During Michigan’s battle against COVID-19, recycling is more important than ever

During Michigan’s battle against COVID-19, recycling is more important than ever

Empty wheeled garbage barrels and recycling containers are scattered/strewn near two opposite driveways along a suburban residential neighborhood street. Winter snow is on the ground and multiple slushy, messy tire tracks cris cross the driveways and the street. Must have been garbage/trash pickup day today.
With many businesses and offices closed or operating at reduced capacity during the pandemic, manufacturers that use recycled materials to make products such as boxes and toilet paper are relying on residential recyclers to pick up the slack.

Rich Elliott has never felt particularly heroic while placing his bin of recyclables out for collection each week.

“I’ve just always felt that it was basically the right thing to do to help the environment,”

said the Redford resident, 51. “My mom and dad always recycled when I was growing up, and I’ve continued the habit.”

But now, amid the lingering fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, what Elliott views as a simple routine has taken on added significance, recycling experts say.

One big change: With many offices and businesses closed or operating at diminished capacity, a primary supply of recycled paper and cardboard that toilet paper, box and other manufacturers have long relied on to make new products has dwindled – leaving it to residential recyclers like Elliott to help make up the difference.

“Recycling has always been environmentally and economically important, but market shifts in the wake of the pandemic have made it even more so,” said Matt Flechter, recycling market development specialist for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “The consequence of less recycling by businesses is that fewer recyclables are in the supply chain for paper companies to make products like cardboard boxes and toilet paper.”

More than 75% of U.S. paper mills use recovered paper from recycling operations for their daily production needs, Flechter said.

“The bottom line: When you recycle properly, you are helping to supply manufacturers with the valuable materials they need,” he said. “At the same time, the new products they make help people who are stuck at home while all we all work together to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.”

Essential service

Virtually all of Michigan’s recycling service providers have continued to operate during the pandemic, though a few suspended operations or changed their processes when the pandemic first hit. Residents are advised to check with their local provider on the current rules in their area. If recycling is temporarily unavailable, EGLE is encouraging households to store their recyclables – including rinsed and emptied metal and plastic containers – in a clean and dry place until service resumes.

But in general, curbside residential recycling has remained available as usual throughout Michigan because it’s considered an essential service.

Production of paper products – including toilet paper and boxes used for shipping – has also kept running in the state and nationwide.

Filling the void

Consider Pratt Industries Inc., a major cardboard box manufacturer with five paper mills in the U.S., including one each in Indiana and Ohio that are both supplied by Michigan recycled paper. In addition, Pratt has box plants in Livonia and Grand Rapids that ship to companies such as Amazon, Ford and General Motors.

Paul England, senior vice president for Pratt’s Midwest region, noted that all of the company’s boxes are made from recycled paper, including corrugated containers, cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines and junk mail.

“That’s our raw material – without that, we can’t make boxes,” he said, adding that demand for Pratt’s products has surged because of increased e-commerce shipments during the pandemic. “Items such as medical supplies, food and personal care items all ship in a box. Anybody that produces a box is just trying to keep up with demand right now.”

At the same time, in the pandemic’s immediate aftermath, recyclable paper supplied to box makers by commercial sources dropped by 30% after businesses started closing because of health and safety concerns, England said.

“What is interesting is that we’ve also seen a pretty significant uptick in curbside recycling as more goods are consumed at home,” he said. “So our advice to Michigan residents is that they can make a positive impact on the economy by continuing to recycle what’s recyclable so that we have the materials to continue making boxes for shipping.”

Know the rules

Residential recycling is also important for toilet paper manufacturers, including Great Lakes Tissue Co. in Cheboygan, which each month uses 2,100 tons of recycled raw material – half of which comes directly from recycling operations across the U.S. and Canada.

In March, toilet paper sales soared 112% nationwide as people stocked up amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The hoarding of toilet paper and paper towels largely eased after a few weeks, although there was another run on paper products when COVID-19 cases surged again in late fall.

