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FAQ: Material-Specific Recycling Information

Pallets of Cardboard being Recycled
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

FAQ: Material-Specific Recycling Information

Michiganders believe in recycling and support it, but many curbside recyclers don’t know how to do it properly. These frequently asked questions should answer most of the questions you may have on how to recycle plastic, cardboard, metal, paper, glass and everything else correctly. Confident recyclers will improve both the quality and quantity of Michigan’s recycling.

Plastic

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Retail stores often collect plastic bags. Look for a collection bin at your local Meijer, Kroger, Target or Walmart, for example. The only place in Michigan where you can recycle plastic bags curbside is Emmet County. Check with your local recycler to understand your community’s rules.

  • 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.

Metal

  • You can indeed leave labels on cans, but there is also no problem with removing them for sorting with paper recyclables.

Glass

  • Use the Michigan Recycling Directory to find opportunities to recycle glass at nearby drop-off locations.

  • Pyrex glass is not recyclable in Michigan. We suggest reusing this type of material or donating it to a local charity.

  • 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.

  • It’s perfectly acceptable to leave labels on glass containers.

  • 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.

Cardboard

  • The purpose of flattening cardboard boxes is to maximize available space in containers and trucks, as well as save time during the sorting process.

  • 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.

Paper

  • 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.

Batteries

  • If you’re the type who gets fired up about recycling common household materials, you should also get a charge out of properly handling batteries that have lost their juice. While the exact guidance can depend on the type of battery, one rule is consistent no matter where you live in Michigan: Batteries are NOT collected through curbside recycling. That’s because certain batteries can contain toxic chemicals that endanger recycling center workers. In addition, used batteries can still have enough charge to spark and cause a fire at recycling facilities, causing extensive damage to critical infrastructure, further endangering workers.

  • While some batteries, such as today’s alkaline variety, are safe to include in your regular household trash, most are not because of the chemicals they contain. Regardless, recycling is always the best option. As with any other material, battery recycling frees up landfill space and gives manufacturers resources for making new products. Some companies even specialize in helping households recycle their old batteries.

  • When in doubt, contact your local recycling provider.

    While batteries should not go in curbside recycling bins, it’s always best to check with your local provider for its specific rules. Some recycling drop-off centers have special receptacles for batteries, and many municipalities hold hazardous waste collection events where you can safely dispose of used batteries.

    Check out this list of county recycling and household hazardous waste contacts to find a collection site near you.

    Learn more about batteries.

  • Stores such as Home Depot, Best Buy, Batteries Plus Bulbs, Lowe’s and Staples also often offer recycling options to customers, including for rechargeable batteries such as those used in cell phones. Many participate in the national Call2Recycle program, which maintains a list of drop-off locations. Call2RRecycle also offers shipping options if there’s not a collection location near you. You can also search the Michigan Recycling Directory to find other nearby collection options and events.

  • Take your car battery back to where you bought it.

    It’s illegal to put lead acid batteries (such as those used in cars and boats) in Michigan landfills. But any business that sells them is also required to collect them for recycling.