Arlington recycling at GreenWorks, Peabody. / Rebecca Braun photoArlington recycling in 2019 at GreenWorks, Peabody. / Rebecca Braun photo

What to do if you get an 'Oops' tag

Because of the global recycling market’s downturn, there is a heightened emphasis on keeping our recycling clean and without contamination. Consequently, Arlington is embarking on a focused initiative to educate residents on better recycling habits.

This fall, some Arlington residents will have returned home at the end of the day to find their recycling bins, barrels or carts unemptied, and with an “Oops tag” attached. Finding that tag means your container has nonrecyclables.

A resident who finds recycling tagged should clean out all the nonrecyclables and fill it with clean and dry recyclables only.

JRM Hauling and Recycling, the town's pickup vendor, will not make a special trip back to pick up recycling that has been tagged, so residents will need to wait until their next regularly scheduled recycling day to have their recycling picked up.  

The program of tagging containers is called the “Recycling IQ Kit.” IQ stands for “Increased Quality.”

Funded by grant

The Recycling IQ Kit program is funded through a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The kit combines an aggressive campaign of education and direct feedback at the curbside.

Included in the education efforts are direct mail to all residents, newspaper ads, social-media messaging, as well as banners at Town Hall and DPW. Using grant funds, a team of workers will be working through late November to implement the curbside feedback program, which targets more than 4,000 households, for eight weeks, on every recycling collection route in the town.
Charlotte Milan, Arlington’s recycling coordinator, explained:

“As part of the Recycling IQ Kit program, we check over 800 recycling bins, barrels and carts on the daily routes. The only allowable materials in our curbside recycling are glass or plastic bottles and containers from the kitchen, bath or laundry, metal cans, cardboard, or paper.

“If we find contaminating materials, such as a plastic bag, trash, clothing, food and liquids, takeout containers, hoses, Styrofoam, plastic strapping, electronics or anything else that isn't allowable in our program, we tag those recycling containers with an 'Oops' tag.

“That will signal to JRM Hauling and Recycling not to pick up the recycling containers. The tags instruct the residents to clean up the cart by getting rid of the offending material and then putting it out properly on their next recycling pickup day. The recycling team will be checking those same carts eight times over an eight-week period, allowing enough time for the behavior modification of recycling right to take effect.”  

"Contamination' explained

The state Department of Environmental Protection is offering this grant to every city and town in Massachusetts because of “contamination” -- a catchphrase to describe things that don’t belong in the recycling container. In Arlington, plastic bags and plastic wrap (such as beverage case wrapping) are the biggest problem. When soft plastics like these arrive at the recycling sorting facility, the processing machinery operations become entangled. Regular shutdowns are common in order for employees to climb up the machinery and manually cut out of the twisted bags and wrap.
Food waste, foam takeout containers and used napkins and paper towels are other common problems.  Clothing, construction debris, grass clippings and even vacuum cleaners turn up in some recycling containers.
The problem of contamination is even more problematic today than in the past because China, which takes more than 35 percent of the U.S. recycling for further processing and remanufacturing, has set a policy of not accepting contaminated recycling. As a result, municipalities are scrambling to clean up the recycling so that it isn’t trashed and maintains its value. High contamination rates result in higher costs for cities and towns, when recycling should actually be saving cities and towns money.
The Town of Arlington is experiencing this exact situation, according to Mike Rademacher, director for the Arlington DPW. "As Arlington prepares for our next trash, recycling and yard-waste collection contract, we want to ensure we get the most financially attractive contract for the town.

“Through education and outreach using the Recycling IQ Program, we hope to make sure our residents and businesses are recycling properly. A clean recycling stream is a more attractive product for any future company to bid on," Rademacher says.
Information and links are on the town website,, which includes the Recyclopedia search tool for more information on items that can and can’t be recycled, and why.

Dec. 9, 2019: Recycling in Arlington: What happens to that mess in your blue bin?

This news announcement was published Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.