Ideas kept getting dumped into the proverbial trash bin for weeks.
But leaders of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) knew immediately when they had finally recruited the perfect spokesperson for the state’s first-ever “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign to increase and improve recycling.
Turns out, the best person for the job of promoting the Know It Before You Throw It campaign isn’t a person at all.
It’s a raccoon – six of them, to be precise.
“As soon as we saw these adorable little creatures, we recognized instantly we had discovered the messengers to best help us educate the Michigan public on the do’s and don’ts of recycling,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark.
The raccoons’ “personalities” match their specialties – reflected by the purple mohawk on Precious, for example – and their goal is to help Michigan residents grow knowledge and improve their recycling habits.
“The current recycling rate in Michigan is just 15% – that’s the lowest rate in the Great Lakes, and among the lowest in the country,” said EGLE Materials Management Division Director Jack Schinderle.
“Our objective is for Michigan to reach a rate of 30% by 2025, and to ultimately reach 45% annually. The Know It Before You Throw It campaign is key to getting the word out about good recycling practices.”
A few simple rules The Know It Before You Throw It campaign is part of a statewide recycling education and engagement initiative designed to increase both the quantity and quality of material that is recycled in Michigan.
Beyond preserving the environment, reducing energy use and conserving landfill space, improved recycling in Michigan can bring important economic benefits, according to the “Expanding Recycling in Michigan” report prepared for the Michigan Recycling Partnership.
Achieving EGLE’s 30% recycling goal would produce as many as 12,986 jobs, which translates into an economic impact of up to $300 million annually.
“By learning a few simple rules, we can elevate our rate of recycling, expand the amount we recycle and help build stronger, more prosperous communities, which is a win-win-win for everyone,” Schinderle said.
It’s easy to remember many of the tips suggested by EGLE’s raccoon expert on recycling plastics – Nyla P. Lastic – on her webpage:
Rinse and empty all plastic containers. This means rinsing out containers so they are completely empty of food scraps, such as leftover yogurt, or such liquids as unused milk in a jug prior to tossing them in the recycling bin.
Check for the number on your plastic item to make sure it’s accepted where you live (1 and 2 are the most widely accepted).
Plastic food storage bags cannot be recycled.
Plastic straws are not accepted.
Never put recyclables in plastic bags – in most places plastic bags are not recyclable, but you can usually recycle them at grocery retailers such as Meijer, Kroger or Target.
Every municipality in Michigan has slightly different rules, however. Certain types of plastic accepted in one city aren’t necessarily accepted in another, so it’s important to routinely check with local officials about what’s permissible in individual communities.
Lights. Cameras. Raccoons. One of the Know It Before You Throw It campaign’s highlights is a TV commercial featuring the Recycling Raccoons educating a homeowner on her recycling habits.
The 30-second ad quickly became a social media favorite after it was introduced June 24 to Michigan audiences, generating nearly 4,000 positive reactions and 2,500 Facebook shares over its opening two weeks.
“The popularity of Michigan’s Recycling Raccoon Squad is far surpassing EGLE’s expectations,” Schinderle said.
The ad has also inspired civic organizations and environmental advocacy groups across the state to invite EGLE representatives to bring the Know It Before You Throw It mascots’ message to their communities. EGLE staff members are receiving more Know It Before You Throw It event requests than they can schedule this summer, so they’re booking presentations through the fall, Schinderle noted.
The commercial was filmed on a makeshift set at a Lansing-area home with two professional raccoon “actors” – George and Boomer – EGLE hired to play the roles of all six squad members.
“Boomer is very laid-back, so he was picked to play Nyla because he didn’t mind sitting in a plastic pool on an inflatable raft,” said Greg SmithAldridge, who served as animal wrangler for the shoot. Wranglers direct animal-actors to perform certain actions according to the script, similar to the duties of a movie director.
‘It’s easy to improve’
“It’s all about making it fun for the animal and making sure they want to be there,” said SmithAldridge, who has previously worked on such Hollywood film productions as “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” and is currently engaged on a TV ad to sell season tickets for pro football’s Baltimore Ravens.
“You can’t convince a raccoon to do something if he doesn’t want to do it. At some point, he’s going to be just like, ‘OK, I’m done wearing these sunglasses.’”
