WE HAVE THE ANSWERS TO THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT RECYCLING.
We know it’s not easy. Recycling can be pretty complicated. But that’s why we’re here. To answer questions and to help Michigan recycle better. Each one of us on the Recycling Raccoon Squad has a particular specialty, so each of us will handle certain questions. If not, since Gladys is squad leader, she’ll answer the “big picture” questions. Thank you and always remember ... know it before you throw it!
Why doesn’t Michigan have a 10-cent deposit on water bottles? Why isn’t there a deposit on all recyclable materials?
Michigan’s bottle deposit law was implemented in 1978 and requires a 10-cent deposit on certain carbonated and mixed-alcohol drink containers that were common at that time. Containers for beverages such as water, juice, milk, hard cider and wine are not included in the law. Implementing a 10-cent deposit on other beverage containers would require an update to the 1978 law.
For answers to additional frequently asked questions about the bottle bill, please visit Deposit Law FAQ.
Why doesn’t Michigan have statewide rules for what is recyclable?
Each Michigan community makes its own decision on whether to have a recycling program and how the program works. Communities consider many factors in determining whether to offer recycling services.
Many Michigan communities provide curbside or drop-off recycling for residents. However, materials collected in each program may vary based on local recycling facilities’ equipment and capacity, available service providers, costs and demand for recycled material for use in new products.
The statewide “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign provides high-level, universal guidance, while recognizing that the best way for residents to get accurate, up-to-date recycling information is to seek it from their local programs.
Why do recycling rules vary so much depending on where you live?
Recycling rules depend on your municipality’s recycling system. For example, a Wayne County recycling facility may use different machines to sort and process recyclables than a Kalamazoo facility does, so each has different rules for what materials are accepted. Even neighboring cities may send their recyclables to different places for processing. That’s why it is important to learn the rules for your community so you can recycle right.
What do I do if no places are near me to recycle my materials? Why are certain materials no longer accepted curbside?
Sometimes it may prove difficult to find a local program to accept certain materials. For example, because of fluctuating markets and local program changes, some Michigan residents are unable to find a convenient recycling outlet for glass or certain plastics. Residents are encouraged to contact their local government leaders and program managers to learn the reasons for program changes and to encourage leadership to identify ways to recycle as many materials as possible.
Why does curbside recycling cost money?
Recycling centers must sort and process the tons of materials that are hauled to them. That requires paying workers to separate recyclables by hand as well as investing in complex machinery that sorts by material composition and bales recyclables for use in new products. For their part, haulers have to pay for trucks and gas to collect recycling curbside, as well as pay a fee to the recycling center to cover the cost of preparing materials for recycling.
Recycling facilities fund their operations with the hauler fees and money made from selling recycled materials to companies to make new products. Further, since prices paid for recyclable materials fluctuate constantly, hauler fees are necessary to ensure service costs are covered.
What is the best way to recycle while living in an apartment or other multifamily housing that doesn’t have a recycling program?
For Michigan residents without access to curbside recycling, drop-off locations are the next best way to recycle. The Michigan Recycling Directory can help you find a nearby drop-off recycling location and which materials are accepted at each location. If your apartment or multifamily housing does not currently offer recycling, you could start by having a conversation with your neighbors and building management team about making it available.
Where can I find drop-off locations near me?
The Michigan Recycling Directory can help you find a nearby drop-off recycling location and which materials are accepted at each location.
How does the recycling process work?
Recycling processes vary depending on the material, but they all follow the same basic procedure: collection, sorting, cleaning and baling for use in new products.
Glass is broken down into crushed pieces called cullets before it is heated, turned into liquid and poured into molds to make new products. Plastic is sorted by the type of resin it is made from (signified by the number), cut into flakes and cleaned to remove contaminants, then formed into larger pellets that are later melted and molded to make new products. Aluminum items are shredded, melted and cooled in a block form called ingot so that they can be cut into sheets and used to make new products. Paper is soaked, heated to a pulp and screened to remove impurities, then fed through a machine to create sheets that are dried and used to make new products. The cleaner the items that go into the recycling bin, the better the recycled material they make for development of new products.
What happens after the truck picks up my curbside recyclables?
If you live in a community with single-stream recycling, once picked up, your recyclables make their way to a material recovery facility for sorting. It differs by facility, but typically people sort pieces by hand before a magnet pulls out metal objects, infrared lasers sort plastic, spinning rollers or an air puffer sort paper and cardboard, and so on. After they’re sorted, recyclables are processed into raw materials, bundled and then manufactured into new products.
Why should I separate different types of recyclables when they all get mixed in the recycling truck either way?
