Recycling Know No’s ~ Part 3: Why Aren’t Cartons Accepted in Bedford’s Recycling Program Anymore?

By Gene Kalb

Question #3 – Cartons, Milk and otherwise.  Milk cartons seem like they should able to be recycled.  I always used to rinse them out and put them in the recycle bin.  I see my neighbor does it too so it must be ok, right?

Cartons – Image (c) Gene Kalb, 2018 all rights reserved

One of the changes to Bedford’s Recycling Program this summer was the elimination of cartons from the list of acceptable materials.

The term “carton” refers to the half-gallon or quart size containers with a gable top. The term also includes ice cream cartons. Most cartons contain beverages such as milk and other dairy products, orange juice, lemonade and other fruit drinks, and iced tea. Also in this category are the shelf-stable containers for products like broths and milk (regular milk, almond milk, etc.).

Last May, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection met with the companies who operate six of the seven material recovery facilities (MRFs). The MRFs sort, bale and sell the materials collected at the curb from residences. All six of the MRFs agreed to take containers off the acceptable list.

Cartons are recyclable but make up a small portion of the recycling stream. The issues the MRFs have with recycling cartons are:

  • The closest plant that can recover the paper from the cartons is in Wisconsin;
  • The MRFs have to accumulate a trailer load of bales before they can ship the bales;
  • Storing the bales and dealing with the odors (i.e. spoiled milk).

“For these reasons, the DPW needs Bedford residents to know that cartons can no longer be recycled in the curbside program,” said Ed McGrath, the Recycling Coordinator at the DPW. “Cartons are now considered a contaminant.

“One last tip,” added McGrath, “ is to crush or flatten the cartons so they will take up less room in your trash cart.”

About Recycling Know No’s:

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.

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. 

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