As part of its ongoing Know It Before You Throw it statewide recycling education campaign, EGLE encourages Michigan curbside recyclers who want to help keep raw materials flowing through supply chains to check the rules for what recyclables are accepted in local programs.

Best practices statewide generally include:
  • •No need to remove staples, paper clips or plastic windows from envelopes.
  • •Keep it dry and free from liquid contaminants.
  • •Never put COVID-related personal protection equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves into your recycling bin. PPE should go into a trash container for proper disposal.
  • •Paper coffee cups are not usually accepted (the inside is typically coated in plastic to prevent leaks).
  • •Magazines and newspapers are usually recyclable.
  • •Paper towels, tissues, wipes and napkins aren’t usually recyclable and don’t belong in the bin.

Proper plastic practices

While paper has garnered the most attention, the coronavirus crisis has also affected other recyclable materials.

For example, shoppers have stockpiled bottled water and other supplies that come in plastic containers, like hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes.

EGLE notes that, while residents should always check with their local provider and follow its specific rules, those types of plastic bottles and containers are generally recyclable as long as they’re rinsed and emptied.

Plastic bag usage has also increased as consumers have groceries delivered rather than go to the store themselves and haul their items in reusable bags.

While plastic bags – as well as the plastic wrapping that toilet paper and paper towel comes in – is rarely recyclable curbside, retailers such as Meijer, Target and Walmart accept them at in-store drop-off stations. If your local outlet has temporarily halted collections, or you’ve stopped going there in person, EGLE urges you to store them for drop-off when normalcy resumes.

Keep the focus on recycling and reusing while decluttering

Keep the focus on recycling and reusing while decluttering

Make recycling and reusing — not throwing away — the focus of spring cleaning this year.

Sorters at Kent County Recycling & Education Center
Workers sort materials at Kent County Recycling and Education Center in Grand Rapids. Photo Credit: Kent County Department of Public Works
This story was originally published on the Detroit Free Press.

As spring draws near, it’s time to ensure everything in your home is in the proper place — including the stuff that you simply want to get rid of.

“Rather than just automatically pitching unwanted items into the trash, we’re urging Michiganders to think in terms of recycling and reusing while they go about cleaning and decluttering their households,” said Elizabeth Garver, waste minimization and recycling specialist for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, or EGLE.

That sentiment is echoed by other recycling leaders throughout the state who are gearing up for an influx of materials at their sorting facilities.

“We always see a variety of items come in because spring cleaning is so big,” said Katelyn Nettler, resource recovery specialist for the Kent County Department of Public Works, whose Recycling & Education Center serves as the primary materials recovery facility for recyclables generated by West Michigan households.

However, some of what spring cleaners place in their recycling bins doesn’t belong there — at least in its current condition. For example, containers that themselves are recyclable are dangerous if they still contain chemicals, such as bleach or drain cleaner, that can mix and cause fires at recycling facilities, Nettler said.

Garver said that’s one reason why it’s so important to follow the rules that EGLE is promoting in its statewide Know It Before You Throw It recycling education campaign, which aims to increase both the quality and quantity of recycling in Michigan.

“One thing we stress is that you should always rinse and empty all containers before placing them in your recycling bin,” she said. “We also urge people to check with their local recycling service to learn exactly what materials they accept.”

When it comes to spring cleaning, those rules could apply to any number of items. Here’s some guidance on how to handle materials that are commonly encountered during spring cleaning:

— Pieces of metal, such as old grills, rusty lawn mower blades, or pots and pans. “Scrap metal is generally not accepted curbside, but some drop-off recycling centers will take it,” said SOCRRA General Manager Jeff McKeen, who oversees recycling services in 12 Oakland County communities. You also might get some cash for it if you find a scrap yard that wants it, Garver said.

— Hazardous material containers, such as those for cleaners, fertilizers and paint. Many counties and local governments host local collection events every spring and fall where residents can dispose of hazardous waste. EGLE has a webpage devoted to household hazardous waste, including a list of statewide collection sites. “It’s possible that some containers that once held cleaners or other household hazardous materials may be recyclable curbside, as long as they are clean and empty — just be sure to check with your local program first, and ‘know it before you throw it,’” Garver said.

