Do you know what goes in your recycling bin?

Recycling can help improve your carbon footprint, but doing it correctly isn't always simple

NBC Universal, Inc.

You probably have those moments, standing in your garage,  wondering whether something goes into the recycling bin or the trash can.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is trying to educate residents on what they can send to our recycling facilities.  



Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.


Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

“My plastic bottles, jars, jugs and tubs,” says Greg Cooper, director of hazardous and solid waste at Massachusetts’ Department of Environmental Protection. “Those are all acceptable items.”

Bottles jars jugs and tubs –that’s easy to remember.  Just rinse them out and they are ready for the recycling bin.  The same goes for glass bottles and jars, and metal food and beverage cans. 

When it comes to paper, empty and flatten your mixed paper items, newspaper, magazines, paperbacks and boxes and  get rid of the food.

“Believe it or not, people are dumping pizza boxes into their recycling bin with half a pizza,” says Cooper.  “The pizza box can be recycled, certainly we want that. But the pizza should go in the trash.”

The Massachusetts DEP’s Recycle Smart website can be found at

It is the place to go to learn what can and can not go in your recycling bin. You can take an online quiz to find out if you're a recycling expert.

Here are some sample questions.  True or false – lids and caps should be removed before recycling?   

The answer is false - they should be placed back on the bottles, jars, jugs or tubs-- even if they are a different type of material, like a metal lid on a glass jar.

True or false, is it a good idea to crush plastic bottles and metal cans to make space in your recycling bin? 

False - Changing the shape of items can affect how they are sorted at a materials recovery facility and lead to them being misidentified.

And how about this one --  Everything labeled "recyclable” is recyclable in your household bin.  

False - nNot everything labeled recyclable or stamped with the recycling symbol is recyclable! 

Figuring out what belongs in your recycle bin can be tricky at times.  Did you know black plastic containers are not recyclable?

“When you see a piece of black plastic that's floating on a black conveyor belt, the optical sorter doesn't initially recognize that's plastic, and I need to store it off the belt at the same time,” says Jeff Weld, Casella’s vice president of communications.   “Black plastics a lot of times have other’s not something that manufacturers are going to look to turn into something else.”

Clear plastic cups can be recycled, but ditch the straws.

Solo cups and foam cups can not.

Paper coffee cups have a thin layer of plastic coating on the inside to prevent leaking and that interferes with the recycling process.  They go in the trash.

Plastic egg cartons and fruit containers are recyclable.

Padded plastic mailers, bubble wrap, plastic wrap,  Ziplocs, toothpaste tubes, toys and plastic furniture, cannot be recycled.

When it comes to your summer cookout,

Plastic utensils, single-use tablecloths and single-use plates and napkins are not recyclable!

And neither are propane tanks from the grill.

And skip the small stuff.  Contact containers, condiment cups, coffee pods and loose lids are not recyclable.   If an item is two inches or smaller in diameter, it will slip through the cracks at a recycling facility and end up in the trash.

When in doubt, throw it out! Or learn more online.

“Go to recycle and you'll find out what you can do with it,” says Cooper.  “Your municipality should have rules also about what can go in the container and what can't.  And just try to educate yourself and become knowledgeable on it. “

The Recycle Smart website has a  “Beyond the Bin” search tool.

 Use it to find out how and where to donate or recycle items that can’t go into your home recycling.   You can search hundreds of different product categories.  

Contact Us