Even though recycling facilities are equipped to separate materials using an automated process (i.e., a magnet is used to pull out metal objects, infrared lasers sort plastic, spinning rollers or an air puffer sort paper and cardboard), people still must do the first round of sorting. Having to stop the conveyor to separate recyclables makes the whole process less efficient, so it is best for consumers to separate materials ahead of time. Common examples of materials that require separating include metal lids from glass jars and aluminum twist-offs from wine, olive oil and sparkling water bottles. Preliminary sorting helps to keep the process moving efficiently. It is important for everyone to do their part.
Can I recycle items with multiple types of materials, such as cans with a plastic lining or bottles with metal on them?
If the different types of materials are easily separated (e.g., a glass jar with a metal lid), then the item is likely recyclable. But items that are layered with different materials (e.g., chip bags, aluminum cans with plastic coating denoted by resin No. 7, juice pouches, etc.) are usually not recyclable because the recycler needs to easily sort the different materials (e.g., plastic, metal, glass, paper). Check with your local recycler to see what guidance it has for your community.
Why do food contaminants matter?
Contamination happens when the wrong materials, including food, get into the recycling system. Food contamination can come in many forms, but some common examples include:
- Grease on a pizza box
- Food residue in a jar or can
Food contaminants are particularly likely to leak out of containers onto paper and cardboard in a single-stream recycling process, making those items unrecyclable.
Additionally, food contaminants can damage equipment and add costs to sorting recyclables. Consistent contamination can lead to increased service fees or even force the facility to stop accepting materials altogether. That’s why properly rinsing and emptying recyclables is critical to preparing materials for recycling.
At what point is a batch of recycling considered contaminated and gets thrown in the landfill?
Each recycling facility handles contamination differently and sets different levels of allowed contamination. But when the level of contamination becomes too great, the batch will get sent to a landfill. On average, about 25% of what we try to recycle is too contaminated for processing (CBS News, Waste Management, The New York Times). Some of the most common contaminants are food waste, plastic packaging (e.g., shrink wrap, zip-close bags, newspaper bags, trash bags, grocery bags, etc.), hazardous waste and frozen food containers.
Who is buying and using the materials we recycle in Michigan?
As of 2018, over half (53%) of all recyclable materials collected in Michigan were sold in the state. Buyers include roofing companies, breweries, creative arts companies, manufacturers, universities, container producers, petroleum companies, technology companies, packaging companies, energy providers and entrepreneurs. There is a wide range of applications for recyclable materials, and these are only a few examples of the vast array of buyers.
Why is Canadian trash allowed into Michigan?
State and local governments are not allowed under the U.S. Constitution to ban imports from other countries, such as waste from Canada. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Michigan law that allowed each Michigan county to control imports of waste from other states and countries violated a portion of the U.S. Constitution known as the Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause does not allow states to regulate commerce with other states or countries unless permitted by Congress.
What role does China play in Michigan’s recycling?
Historically, China has taken in more than half of the world’s recyclables and processed them for use in new products. However, China has recently banned the import of many recyclables because of high contamination levels (e.g., food waste, nonrecyclable materials mixed with recyclables, etc.). The import bans have significantly disrupted the flow of recycled materials around the world.
Michigan is responding to these market shifts by focusing on improving the quality of recycled materials and investing in the development of strong Michigan, Midwest and U.S. users of them. As a result, recycling quality is improving, and the number of local users of recycled material is growing. However, a glut in the U.S. market has caused recyclables’ value to drop. Those economic factors, coupled with the cost of reducing contamination, have increased recycling processing costs everywhere.
Ultimately, China’s actions are making Michigan’s recycling programs stronger. Our state is seeing increased investment in local processing and recycled product use, resulting in more jobs and a cleaner environment. Michigan residents and businesses can help by properly recycling and buying products that contain recycled content.
Is using water to clean recyclables wasteful?
Food, liquids or residues left on items can leak out during transportation and sorting, ruining other recyclables, such as paper and cardboard. Manufacturers need a consistent stream of clean material to create high-quality products.
It is not necessary to thoroughly scrub items; a quick rinse is plenty. Find ways to use water that is already headed down the drain. For example, after washing dishes, use leftover dishwater to quickly rinse recyclables.
Beyond that, water is conserved through recycling. It reduces the need to extract and process virgin (nonrecycled) materials, which saves on water use. Recycling also saves energy, creates Michigan jobs and supports our economy. Quickly rinsing soiled recyclables is a small way to have a big impact!
Do gas emissions from recycling trucks defeat the purpose of recycling?