— Batteries. Batteries can pose a threat to employees at recycling facilities, as they are a fire risk. However, hazardous waste collection sites might accept certain types, such as car batteries, which some auto parts stores will also take. In addition, home improvement retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot accept drop-offs of rechargeable batteries.

— Hoses, boat shrink-wrap and other types of flexible plastics. Recycling facilities don’t want these materials because they can get tangled in their machinery, but they’re ripe for reuse, Nettler said. “You could poke holes in a hose and use it as a lawn soaker, or use the shrink-wrap as a painting dropcloth,” she suggested. In addition, the fledgling Recycling Run Program will pick up used shrink-wrap by appointment and find a new use for it.

— Plastic flowerpots and plant containers. Some recycling services will accept these materials curbside, provided they’re not full of dirt, McKeen said. You could also possibly reuse them or see if the retailer where you bought them will take them back. Home Depot stores and Meijer garden centers also collect them for recycling in partnership with East Jordan Plastics.

— Plastic lawn chairs. “You can always donate these if they’re in good condition, and they can sometimes be recycled at drop-off locations,” Garver said.

— Electronic-waste, such as old computers or TVs. Look for local drop-off centers or one-day collection events. Some electronics retailers will also take e-waste turned in by consumers. In addition, some manufacturers provide a takeback option for electronics like televisions and computers.

— Clothing. “This is a big no-no for curbside recycling,” Nettler said. However, local thrift shops can find new uses for most donated garments. You could also turn them into rags to use for cleaning in place of paper towels. Simple Recycling, a for-profit, Ohio-based company, provides curbside textile collections in 30 Michigan communities.

— Mattresses. There may be local drop-off centers or one-day collection events for mattress disposal, Garver said. If you have curbside waste services, check with your service provider or local municipality regarding options for bulky waste pickup.

— Supplies from the first cookout of the year after your spring cleanup is finished: paper plates, plastic plates and cups, straws, plastic utensils, etc. Most of this should go in the trash, which is why it’s best to choose reusable options, Nettler said. Exceptions are clean aluminum foil and plastic cups, which are often recyclable curbside, though foam containers are rarely accepted, McKeen said.

When it comes to recycling plastics, keep it clean – and know the rules

When it comes to recycling plastics, keep it clean – and know the rules

From car parts to trash carts to pop bottles: Recycled plastics have a number of uses.

A forklift works to move plastic materials at the Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center
The Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center collects and sorts all recyclable material on the East Lansing campus. Photo Credit: Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center
This story was originally published on the Detroit Free Press.

Essentially, everything you need to know about recycling a piece of household plastic you learned in elementary school.

“While it’s possible to find a new use for virtually all plastics, several factors can affect an individual type’s recyclability,” said Matt Flechter, recycling market development specialist with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Most important, he explains, is to recognize the item’s shape.

“Containers such as shampoo bottles, milk jugs and yogurt cups or similar food tubs are the easiest to recycle and are in highest demand by recycling centers and U.S. manufacturers,” Flechter said.

The bottom line for Michigan households, he said, is to follow the advice EGLE is stressing in its new “Know It Before You Throw It” recycling education campaign: “Ask your local recycling provider what kinds of plastics it accepts and make sure to put only those in your recycling container,” Flechter said.

The shape of things to come

But while shape and size primarily determine what ultimately happens to the item after it’s thrown in a recycling bin – and even whether people should put it there in the first place – basic numbers remain part of the story.

Many consumers believe the little digit surrounded by the recycling symbol found on each plastic container indicates that the bottle or container is recyclable.

“What many people don’t realize is that those numbers merely represent the type of resin the piece of plastic is made of,” Flechter said. “They were never intended to provide recycling direction, although that’s what people have come to believe over the years.”

In fact, guidance from many recycling services has promoted that misleading messaging, he said.

