Update on Recycling Rules – Throw Out Colored Cups, But Recycle Clear Plastic Cups

Due to shifts in global recycling systems and high contamination levels of U.S. recyclable materials, the Massachusetts DEP has recently announced new recycling rules. One major change is that colored plastic cups will no longer be accepted in our recycling stream. However, clear plastic cups will still be taken. To avoid accidentally ending up with a colored cup, be sure to bring your own reusable cup the next time you buy a beverage on the go!

For details on the rules, view the visual guide below and check out the DEP’s website on their new guidelines.

Empty, Clean, and Dry

Items that can be recycled such as hard plastic containers, yogurt cups and plastic bottles and jugs (with the caps on) as well as glass bottles MUST be emptied, cleaned, and dried before being placed in a recycling bin. Please do not put any items with food, food residue, or liquid still in them in the recycling bins.

Plastic Bags are NOT recyclable

Any kind of plastic film or plastic bags can not be placed in the recycling bins. This includes grocery bags, bubble wrap, flexible plastic packaging, saran wrap, zip lock bags, and styrofoam. These items get caught in the machinery used in sorting facilities and can cause breakdowns and even worker injuries.

Other items that are NOT accepted as recycling

These items go to the landfill. Do NOT place these items in the recycling bins.

Paper items

  • paper towels
  • paper plates
  • tissues
  • cups (with lids)


  • greasy pizza box bottoms
  • juice and milk cartons

Plastic (even with recycling symbol)

  • colored plastic cups
  • plastic bags and plastic wrap
  • chip bags
  • styrofoam
  • plastic utensils
  • foil-lined energy bars – brings these to a terracycle bin (locations on our Eco-Map) instead!


  • lightbulbs – bring incandescent and CFL light bulbs to 550 Boston Ave. to have them replaced for LED light bulbs!
  • broken glass

When in doubt, throw it out

It may seem counterintuitive to throw something out in order to support sustainability. However, it is much better to throw something out if you are unsure it can be recycled rather than contaminate the recycling with materials that can not be recycled. Please refer to the infographic below, but when in doubt, throw it out.

In addition, do not rely on the triangular recycling symbol found on many products. This symbol signifies that the material used in the product are physically able be recycled, but that does not meant that the waste infrastructure in your specific community  has the capacity to recycle them.

For example, the sorting facility where recyclables from Tufts end up can not accept plastic bags, as they can damage the sorting equipment. However, companies like Trex take plastic bags and have a separate, special sorting facility where they can turn those bags into recycled outdoor decking materials and products.



  1. Albert Hyae

    This is truly a wonderful guide to read.

  2. BiogasMan

    Limit the contamination of recyclable materials is absolutely the highest priority for waste recycling. It makes no sense for the recyclates to have to be washed on arrival at the Recycling Centers, that consumes resources and during washing each time the dirt which is removes costs yet more money to be landfilled!

    The “not wanted” column in the recycling instructions infographic is a great idea. All waste dispoal organisations should surely be using infographics like this one?

  3. Recycle

    great article! there are so many great ways to recycle and keep our planet healthy!

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  5. Norma Rosales

    Great information but is really sad that even that take out food with the recycle symbol or plastic with other numbers can’t be recycled, the government needs to have a more strong campaign to encourage people to recycle, in my neighborhood, people don’t recycle anything and we have a recycle program and they don’t do it as simply as the plastic water bottles,

  6. Martha Cook

    What about K-cups? Plastic and foil ok if coffee is taken out?

  7. Janet Underwood

    Seriously… What’s Up!!?
    I have dozens…maybe hundreds of Jamba Juice and Slurpee (711)
    cups and there is NO WHERE to recycle them? What gives?
    Tufts University is not recycling nor caring about the environment, and I pray that your Institution does NOT have a degree in any field of excellence, regarding: Economy, Sociology, Business, Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, Geology, Production, Marketing, Etc.
    I’m hoping you are understanding the responsibility that Colleges have to enlighten students to the ramifications of their consumption of the earth.