Transporting any type of material requires energy, but the process of recycling material has still proved advantageous because it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, conserves natural resources, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps create new jobs – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Natural resources and energy are conserved whenever a recycled material, rather than a raw material, is used to make a product. This is because recycled materials have already been refined and processed once, so manufacturing the second time is much cleaner and less energy-intensive than the first.
For example, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials, recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%, recycling paper saves about 60% and recycling plastic and glass saves about one-third of the energy compared with making products from raw materials. In total, 1 ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 kilowatt-hours of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million British thermal units of energy and 30 cubic yards of landfill space compared with making new plastic.
What do the numbers on plastic products mean? How do I know which types of plastics are recyclable?
The numbers on plastic containers matter greatly, as they indicate the type of resin the plastic is made of and determine if that product is accepted for recycling in your community.
Plastic products with Nos. 1 or 2 (e.g., plastic water bottles, milk jugs) are widely accepted in recycling programs. However, you may find products numbered 3-7. These types of plastic are recyclable – but only in select communities in Michigan. It is important to check with your local recycler.
Additionally, many communities in Michigan aren’t listing which plastics are recyclable by number anymore, identifying them by product instead. For example, a plastic grocery bag and a squeezable ketchup container can both be made out of plastic No. 4, but only the ketchup container is recyclable most places because the bag will get caught in the recycling center’s machinery. Therefore, your recycling facility may now or in the future list recyclable plastics by type of product rather than number.
Why shouldn’t we put our recyclables in plastic bags? What should we use instead?
At most recycling facilities, plastic bags full of recyclables in curbside recycling are a major headache. Plastic bags clog sorting machines and pose a threat to workers who have to remove them from the machinery. Further, since staff members cannot guarantee the contents’ safety, they are often prohibited from opening plastic or other bags full of materials – leading to the entire bag and its contents ending up in the landfill.
Instead of putting recyclables in plastic bags, try using paper bags to contain any loose recyclables or hold on to excess materials until your next service day.
Are plastic bottle/container lids recyclable? If so, should I keep them on or take them off?
Plastic lids and caps are typically accepted curbside and at drop-off locations. Whether you should leave them on or separate them from their bottle or container depends on your municipality, so we encourage you to check your local rules.
Where can I recycle my plastic bags?
Retail stores often collect plastic bags. Look for a collection bin at your local Meijer, Kroger, Target or Walmart, for example. A few places in Michigan accept plastic bags in curbside recycling, including the City of Grand Rapids and Emmet County. Check with your local recycler to understand your community’s rules.
Why are plastic straws not recyclable?
Plastic straws are not recyclable because of their size, flexibility and weight. At the recycling facility, plastic straws tend to fall between the cracks of machinery and/or get stuck in the process. Reducing the number of plastic straws that you use is a good idea.
Even though labels can be left on cans, can I take them off and recycle them with my paper?
You can indeed leave labels on cans, but there is also no problem with removing them for sorting with paper recyclables.
My local recycling program doesn’t accept glass anymore. Where can I recycle my glass now?
Use the Michigan Recycling Directory to find opportunities to recycle glass at nearby drop-off locations.
Where can I recycle my cooking glass, like Pyrex?
Pyrex glass is not recyclable in Michigan. We suggest reusing this type of material or donating it to a local charity.
Why do I have to remove lids from glass containers? Why should I separate them when they all get mixed in the same truck anyway?
It is necessary to remove lids from glass containers if they are made of another material (e.g., metal, plastic) because they still require sorting by material at the recovery facility. If lids made with different materials are left on, line workers will have to stop the conveyor to separate them. Having to stop production impacts the efficiency of the entire process, which is why recyclers ask that we separate these types of materials prior to recycling them.
Do I need to take labels off my glass containers?
It’s perfectly acceptable to leave labels on glass containers. But if you want to take an extra moment to remove them, go right ahead!
Where can I find the Recycling Rules sheet shown in the Gladys Glass video?
The Recycling Rules reference sheet is available on our website, recyclingraccoons.org, under the “Resources” tab, or through this direct link: Download the Reference Sheet.
Why do I have to flatten my cardboard boxes?
The purpose of flattening cardboard boxes is to maximize available space in containers and trucks, as well as save time during the sorting process.
Why is refrigerated paperboard (boxboard) not recyclable?
A thin layer of plastic is used in the production of refrigerated/frozen food boxes to ensure the boxes don’t get soggy. This plastic layer prevents the paperboard underneath from breaking down, which makes this type of cardboard unrecyclable.
How do I keep my paper dry from rainwater when I can’t recycle it in a plastic bag?
It’s ideal to keep paper recycling dry, if at all possible. But getting soaked by rain will not make paper unrecyclable. It’s food, grease and other contamination that you really want to avoid.