“What they’ll typically tell households is that they’ll accept some combination of Nos. 1 through 7 plastics in their curbside pickup,” he said. “It’s done with the best of intentions to make it easier for consumers to understand plastics recycling. But it’s really not the most precise advice, and providers increasingly are beginning to focus more on size and shape versus numbers.”

Leaving the digital age

In the meantime, however, the numbers can still serve as a rough rule of thumb to promote proper plastics recycling. In general, items labeled as Nos. 1 and 2 are in strongest demand, followed by No. 5, while other plastics are harder to recover and have weaker markets.

Typically, No. 1 plastics – including soft drink, juice and water bottles – are made from polyethylene terephthalate, or what is commonly referred to as PET. The containers are easily recycled back into bottles and are sometimes used to make carpet, luggage and polyester.

No. 2 plastics – typically high-density polyethylene, or HDPE – often include Items such as laundry and shampoo bottles. They commonly are returned to the same use, but can also find their way into new trash containers, buckets and floor tiles.

Additionally, there is demand for polypropylene (PP) plastic, commonly known as No. 5 plastic. It often is used in yogurt and margarine tubs that are remade into other food containers.

Recyclers should also know that their local recycling service has every incentive to find a company that will somehow reuse whatever it takes in, said Dave Smith, recycling coordinator for the Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center, which collects and sorts all recyclable material on the East Lansing campus.

“You hear people say, ‘Well, it’s just going in the landfill anyway,’” he said. “But if you think about it logically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a recycler to collect nonrecyclable items. Otherwise, we’re just paying the cost for it to go into landfills. So if there are communities taking the material, people should feel fairly confident that it’s actually getting recycled.”

Furthermore, some plastics that aren’t suitable for curbside collection – including plastic grocery bags and film overwraps – are sometimes accepted at drop-off locations, Flechter said.

International policies impact local recycling

Plastics that consumers recycle first go to a materials recovery facility (MRF) that separates them for marketing to manufacturers or processors that shred or grind them into pellets for use by the ultimate product makers.

Traditionally, nonbottle plastics have been less likely than PET and HDPE bottles and containers to enter the U.S. recycling stream because they’re relatively harder to recover and sort, said Darren McDunnough, owner, president and CEO of McDunnough Inc., a Fenton-based recycler and compounder of post-industrial plastic, which is typically waste produced during manufacturing processes.

Line workers sort recycleable materials at Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center
The Michigan State University Recycling Center accepts Nos. 1 to 7 plastics. Its Nos. 1 and 2 bottles are purchased by Plymouth-based Tabb Packaging Solutions, which partners with Clean Tech Inc. in Dundee to recycle them back into bottles. Photo Credit: Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center

“It’s easy for workers who are doing the sorting at a MRF to identify a PET water bottle or [HDPE] detergent bottle,” McDunnough explained. “But [other resins are] more difficult to sort and separate. They’re products that are not readily identifiable visually when sorting by hand, so you have to implement and employ technology to segregate those materials.”

And the technology to separate many different types of plastic can prove expensive and raise the cost of accepting a broad range of plastics. That’s why most unsorted and nonbottle plastics recycled by U.S. consumers for years were shipped to China, which relied on low-wage hand sorting to separate recyclables.

But in 2018 China banned almost all plastic imports – prompting U.S. municipalities and other recycling service providers to invest in equipment such as infrared sensors that better identify each type of plastic.

It also gave rise to EGLE’s “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign, which beyond educating consumers about what can and can’t be recycled also stresses the importance of placing only clean items in recycling containers.

“Our ultimate goal is to create more jobs and a cleaner environment by bolstering Michigan’s recycling industry and infrastructure,” Flechter said. “Michigan residents can help make the system more efficient by properly recycling.”

Michigan manufacturers stepping up

Beyond recycling properly to support Michigan’s recycling businesses and collection programs, using consumer purchasing power to buy products made with recycled plastics will also bolster the demand for plastics collected at the curb in the long run, Flechter said.

Cascade Engineering, based outside Grand Rapids, is one company responding to the market shift by striving to incorporate more recycled material into its products.

