I live at the bottom of a dead-end hill and unless you live there, you don’t walk, bike, or pass by for any reason. So when someone was outside going through my recycling bin, it raised a red flag.

Like any neurotic suspecting person would do, I hid behind my window curtain to see what the heck was going on. One quick pivot around the barrel and it became very clear that this person was taking notes. NOTES! On a clipboard! It was a for-real recycling police person. She left behind a giant red tag on my barrel and I’m pretty sure it read SHAME in bold letters.

I went outside to check my flag of shame and it actually said, NO PLASTIC RAKES. I know that lawn tools don’t belong there but for reasons unknown, someone in my house threw it in their anyway. That violation turned into eight weeks of recycling-policing at my house and each week another infraction. The most embarrassing part of the whole thing is that when I went outside to see what new thing I had done wrong, the police approached me. The embarrassment was REAL.

Marissa Perez-Dormitzer, District Recycling Coordinator at Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District (and also, the person tasked with policing my bins for 8 weeks) kindly told me it's not a FAIL noticed, but a learning opportunity. An OOPS notice, actually. “I try to always put a smiley face, too”.

“It's just an educational way to let you know that some things are not recyclable - such as the plastic bags and plastic wrap (water bottle cases, for example.) We can’t get it out of the recycling facility if we don’t let people know it shouldn’t be there in the first place. In general, we still notice a lot of people putting their recyclables in the trash instead of the bins but hopefully, they won’t for much longer.”

Marissa did note that while certainly, the plastic rake was not suitable for the recycling bin- it wasn’t the worst she’d seen. “We’ve had fake mustaches and toilet seats in there, too.”

This specific, state-funded project is called the “Recycling IQ Kit” and its goal is to eliminate “contamination” from the recycling bins. This eight-week long program has been renewed for our area and starts back up in July. But don't worry- it is not just us, it is very likely to expand to surrounding communities as well this year. If you see them in your bins, you are encouraged to come out from behind your curtains and chat; they won’t shame you!

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