Climate Solutions: Plastics and recycling — we can do better!

Plastic and wire caught on MRF drum. — Courtesy Recycle Smart MA

We are drowning in plastics, and the oil industry is doing its best to keep it that way. Plastics, which are made from oil, support production even when the demand for heating oil is down. From the beginning, oil companies have known that recycling plastics is not effective, but they have lulled us into thinking that our consumption of plastics is not harmful. Our world — and sadly our oceans — are now filled with the stuff.

The recycling markets are not dead, but they are not as robust as they used to be. Our recycling goes off-Island to one of nine state MRFs (materials recovery facilities). There it is sorted both mechanically and by hand. When there are things on the belt that cannot be handled, they stop work and damage the machinery.

When we “wishcycle” — put things in the recycling bin for which there is currently no market — we just make the whole process less effective, more wasteful, and expensive. Here are a few key points:

  • NO plastic bags! They get caught on the MRF drum, and are dangerous to remove.
  • NO food or liquid in any recyclable — be sure to remove all food and detritus before recycling.
  • Not ALL plastics are recyclable. Only “bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs.”
  • Milk and orange juice cartons, juice boxes, etc … are NOT recyclable.
  • Clean corrugated cardboard is very valuable now because of online shopping and shipping.
  • Glass will soon be separated out. Its only current use is crushed for roadbeds, and we will be shipping it to a different location.

Want to know if something is recyclable? Go to

Only recycling allowed plastics is eye-opening: You will be surprised at how many items are NOT recyclable. This may get you thinking about single-use plastics: Could you buy things in other forms so as to avoid plastic packaging? That is far and away the best choice for our planet.

An Edey Foundation grant supports this effort. For more information on this topic, visit