In January, it unveiled its EcoCart, a waste container made of 10% post-consumer HDPE plastic - specifically bulky, rigid items recycled by U.S. consumers, such as laundry baskets that are picked up at the curb but are often difficult to recycle, said JoAnne Perkins, Cascade’s vice president of environmental systems and services.

Typically – other than their wheels, which are made of recycled containers – Cascade’s carts are manufactured from virgin, never-before-used plastic.

But Perkins was inspired to change that after hearing Brent Bell, a Waste Management executive, challenge attendees at a sustainability conference in Arizona last year to help find new uses for recyclable material that used to get shipped to China.

“It was effectively a challenge to create the ‘demand’ side of the recycling equation,” Perkins said. “With [China’s policies], we have a responsibility to create a demand for these products. I thought I could do more on my end.”

She tasked Cascade engineers with figuring out how much recyclable material could go into a cart without compromising cost or performance.

While they initially settled on 10%, the ultimate goal is to get to 25% recycled content, Perkins said.

“We’ve come a long way in a year, and I’m very proud of our engineers,” she said. “We’re starting to shift the market a little bit.”


Michigan aims to double recycling rate by 2025

This story was originally published by WOOD-TV for "eightWest".

So many events are now using completely recyclable cups and containers. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is commending Fabri-Kal and their recycling efforts. Fabri-Kal is a leading provider of plastic foodservice and custom thermoformed packaging solutions The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy campaign, “Know It Before You Throw It,” is designed to educate and encourage people to recycle. The hope is to double the state’s recycling rate by 2025.

‘Recycling never goes out of style’: Find new uses for your old clothes

'Recycling never goes out of style': Find new uses for your old clothes

Two orange Simple Recycling bags to the left of a green recycling bin
Simple Recycling is a for-profit Ohio-based company that provides curbside textile collections in 30 Michigan communities. Photo Credit: Simple Recycling

This story was originally published on the Detroit Free Press.

Behold those pit-stained T-shirts, socks with holes in the heels and out-of-style paisley-patterned dress shirts taking up space in your closet.

If ever there was a scenario where the cliché “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” was applicable, this is it.

“There is a value for most of even the rattiest of textiles that people tend to discard,” said Michael Csapo, general manager of the Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County (RRRASOC), which manages recycling programs in nine metro Detroit communities.

Unfortunately, much of that value is never realized, even though charities and other collection organizations can find use for virtually any old piece of clothing, Csapo notes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 85% of textiles end up in landfills, and a 2018 study determined that clothing is one of the world’s fastest-growing waste streams.

Recycling advocates throughout Michigan are working to reverse that trend.

“Fashions might come and go, but reducing the amount of material that enters landfills never goes out of style,” said Emily Freeman, recycling specialist in the Material Management Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Education is key

In June, EGLE launched “Know It Before You Throw It,” a campaign to improve both the quality and quantity of recycling in Michigan.

With the Recycling Raccoon Squad serving as campaign ambassadors, EGLE aims to inform Michiganders about best recycling practices while doubling the statewide recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reaching 45% annually.

Although rules often vary by community, textiles are typically not accepted by traditional curbside recycling services, including RRRASOC.

Old clothing is, however, a welcomed and important revenue stream for Michigan charities that collect donations at drop-off facilities.

Piles of sorted clothing at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids are prepared for recycling
In 2018, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, for example turned the 600,000 individual donations it received into $25 million in revenues from sales at its network of retail outlets. The proceeds went toward funding the charity’s various skills training and rehabilitation programs. Photo Credit: Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

And when it comes to textiles, there’s one overriding message recycling specialists want to deliver: Leave the sorting to us.

While organizations that collect used textiles can’t take items such as gasoline-soaked rags, those holey sweaters and shirts bearing pizza grease stains are perfectly OK.

“The trickiest part is educating people that we really don’t care about the condition of their clothing that they want to give us, as long as it’s clean and dry,” said Nick Carlson, vice president of donated goods operations at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids and a director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition. “We ask them not to edit their donations. Trust us to get everything into the proper market.”

