by George Stubbs
What to recycle, what not to recycle? What’s permissible to put in the green and red bins, what isn’t?
Even those of us who have acquired the habit of putting the recycling bins out on the curb every other week don’t always know which waste objects belong and which ones should be discarded with the trash. We have the general idea, and get it mostly right, but every now and then, we discard an item that could be recycled, or we put in the recycling bin something that may not belong there—at least as the rules currently stand.
One column isn’t enough to list all the items that can be recycled, and all the ones that can’t—and why, in each case—but we can get the discussion rolling with one, very ubiquitous category of our discards.
It comes in so many forms, weights, and sizes, packaging so many items that make their way into our homes, from those smaller boxes containing books from Amazon.com to the larger ones bringing in the new appliance. Then there are those kitchen items, like boxes of cereal, that seem to be cardboard, and are certainly related, but are actually referred to as “paperboard” (I was confused about this for a long time).
Paperboard is similar to cardboard for recycling. You can flatten out both paperboard and cardboard items and recycle them with your newspapers and magazines in a labeled bin. The only difference is where they are placed if you drop them off at the Department of Public Works City Yard on 72 Tremont Street. Paperboard and paper are placed in the mixed paper large container and large pieces of cardboard are placed in the large container for cardboard.
So that’s one important thing to know. Another very important fact is that, under Massachusetts law, cardboard is banned from regular trash. That doesn’t mean the Trash Police will be inspecting what you put on the curb and coming to your door to give you a warning if they find cardboard in your trash. It does, however, mean that our city’s garbage trucks will be inspected at the disposal site or transfer station, and if there are banned items in what’s delivered there, the city risks a warning and possible fine. In fact, we as a city have been delivering too many banned items with our trash, and we are being fined. That’s our taxpayer dollars.
In the category of cardboard and paper, here’s what’s banned from trash disposal, according to the state’s Waste Ban Regulations (310 CMR 19.017): all paper, cardboard, and paperboard products, but not tissue paper, toweling, paper plates and cups, wax-coated cardboard, and other low-grade paper products that cannot be used by paper mills as a result of normal intended use.
So, you may ask, what about those pizza boxes, which invariably have those oily stains left on them when the pizza’s all gone? Any cardboard products “contaminated” (for lack of a better word) by oil, grease, or other food residue should be placed in the trash. If you can rip off any unsoiled portion of the pizza box, you can recycle that portion. Otherwise, it’s trash.
That’s the “what.” Now for the “how.” It’s pretty simple.
Like paper, cardboard must be kept separate from the other “commingles”—the plastics, metals, and glass. Cardboard does not need to be kept separate from the paper and paperboard. Break down the cardboard—i.e., flatten it—and place it in the bin, inside another cardboard box or leaning neatly next to your other recyclables.
You don’t need to cut up the cardboard any more. Just flatten it out. Also, you don’t need to tie it all in a bundle for curbside pickup either, but you probably want to take steps to prevent it from blowing around the neighborhood on a windy day. If the items are small, maybe put them in paper bag, as you do your newspapers. Putting flattened cardboard in an un-flattened box is also okay. And remember, you can take the larger items to the DPW yard for disposal in the dumpsters marked “flattened cardboard.”
By recycling cardboard, we take a big bite out of the consumption of virgin materials and thus help to protect an imperiled resource base. Indeed, recycled cardboard has a “multiplier” effect that other categories of recyclables can’t claim, in that it can be reprocessed into new cardboard many times rather than just once or twice. And while the markets for recyclable commodities can be volatile, when the market is up, the sale of recycled cardboard brings more back into the city that the sale of other recyclables.
So, let’s pick up our recycling rates for cardboard. It takes a little effort, but it more than pays for itself.