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Q&A with Recycling Director, Michael Orr

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Cambridge has a new contractor for recycling and yard waste collection starting next month. We sat down with Recycling Director, Michael Orr, for a check up on all things recycling in Cambridge. Have a question not answered below? Email it to and we’ll be sure to answer it!

Q: Will anything change about my collection day or time with the new contractor?

A: Your collection day will not change. With changes in traffic, drivers, and routes to optimize collection, the collection time may shift week to week. We can tell you that your waste will be collected sometime between 7am and 4pm on your collection day.

Q. What should I do if I think my pick up was missed?

A. All residential waste collection occurs between 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. If your building or household has a missed trash, recycle, compost or yard waste collection, please wait until 4 p.m. to report it. All missed collections should be reported at www.CambridgeMA.Gov/311 or by using the Commonwealth Connect app for iPhone/Android.

Q: How is the City's Recycle Right campaign doing?

A: In June 2018, the City announced the Recycle Right campaign to build a stronger recycling program by reducing contamination in our recycling. We implemented measures for reducing contamination in recycling. From placing “oops” stickers on curbside recycling carts that have contamination, to advertisements, mailings and outreach, we have made significant advances in reducing our recycling contamination. In 2018, our average contamination rate was 11%. Thus far in 2020, our contamination rate is approximately 4%. The reduction in contamination is critical to reducing costs for recycling and helping essential workers during this pandemic.

Q: Are there any changes to items that we can recycle?

A: The primary items that residents should focus on for recycling are: Paper, cardboard, plastic containers, metal cans & foil, and glass bottles and jars. There are some items that are confusing. For example, pizza boxes are recyclable after crust and leftover cheese is removed (don't worry about the grease). In 2019, we announced that paper cartons, used to contain liquids (milk, juice, soup, ice cream, etc), are no longer recyclable.

Shredded paper is no longer accepted in recycling. We strongly encourage residents to shred only what's necessary. Check if the item needs to be shredded. You may also avoid shredding by ripping off the part with sensitive info.

Q: What number plastics are recyclable?

Actually, the number on the plastic is not a good tool for determining if the plastic is recyclable. To determine if you can recycle the plastic item, it has must meet two criteria:

  1. It’s rigid.
  2. It’s a container.

For example, bottles, yogurt cups, spinach boxes, laundry detergent bottles are all recyclable because they meet both criteria (Leave the lids on all containers). Plastic utensils and hangers, for example, don't meet both criteria so are not recyclable.
Some larger plastics like laundry baskets or your old trash can are also recyclable curbside.
Plastic bags aren't rigid so are not recyclable curbside. Plastic film gets tangled in sorting machines at the processing facility, creating costly damage and safety issues for workers. Plastic film may be recycled at plastic bag drop off locations. Learn more about which plastic bags and films are accepted here.

Q: Are the items I put in my blue recycling cart actually recycled?

A: Yes, if you're placing only recyclable items in the recycling, all the items are recycled. Despite some news stories about recycling not working, it is indeed alive and well in Cambridge (and in all of Massachusetts).

Q: I’ve heard a lot of cities and towns are ending recycling programs because it’s too expensive. Does Cambridge have plans to end recycling?
A: No, recycling will not end in Cambridge. It is mandated by City Ordinance and State rules and regulations. Recycling is important for preserving natural resources and mitigating diminishing landfill and incineration space in the region.

Q: The pandemic has made it hard to keep up with my efforts to reduce waste. We are relying so much on disposable items for sanitary reasons. What are some practical tips for reducing waste but still staying safe during the pandemic?

A: There are dozens of ways to reduce waste. First, one of the most impactful things to do is to reduce food waste. Focus on eating or preserving as much food as possible. Second, if you're ordering takeout, tell the restaurant that you don’t need plasticware, napkins, or other extra items. This can reduce trash & save your local small business money. Third, consider other things in your waste. We encourage residents to donate all textiles & clothing for reuse or recycling. Repairing and refurbishing durables goods can be impactful too. Find It Cambridge includes a list of businesses that can offer repair ;and. See here. Lastly, we encourage residents to use our Get Rid of It Right tool on our website to look up how to donate or give away items you no longer want.

Sign-up for our newsletter and get more info at: CambridgeMA.Gov/Recycle

Q: Why is collecting yard waste important?

A: Leaves left on streets get into storm drains resulting in flooding or contributing to water pollution in the Charles River or Alewife Brook. Once in the drainage system, leaves release phosphorous and nitrogen which pollute waterways. Although street cleaning helps to mitigate this issue, we emphasize yard waste collection so that we may compost the yard waste. Composting leaves recycles nutrients back to the soil and reduces our impact on climate change.

Page was posted on 10/28/2020 11:53 AM
Page was last modified on 10/28/2020 2:11 PM
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