Although technology for turning old clothes into new garments is advancing rapidly, at this time it’s more a matter of reusing textiles than technically recycling them.

But like recycling, reusing also offers environmental and economic benefits.

The EPA estimates that textiles — mostly clothing but also items such as carpeting, furniture, sheets and towels — account for 8% of material going into landfills, providing a significant opportunity to conserve space.

“It’s also one of the higher-value items that goes into the waste stream,” said Adam Winfield, founder and president of Simple Recycling, a for-profit Ohio-based company that provides curbside textile collections in 30 Michigan communities — primarily in metro Detroit but also in Lansing and East Lansing.

Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, for example, in 2018 turned the 600,000 individual donations it received into $25 million in revenues from sales at its network of retail outlets, Carlson said. The proceeds went toward funding the charity’s various skills training and rehabilitation programs.

There’s also a personal perk to donating clothing. Taxpayers who itemize can claim a charitable deduction on their federal tax returns.

Worldwide market

There are essentially four markets for the used clothing that is collected by Simple Recycling and charities such as Goodwill.

Although figures can fluctuate, typically between 10% and 20% is considered top quality and is resold by American thrift stores.

The vast majority, however, is not resalable in the U.S. and is further sorted for international export or broken down for raw materials.

As much as 45% of the total collected is exported as secondhand clothing. Roughly 30% is converted into wiping rags for industrial or residential use, and around 20% is recycled into post-consumer fiber that goes into products such as home insulation, carpet padding or sound-deadening material for automobiles.

Only about 5% ends up as waste, Winfield said. “So you can see, clothing is a category of material that is highly recyclable and easily repurposed,” he said. “Our slogan is ‘Let your clothing be loved again.’”

Charitable endeavor

It was the lack of love shown to used apparel that gave rise to Simple Recycling, which test-marketed its concept in 2014 in South Lyon and Wixom, members of RRRASOC.

Usually, people must drop off their old garments at collection sites operated by charities or during special events staged by municipalities — an extra step that largely explains why most clothing is simply thrown in the trash, Csapo said.

Winfield figured that more residents would take the time to bundle clothing for reuse or recycling if they were offered the convenience of free curbside pickup — and the numbers have borne that out.

Simple Recycling now serves 250 communities in seven states, and in 2018, it collected 183 tons of material among the nine RRRASOC communities alone, which, beyond South Lyon and Wixom, are Farmington, Farmington Hills, Milford, Milford Township, Novi, Southfield and Walled Lake.

On residents’ standard recycling pickup days, Simple Recycling trucks follow behind RRRASOC vehicles to collect the clothing set out in bags supplied by the company and drop off additional bags for further collections.

“We make it simple and convenient,” Winfield said, adding that the service is free to communities. In fact, for every ton of materials it collects, Simple Recycling pays $20 to municipalities, which also benefit by sending less waste to landfills and therefore paying fewer fees.

Both Winfield and Csapo stress that Simple Recycling is meant to supplement, not replace, charitable giving.

“First and foremost, we want residents to donate clothing to charities,” Csapo said.

Said Winfield: “We’re after that 85% that otherwise would get thrown away, not the 15% that is donated to charities.”

Actually, Csapo said, there’s at least anecdotal evidence that charitable donations of clothing increase in areas where Simple Recycling operates because residents become educated about the market for old textiles.

“Folks see there’s an opportunity to make sure things go back into the value chain instead of into the trash,” he said.

Carlson echoes those sentiments.

“Looking at it as a member of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, anything that improves sustainability, I’m in favor of. But I’d really urge people to first consider donating their old clothes to a local charity because that helps boost the local economy,” he said, adding, “Material donations are the lifeblood of Goodwill.”

Waste not this holiday season – or at least recycle as much as possible

Waste not this holiday season – or at least recycle as much as possible

A mom wrapping presents with two kids.
Make the planet and a loved one happy by giving them a gift wrapped in recyclable paper.

This story was originally published on the Detroit Free Press.

