Recycling Steadily Improves across Salem

Volunteer committee creates multiple avenues to recycle

Salem is steadily improving its rates of recycling. Since switching to single-stream recycling, introducing the large blue bins, and scheduling every other week pickups, there has been a steep learning curve for our residents. Changes in the global economy and local recycling regulations haven’t made it any easier. For example, take the case of milk cartons: they were not acceptable then they were allowed and now they are forbidden again. The biggest headaches are plastic bags, food waste and tanglers, which when mixed into the recycling stream, contaminate the entire batch.

Starting in 2018, Salem’s recycling contamination rate has dropped each year–from 28% to 14.8% to 8.9% and,
finally in 2021, to 8.3%. 

SalemRecycles, a volunteer committee charged by the mayor to reduce the City’s waste stream, has taken up the slogan: Refuse, Reduce, Repair and Recycle. The committee has worked to educate residents through its newsletter and three social media platforms (see links below). The committee has also developed popular events and programs that make it easier for residents to live a greener life: book swaps, free book days, repair cafes, textile and styrofoam drives, hard-to-recycle item collections (partnered with TerraCycle) and the promotion of city e-waste collections.

Sometimes it’s hard to measure success in a living, breathing society — residents move in, others move out, the population slowly grows, but we do have data that points in a positive direction. In the last four years the contamination in our recycling loads has steadily decreased. Contamination leads to the disposal of loads as trash, which increases city costs and harms the environment through incineration. Starting in 2018, our contamination rate has dropped each year — from 28% to 14.8% to 8.9% and, finally in 2021, to 8.3%. 

Public education has been crucial, but more importantly, this success has depended on enforcement. Nearly every day of the week our Waste Reduction Coordinator, Micaela Guglielmi, is out on the streets monitoring our bins. Notes are placed on the bins to explain minor infractions of the recycling rules. Red tags are placed for major and repeated problems and the bin is left unemptied. Micaela follows up by phone or mail with the homeowner or landlord. Her daily work pushes the needle closer and closer to better compliance. The almost daily influx of new residents will keep her busy for years to come.

To keep up with the city’s recycling rules and the various recycling events, visit the city’s recycling website or the Salem Recycles website, You can sign up for the SalemRecycles newsletter there.

You can also follow SalemRecycles on its various social media channels:




–Carol Hautau, chair of Salem Recycles