GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of Michigan is working to double the state’s recycling rate by 2025.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy is working to raise awareness of recycling and how to do it properly, EGLE spokesman Jeff Johnston said.
“We’re seeing some good progress, along those lines already in terms of people knowing better what they can and can’t recycle curbside or at recycling centers,” Johnston said.
EGLE on Monday announced Michigan recycling is at an all-time high.
Kent County alone typically processes around 30,000 to 35,000 tons of material a year, Lauren Westerman, a resource recovery specialist, said. Local haulers and residents bring items to the facility and employees and machines sort through them. Once the material is sorted out, it’s sent out to other facilities to be made into new products.
Westerman said the center is able to recover about 90% of the materials brought in.
But making a mistake when recycling can cause contamination.
“The cleaner that you can have your recycling and then … making sure that you have the right recycling in there ensures that every load gets recycled,” Westerman said.
As you work to recycle as much as you can, here are common recycling mistakes you should avoid:
Not everything can be recycled and the materials that can be accepted vary from facility to facility. You should only put things in your bin that your local recycler is able to recycle. A big mistake people tend to make is something referred to as “wishcycling.”
“It’s items that we wish we could recycle,” Kim Wolters, the environmental health supervisor for Ottawa County’s Environmental Sustainability program, explained.
That includes things like Styrofoam, metals and plastic lawn furniture. They also sometimes see nonrecyclable glass.
“That’s items like your Ball jars,” she said. “Glass that have materials in it that (are) like heatproofed or shatterproof material, and that makes it so that they can’t be recycled.”
2. PUTTING RECYCLABLES IN PLASTIC BAGS
“One mistake a lot of people make is to bundle their recyclables up in plastic shopping bags,” Johnston said.
He said plastic bags are tanglers.
“They’ll get caught up in the machinery in a recycling center and cause problems,” he said.
He suggested returning them to stores that are able to recycle them. Some grocery stores like Meijer collect used plastic bags.
3. NOT DOUBLE-CHECKING SEASONAL ITEMS
Westerman said wrong items typically change with the season.
“The things that are wrong are typically seasonal. We’re kind of expecting to see some hoses … a lot of like yard-related materials this coming spring as people get back out into their yards again,” Westerman said. “A lot of things like hoses and yard waste can actually get stuck in our machinery or clog up our machinery.”
Some seasonal items, like propane tanks and pool chemicals, should be brought to a household hazardous waste program, which brings us to No. 4.
4. NOT LOOKING FOR OTHER PROGRAMS
Household hazardous waste has to be disposed of carefully. Programs like Kent County’s SafeChem program or Ottawa County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program are able to take the items to either recycle or safely dispose of them.
“Some of the steps that (you) can do to recycle as much as possible is a lot of research and looking into items,” Wolters said. “For example, food material … actually can be recycled through composting.”
Wolters said scrap metal can be recycled through scrap bins at Ottawa County’s recycling centers or through local businesses. Things like electronics and antifreeze can also be brought to Ottawa County’s centers, located in Holland, Grand Haven, Coopersville and Georgetown.
There’s also occasionally events to recycle specific items — for example, Kent County Department of Public Works is hosting an event at John Ball Zoo on Saturday to recycle car seats.
You can also bring gently used clothes and other items to a local thrift store.
5. NOT TAKING CARE OF FOOD CONTAINERS
When you recycle a container that is made out of a different material than the lid, separate the lid from the container. Take the label off and make sure it’s clean and dry.
There should not be any food left in the container.
“If they have food waste or other kinds of waste in them, that can contaminate a load of recycling and make it unsuitable,” Johnston said.
Pizza boxes with grease and leftover cheese, for example, should be thrown away, but if the top of the pizza box is grease-free you can tear it off to recycle, according to EGLE’s reclycingraccoons.org.
6. BUYING MATERIALS THAT ARE NOT RECYCLABLE
Westerman suggested changing your purchasing habits so that you can recycle more.
One example she gave was egg cartons.
“A Styrofoam egg carton is not something we take,” she said. “Maybe you buy items all the time. You can then think, ‘Oh, I’m going to buy a paper egg carton next time. … You’re still getting eggs, but now you’ve changed to a recyclable and easily recycled material at the Kent County facility.”
7. HOPING FOR THE BEST
After you put things in your curbside bin or bring them to the facility, they have to be sorted out.
“I think the most common error is just to put everything in the bin and trust that someone’s going to sort it out,” Johnston said. “Recycling centers do employ people to do that sorting, but it’s possible to make their lives a lot easier and safer by recycling properly.”
If you don’t know if something can be recycled, check your local recycler’s website, which brings us to No. 8.
8. FAILING TO CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL RECYCLER
When in doubt, check with the local recycling facility, which will have the most accurate information on what you can recycle. Their website will likely have a recycling guide.
“The best information is always going to be the most local information, and that is your specific recycling provider. It’ll be able to tell you exactly what you can and can’t do and in what way,” Johnston said.
To learn more about recycling in Michigan and for other recycling questions, go to recyclingraccoons.org.