While the holidays are a time to spread joy and happiness among family and friends, they’re also an opportunity to show Mother Nature a little love.

Americans create 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than any other time of year, according to statistics compiled by Stanford University.

The output includes boxes, packing materials, wrapping paper, electronics and disposable eating utensils. And although some of that holiday-related waste should go directly into the trash, much of it is recyclable.

But even among the hustle and bustle of holiday gatherings, it’s important to take the time to recycle the right way, said Matt Flechter, recycling market development specialist at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

“We’re urging Michigan residents to be nice to the environment over the holidays by properly recycling whatever they can,” he said. “Sound recycling practices should never take a holiday.”

That’s a message that EGLE has been spreading since June, when it kicked off its statewide “Know It Before You Throw It” recycling education campaign featuring the Recycling Raccoon Squad.

Quality and quantity

EGLE’s primary goal is to improve the quality of materials people are putting into recycling containers by educating them about best recycling practices. At the same time, EGLE is aiming to boost the quantity of material recycled by doubling the state’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reaching 45% annually.

“Achieving those goals would produce a gift that keeps on giving,” Flechter said, citing not only the statewide environmental benefits but also the potential $300 million annual economic impact that would result from meeting the 30% recycling rate benchmark.

Recycling specialists statewide are getting into the spirit and endorsing the “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign. They are also urging residents to take steps to limit the stream of waste produced during the holidays.

“Beyond ‘recycling,’ ‘reducing’ and ‘reusing’ are also important ‘R’s,’” said Natalie Jakub, executive director of Green Living Science, the educational arm of Recycle Here!, Detroit’s drop-off recycling center and neighborhood recycling program. “While the message of recycling is certainly important, cutting down on consumption whenever possible is another way to reduce the amount of material going into the landfill.”

As a holiday-related example, try placing gifts in reusable bags instead of wrapping them in paper, she suggested.

A recycling list to check twice

Recycling rules can vary by community or even from one recycling center to another, so Michigan residents are urged to check with their local provider about what is acceptable in their area to ensure they don’t end up on a list of naughty recyclers, Flechter said.

Here are some general guidelines for handling common holiday items:

  • Cardboard and gift boxes. While it’s best to reuse boxes, they’re also almost universally accepted by curbside recycling services, Flechter said. “Just be sure to break them down before placing them in your recycling container,” he said. “That saves valuable space for both you and the hauler.”
  • Disposable eating utensils, plates and cups. These should go in the trash because, among other reasons, they likely contain food residue – a contaminant that can ruin a whole recycling load. Even never-used paper plates are potentially problematic because they might have an outer layer of wax, Jakub said. Can’t stomach the thought of throwing them away? “Use your fine china and silverware instead,” she said.
  • Paper towels and napkins. Put these in the trash or a compost bin, Flechter said, since they’re probably soiled by food. Aluminum foil that is free of food contamination, however, is recyclable.
  • Wrapping paper. The answer here is “maybe.” Wrapping paper is recyclable, provided it isn’t adorned with glitter or metal. However, “that’s not always easy to determine,” Jakub said. “So the recycling center would probably typically tell you it doesn’t want it,” she said. Instead, try wrapping presents in newspaper or plain brown craft paper, which is always recyclable.
  • Packing materials. The packing peanuts, clear plastic padding and Styrofoam that protect electronic devices are typically not recyclable curbside. However, many communities – including Detroit – have drop-off centers where Styrofoam blocks and packing peanuts are accepted, and many large retailers collect clear and other types of plastic bags.
  • Plastic shopping bags. “With the exception of a couple of municipalities in Michigan, these are almost never acceptable for curbside recycling because they can clog a recycling center’s machinery,” Flechter said. However, large retailers such as Meijer, Walmart and Target will collect plastic bags for recycling.
  • Holiday lights. Recycling centers don’t want holiday light strings because they can get tangled in machinery, so they shouldn’t go in curbside recycling containers. Places that sell lights, on the other hand, will often accept them for recycling. Jakub also advised to avoid putting lights in the trash because they might contain harmful chemicals.
  • Batteries. Almost 40% of battery sales occur during the holiday season, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Home improvement stores such as Home Depot often offer collection bins for rechargeable batteries, or check for local hazardous waste collection events where all types of batteries are accepted. Visit michigan.gov/eglehhw to find local drop-off sites. Like holiday light strings, batteries should not go in the trash or curbside recycling.
  • Electronics. Retailers such as Best Buy or local collection events will take your used tech.
  • Disposable tablecloths. Discard both the plastic and paper varieties of these because chances are they contain at least some traces of food contamination.
  • Greeting cards. Just like any type of paper, these are typically recyclable in your curbside container, Flechter said. Just make sure there is no glitter or metal on them.
  • Receipts. All those glossy, thermal paper receipts you collected while buying awesome gifts are not recyclable because they are coated in plastic to make them durable.
  • Tinsel, ornaments and artificial trees. All of those should go in the trash or be donated to someone else for use.

