Frequently Asked Questions

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How do I recycle plastic bags?

Plastic bags are a valuable recyclable material and are best returned to your local grocery store for recycling. When plastic bags are mixed with other household product containers for recycling they frequently create a problem at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). At the MRF recyclables travel along a conveyor belt as part of the sorting process and plastic bags and film can get caught in the gears of the conveyor belt, causing the entire process to shut down while bags and film are removed from the gear system.

Grocery stores are ideally set up for recycling plastic bags. Most grocery stores have baling machines for their cardboard, these are machines that scrunch up loads of cardboard into compact bales tied together with wire, making it much more economical to store and transport. These same machines can be used to bale plastic bags, film, and shrink-wrap. After food and other products are unloaded from delivery trucks, the bales of plastic and cardboard are loaded onto the empty truck and backhauled to their distribution center. Once the distribution center has generated an entire truckload of bales they sell the bales for a profit.

Many different types of plastic bags and film are recyclable. Not just grocery and retail shopping bags, but all bags labeled #2 and #4, a well as dry cleaning bags, bread and produce bags, food storage bags (such as Ziploc bags), toilet paper, napkin and paper towel wraps, plastic cereal box liners, newspaper bags, and air pillows. Remove string and hard plastic handles from shopping bags. Do not recycle cling wrap (e.g. saran wrap), frozen food bags, prewashed salad bags, or degradable bags.

Products made from recycled plastic bags and film include plastic lumber (55%) and new plastic bags (16%). The remainder (29%) is used to make a variety of other products such as garden products, crates, buckets, pallets, and piping.

Getting Rid of Paint

Look in almost any home and you'll find a basement full of cans of unused paint. Over the years, the cans accumulate until one day they seem to have taken over. What to do with all that paint?

For municipalities, managing unused paint is neither easy nor cheap. Disposal costs can run up to $4 per gallon can. To avoid these high costs, some states are implementing product stewardship laws that require paint manufactures to help manage leftover paint, including paying for its disposal. For example, Rhode Island's surplus paint program beings this July, and Connecticut will follow suit with a program next year.

So far, no such program is on the horizon for Massachusetts. Until that day, we are left to manage unwanted paint and cover the costs on our own. So how should Needham residents manage their paint? To begin with, it depends on the type of paint.

Latex paint is not a hazardous product; it is just a messy product.

If a can of Latex paint is close to full residents that have a sticker to Needham's Recycling and Transfer Station (RTS) can bring it to any Paint Collection Day held at the RTS on the third Saturday of the month, April through October from 8:00 – 3:30 (the next collection day is Saturday, June 15). Residents that do not have a sticker to the RTS may bring paint to the October paint collection day only. 

All other cans of Latex paint can be disposed of with regular household trash IF paint in the can has been dried out. If a can has just an inch or two of paint, leave the lid off and the paint will dry out on its own. Larger quantities need to have an additive to dry it out. A scoop of kitty litter or a spoonful of "latex waste paint hardener," available at paint and hardware stores, will dry out a gallon of paint overnight.

Unlike Latex paints, oil-based and alkyd paints, stains and polyurethanes can be hazardous when in their liquid form. Empty cans and cans with dried out or almost dried out product should be disposed of with regular household trash. However, cans that are more than a quarter full of liquid should be brought to the monthly Paint Collection Days.

Paint strippers, thinners, removes and similar products may also be brought to the monthly collection day as long as they are in their original containers. Products that are not in their original containers, or do not have their original label, must be brought to the annual Household Hazardous Waste Day in October.

Empty metal paint cans, even with some dry paint residue, can be recycled in the scrap metal area.

This is part one of a series on What Can Be Recycled, Town of Needham Public Works Department. View additional information about recycling.