Deeper Dive into Recycling

If you have come to this page, it is most likely because you are interested in learning where your recyclables go and why certain things can or cannot go into your recycling cart.

City-issued recycling carts accept "single stream recycling" - which means that it accepts co-mingled materials (paper & glass together, for example) which are separated at a sorting facility, also known as a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF for short (pronounced "merf"). At a MRF, what you throw in the green cart goes through a series of manual and mechanized processes to sort out things that are not recyclable, and bundle together items that are accepted for recycling. This video will help explain those mechanisms and what our MRF looks like:

Where does all this stuff go?


Residential recycling collected in Lowell goes to a MRF in Billerica, owned and operated by Waste Management. This MRF typically offers tours based on requests. You can go to this webpage to request a tour of the plant: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/09/24/mrfmap.pdf
Our trash (known as municipal solid waste or MSW) goes to a Waste to Energy Facility owned by Wheelabrator in N Andover.
Yard waste goes to a few different facilities, depending on the availability. We do not have a precise location to provide at this time.

What makes an item "acceptable" or "not acceptable" to put in your recycling cart is based on:


  • Material type
  • Material form
  • Size and shape
  • If it contains multiple types of materials (ex. plastic-coated paper)
  • It's level of cleanliness
  • Presence of hazardous waste

Many items are recyclable IF they are brought to the right place. Explore the options on this page to find out more about the where's, how's and why's of recycling.