SmithAldridge didn’t just help the raccoons with their behavior. He got a dose of positive recycling behavior modification himself and was surprised to learn plastic bags can clog the machines that sort recyclables.
“Just from looking at the script and being on set, I realized how bad my recycling habits were,” he said. “I’d been putting all my recyclables in plastic bags for years, but I didn’t know that was wrong. Since this Recycling Raccoons shoot, I’ve really changed up the way I do stuff at home and I realize that it’s really easy to improve.”
To learn more about the rules of recycling and meet the rest of the Recycling Raccoon Squad, visit RecyclingRaccoons.org.
Goal is to reduce contaminated materials going into recycling bins and double state’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy today announced the launch of Know It Before You Throw It, a first-ever statewide education campaign to better inform Michiganders on what can – and cannot – be recycled and how to recycle correctly.
EGLE’s goal is to promote awareness of cleaner recycling practices to reduce the amount of contaminated materials improperly going into recycling bins. The state also wants to double Michigan’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reach 45% annually. Michigan’s current 15% recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes region and ranks among the nation’s lowest.
The Know It Before You Throw It campaign launches as communities across Michigan and the U.S. are struggling with international market shifts, resulting in higher costs for some local governments that fail to meet new industrywide cleanliness standards for recyclable materials.
“We want to inform and inspire more people than ever before in Michigan about how to recycle better,” said EGLE’s Materials Management Division Director Jack Schinderle. “This campaign is a first of its kind for Michigan that offers multiple benefits. Increasing recycling and improving the quality of materials we’re recycling saves energy, reduces water use, decreases greenhouse gases, conserves resources and translates into local jobs.”
EGLE officials were joined during today’s news conference at a Lansing recycling transfer station by East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows; Lansing Deputy Mayor Samantha Harkins; state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing; state Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing; state Rep. Kara Hope, D-Lansing; state Rep. Julie Brixie, D-East Lansing; Michigan Recycling Coalition Executive Director Kerrin O’Brien; and Michigan Waste and Recycling Association Board Chair Kevin Kendall.
“We thank Gov. Whitmer, the Michigan Legislature and EGLE for their leadership and for working together to develop a strategy that will help improve and sustain Michigan’s environment now and throughout the 21st century,” Meadows said.
Recycling in Michigan is receiving a major boost as state legislators in an overwhelmingly bipartisan move have increased EGLE’s funding for recycling from $2 million last year to $15 million in 2019. The extra funds will support development of recycling markets, increase access to recycling opportunities and reinforce planning efforts to grow recycling at the local level.
“What’s really great about EGLE’s campaign is that we’ve spent the past decade or more stressing the importance of putting more resources into recycling education and supporting local communities’ programs,” Hertel said. “Michigan is now putting words into action.”
To kick off the campaign, EGLE introduced the Michigan Recycling Raccoon Squad, a six-member team of recycling champions who will serve as EGLE’s education ambassadors. EGLE-commissioned research shows that education is key for residents to learn how to properly recycle. For example:
50% of Michigan residents mistakenly believe they’re allowed to recycle plastic bags in their curbside recycling, which is prohibited by most municipalities.
76% of Michiganders are unaware that failing to rinse and dry items before putting them in the recycling bin poses a risk of contaminating everything in the bin.
“Some of the material being disposed of through landfills and incinerators could be recycled or composted in most metropolitan communities without great difficulty,” Kendall said.
Michigan recycles more than 90% of bottles and cans, but bottles and cans represent only 2% of all the waste Michiganders recycle every year. Almost 53% of the state’s municipal solid waste goes to landfills instead of recycling facilities. Lansing and East Lansing, for example, recycle nearly 7,500 tons of waste annually. While the cities have a relatively low contamination rate of 8%-10%, that number is on the rise, according to data provided by both municipalities.
“By encouraging people to focus on the basics and think about what they’re recycling before they toss it, we can improve our environment and build stronger communities,” Harkins said.
Five decades have passed since Michigan’s historic accomplishment with the bottle deposit legislation earned the state national recognition as an environmental champion.
“Over that time, Michigan has gotten complacent,” said O’Brien. “We can – and must – become America’s leaders again in recycling. The EGLE campaign is a tremendous opportunity for Michigan to advance to the next level of performance in protecting our environment.”