McGrath, Bedford’s Recycling Coordinator

Recently Bedford’s Recycling Coordinator Ed McGrath made his rounds checking trash carts and recycling bins. To his dismay, he pulled some things from recycling bins and realized there is a “teaching moment.”

Plastic Film

Plastic bags, packaging pillows (think Amazon), bubble wrap and the like do not belong in the recycling bin. As the photo illustrates, the bags on the top right have the #4 recycling symbol but bring it to the grocery or department store of your choice to recycle it. McGrath says the packaging pillows can be recycled with plastic bags. “As for the green container it’s labeled #1 plastic but because of the plastic wrap, it’s trash,” said McGrath.



Any Styrofoam packaging, food trays, egg cartons, and wrap goes in the trash even if there is a recycling symbol on it.






Food Waste

No food waste belongs in the recycling bin because it is a major source of contamination. Cans, bottles, and jars should be empty and rinsed. Next, candy wrappers and the like belong in the trash. “At the sorting facility, the machinery treats wrappers like paper and the end result is a contaminated pile of waste paper,” McGrath said. “As for straws, put them in the trash; they won’t make it through the sorting process.”


McGrath acknowledges there is confusion regarding cartons because they were accepted for several years. He said state officials met with the operators of the sorting facilities in the state and one outcome was to exclude cartons from the recycling bin. “Cartons make up a small percentage of a recycling load and can be recycled in Wisconsin,” McGrath said. “But, the facilities have to generate a trailer load of bales which may take months. So, due to storage issues and the aroma of a bale of milk cartons in July, all cartons were eliminated from the recyclable list.”

Black Plastic Items

Finally, McGrath said he recently learned that black plastic items are not wanted at the sorting facilities. The optical equipment used by the facilities does not “see” black plastic and the items contaminate the paper at the end of the sorting process. So whether it’s a sushi tray, take-out container, or any other black item, put it in the trash.


ICYMI: Links to earlier columns

  1. Don’t Bag Recyclables
  2. Batteries
  3. Cartons
  4. Pizza Boxes
  5. Styrofoam
  6. Plastics
  7. Recyclopedia
  8. Rigid Plastic Blister Paks

Why Focus on Recycling?

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.