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FAQ: General Recycling Information

Workers sorting recycling at a Michigan facility.
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

FAQ: General Recycling Information

We know it’s not easy. Recycling can be pretty complicated. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about recycling to help Michigan recycle better.

General

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Different communities have different rules because they have contracts with different vendors that offer different services. To find out what you can recycle, check out our Recycling Raccoons local rules, our recycling safety video, and contact your recycling provider. To learn more about the reasons behind the recycling rules, visit our Recycling Raccoons.

  • EGLE has a directory for:

    Residential recycling - the Michigan Recycling Directory.

    Commercial recycling - the Recycled Materials Market Directory.

    Visit our webpage for more information and to learn how to add your recycling location to the directory. Use of the directory is free of charge and will help people find you and make your community more sustainable.

  • You can find your EGLE recycling contact information on the regional contact map.

    To find a local recycling specialist, visit the list of county recycling contacts.

  • Proper recycling is not only good for the environment and economy, but it is important for the safety of people who work at the receiving facilities. Check out our Recycling Safety video to see some of the dangerous items that workers find in the recycling plant. Find more on recycling right on our Learn About Recycling, Household Hazardous Waste, and Recycling Raccoons Websites.

  • “Dual stream recycling” is a more traditional method of recycling that is still very common across the state of Michigan. Dual stream recycling requires individuals to sort their recyclables into different categories, commonly requiring fiber materials (paper, corrugated cardboard, paperboard, etc.) to be separated from plastics, metal, and glass. 

  • There are two common types of recycling collection program designs. “Single stream recycling” allows you to put all of your recyclable items into a single cart, often including plastics, metal, fiber materials (paper, corrugated cardboard, paperboard, etc.), and glass. Due to the convenience factor, which tends to increase participation in the program, single stream recycling is a continually growing recycling service and is common in large population areas.

  • See our Sustainable Materials Management Hierarchy for a simple roadmap to making the most sustainable choices about the materials you buy and use.  The hierarchy promotes choices that are the least harmful to our environment and the best for mitigating climate change.  The hierarchy advocates reuse and recycling instead of disposal because it takes less energy to make new products from recycled materials than it does when using virgin materials. This results in less carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants, which is the largest contributor to climate change, and preserves virgin resources in our environment for future generations.

  • “I am not sure if this item can be recycled, but I’ll throw it in anyway, just in case…”

    This is a statement that most avid recyclers have said at one point or another. This habit is referred to as “wishful recycling,” and while intentions are good, when you put materials into the recycling bin that shouldn’t be there, you may slow down the entire recycling process and simply send that item on a longer trip to the landfill. Most recycling facilities use manual sorting and/or machines to sort the recyclables. The more inappropriate items in the bin, the more inefficient and difficult sorting is for workers performing the sort by hand. Some items can damage or get caught in the machinery, causing an entire plant to shut down while the materials are removed and the machinery is fixed (plastic bags are often a culprit of this issue). Always refer to the list of acceptable items from your recycling service provider. Do your best to follow the guidelines provided to you, and you can help increase the value of recyclables provided by your community! 

  • Go to Michigan.gov/MIRecycles to find funding opportunities for recycling from EGLE.

  • Check out our Recycling Webpage and connect with our Recycling Raccoons Squad or one of our recycling specialists.

  • It probably takes most people less than 30-minutes to drink a 16-ounce beverage. In Michigan we all know there is a ten-cent incentive to not throw away used beverage bottles, but are the other benefits clear? What about the other recyclable materials that we have in our homes? As an example, take a minute to consider the life of a plastic bottle:

    The life cycle of a plastic bottle

    It is a complicated process to create a bottle that is typically used by a consumer for less than 30 minutes. When that beverage bottle is placed in the garbage can, its life is over, being buried in a landfill where it will take over 400 years to decompose. If that beverage bottle is recycled, it can be transformed back into the same plastic pellets used to make it in the first place. While it takes energy to transport and recycle materials, the energy put into recycling supports a “loop” in which natural resources do not go to waste. Before you place something in your garbage can, be sure to ask yourself - “Is this really garbage?”

Recycling Process

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • If the different types of materials are easily separated (e.g., a glass jar with a metal lid), then the item is likely recyclable if separated before being put in your bin. But items that are layered with different materials (e.g., chip bags, juice pouches, etc.) are usually not recyclable because the recycler needs to easily sort the different loose materials (e.g., plastic, metal, glass, paper). Check with your local recycler to see what guidance it has for your community.

  • 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.

    Properly rinsing and emptying recyclables is critical to preparing materials for recycling.

  • As of 2020, over half (61%) 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.

    A few examples include:

    • Great Lakes Tissue Co - This Cheboygan-based toilet paper manufacturer uses 2,100 tons of recycled raw material each month – half of which comes directly from recycling operations across the U.S. and Canada.
    • Cascade Engineering - This Grand Rapids-based business uses recycled plastics to build their 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.

Global Recycling

  • 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.

Environmental Impact

  • 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!

  • 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.

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