Comprenew prevents electronic items from ending up in landfills

Comprenew prevents electronic items from ending up in landfills

This story was originally published by FOX17 for "Morning Mix".

Morning Mix has partnered with the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes Energy to talk about recycling. However, this goes way beyond paper and plastics.

Comprenew is a non-profit certified electronic recycler. They are able to take apart things like cellphones, computers, televisions and beyond, refurbish what they can and properly dispose of what they can't. If a computer lands in their hands, they will make sure all of the data is removed, too. You can imagine this is particularly important when they are dealing with a corporate client.

Unfortunately, Michigan's recycling rate is about 15 percent, putting us at the lowest for the Great Lakes region. The goal is to increase that number to 30 percent by 2025. EGLE is doing this with their campaign lead by the Recycle Raccoon Squad.

Along with keeping harmful items out of the landfills, Comprenew helps remove employment barriers. An estimate 65 percent of their workforce has some type of barrier. If you would like to learn more about Comprenew, visit their website comprenew.org

Recycling – how to do it correctly

This story was originally published by WOOD-TV for "eightWest".

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – This is truly a time of year filled with “stuff”, we give and receive over the holidays. We’re also purging to make space and even trying to start the New Year on an organized note and recycling can play a big role in all that!

Today, we’re going to focus on recycling clothing and household items, as part of big effort underway by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The goal is to encourage folks to recycle, and show how they can recycle better, take a look!

Goodwill is a big part of that kind of recycling and does so much good in our community and helps others to recycle. You can learn more about drop off their locations, and what they do by visiting their website.

If you’d like to get tips on recycling all types of materials or learn more about the campaign by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, visit their website. And it’s always important to check with your local trash hauler, because the rules for recycling can be a bit different depending on where you live.

Learn the rules for recycling batteries

Learn the rules for recycling batteries

This story was originally published on ClickonDetroit.com/live-in-the-d.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has launched a “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign to help consumers recycle more.

One item that people struggle to recycle is batteries.

“Live in the D” host Tati Amare spoke to Amy Lafferty from EGLE and Danielle Spalding from Battery Solutions to review the right way to recycle batteries instead of simply throwing them away.

Lafferty said that batteries are not commonly accepted curbside, but you should check with your local services.

Battery Solutions is one place that takes any battery and recycles it for you.

You can order a battery recycling pail that you keep in your home until it’s full, and then you mail it back so your batteries can be recycled safely.

If the battery has lithium written on it, or it is over 9 volts, you should tape each end before putting it in the pail.

If you want to learn more about recycling your batteries, visit batterysolutions.com.

Paper recycling featuring Paper McKay

This story was originally published by WSYM for "Morning Blend".

Jill Greenberg, Spokeswoman, and Paper McKay, Recycling Raccoon, Michigan Dept of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, talk about their Know It Before You Throw It initiative and how they are trying to educate the public about the benefits of recycling and exactly what can be recycled. For more information, please visit www.recyclingracoons.org .

Want to check out other Morning Blend segments? Visit the FOX47News Website .

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