Recycling Know No’s: Where does it go? Does it actually get recycled?

November 2, 2022

~Submitted by Liz Antanavica, Refuse and Recycling Administrator, Bedford DPW

America Recycle’s Day is celebrated on November 15th each year. At least 40 states participated in the first America Recycles Day on November 15, 1994. President Bill Clinton made the day a National Observance in 1999It’s a day to help Americans remember to recycle more – and better – every day. 

But every once in a while, a news story is published that rattles the confidence of well-intentioned recyclers everywhere. With sensational headlines that are meant to grab your attention and not always in a positive way. These articles generally spawn questions like “Is my recycling actually recycled?” 

Recyclables awaiting sorting on the tip floor, Waste Management MRF, Billerica, including recycling mistakenly contained in plastic bags. Courtesy Image (c) all rights reserved.

The answer is absolutely “YES!” It’s also partially “no”. Here’s why: When you put materials in your recycling cart on Bedford’s acceptable items list, those items are picked up by Republic Services, delivered to Waste Management’s Billerica Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF (pronounced “Murph”), and then sorted to commodity grade specifications before being sent on to be raw materials for manufacturing. This is recycling. And yes, it’s really happening. 

There’s a second piece to this, that gets a lot of air time in the news, but with a lot of missing details. Plastics, especially, come in all shapes and sizes. When you mistakenly put things in the blue carts that are not part of Bedford’s program, like a granola bar wrapper or an inflatable kiddie pool, or a styrofoam coffee cup, or place whole plastic bags of recyclables in your blue cart, those items are not accepted for recycling by our processor. These materials are considered “residue” or “contamination.” They will be sorted out and discarded because they have no value as a secondary material. It’s important to remember that the goal of recycling is to generate raw materials for manufacturing. The system relies on both the collection AND the remanufacturing to complete the loop we think of when we say “Recycling”. 

Man pushing cardboard into a machine at a Cardboard Recycling Plant
Cardboard being sorted at Waste Management’s Billerica MRF. Courtesy Image (c) all rights reserved. 

Recycling is important. Please continue to recycle as much as you can – but be a smart recycler. When it comes to plastics, remember the basics: bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs belong in your recycling cart. Flexible plastics are trash. Keep your items loose in the recycling cart. If you collect items in a plastic bag, make sure to empty the bag into the recycling cart and then put the bag in the trash. If you are unsure, please check, a website run by MassDEP, or call the DPW at (781)275-7605 x4261. A printable recycling guide can also be found on the Town’s website,

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