Articles from the Boston Compass, Arts & Culture, Trash Is Tragic



Hello my trashy babies! Some people think living “zero waste” means I recycle everything in my kitchen. But I try to avoid all single use containers, even recyclable and compostable ones, unless: 1. I can reuse the container, and 2. I need another container.

TIT visited the Casella recycling facility in Charlestown, where garbage flows like water. It was existential. I cried. The overwhelming-ness of the plant is best summed up by this mathematical equation: (Willy Wonka’s factory + deeply wounded garbage chaos) x (Caligula-level orgy)² = my day at Casella.

Globally, recycling is going through big changes, all of which are worthy of discussion in this Pulitzer Prize-winning column. But let’s focus for a minute on becoming more informed recyclers locally.

15-20% of Casella’s haul isn’t recycled. 16 hours a day, humans manually remove plastic bags and other contaminants from the recycling stream. Why is there so much garbage at the recycling facility?

  1. People try to recycle garbage all the time. It’s a harmful habit known as “wish-cycling.” Wish-cycling compromises worker safety, fux with machinery, and generally wastes time and resources.
  2. Recyclables can’t be processed if dirty, wet, small, or dark in color. Black plastic can’t be detected by optical sorters; items under 2” are too small to accurately sort; wet and dirty items gum up machinery. They garbage.
  3. Recycling is a business. To be recycled, a material must have a market value that is profitable for the recycling company. #7 plastic, plastic film, mixed paper, Styrofoam – these materials have low market value. They might have the recycling symbol, but… They garbage.

Curbside Recyclables – must be clean and dry: Corrugated cardboard, boxboard (cereal boxes, paper bags, egg cartons, etc), junk mail, periodicals, office paper, #1-6 plastic containers, plastic gallon pails, metal and food cans, aluminum, tin foil, glass bottles.

Can’t Recycle Curbside: Plastic bags*, plastic film*, plastic packaging*, black plastic, Styrofoam, disposable items (plastic utensils, paper towels, tissues, condiment packets, straws, stirrers, coffee pods, fiber clamshells), disposable cups (Solo, coffee, soda, soup), bagged or dirty recyclables, clothing/textiles*, food waste*, “tanglers” (string, rope, hoses), batteries*, electronics*, anything under 2 inches.

* these items can be recycled/composted in specialty locations – snoogle it


For an Instant-ham highlight of my Casella trip, follow @melsmoviemagic.

Email your garbage questions to [email protected]!

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