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What's the deal with recycling?

July 9, 2019

Workers sorting recyclables at a Michigan facility.

Have you heard stories that sound like recycling is in crisis or that global actions are redirecting?your recycling efforts to the trash heap? The reality is that the state of recycling is good and growing. With a little knowledge about how to recycle correctly and some key policy changes, Michigan is well-positioned to address our current recycling challenges.

The China Problem

The turmoil facing global recycling markets created by China's import restrictions has hampered recycling everywhere. China has decided it does not want to be the dumping ground for unprocessed recyclables. The market is now glutted with materials China will not buy, which decreases the global market value of many recyclables. At the same time, Michigan industry could use even more materials than we are sending to them. For example, CleanTech in Dundee imports plastic bottles from as far away as Texas to use in their manufacturing process to make new bottles. Meanwhile, far too many detergent and water bottles are being landfilled in Michigan because a lack of convenient recycling options for businesses and residents. Recycling programs are feeling an economic pinch and are adjusting as best they can.

What is Michigan doing to address these challenges?

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is focusing on two main areas to address these global market challenges. First, we are working to improve the quality of the recyclable materials collected with the Know It Before You Throw It statewide education campaign. We are helping communities and recycling service providers reduce contamination by helping to better inform residents and businesses how to properly use their recycling collection system. Fewer Christmas lights, bagged recyclables, half-full ketchup bottles, pizza boxes, and other common contaminants in the recycling bin improve the marketability and value of collected materials and decrease costs for recycling operations. Second, we are focusing on growing local markets for recycled materials. The more end-users we have for our recyclables, the more demand and lower the transportation costs -- both economically and environmentally speaking. Keeping these materials closer to home means more jobs and business opportunities for Michigan. Check out EGLE's Recycling Market Development Grant for an opportunity to receive grant funding to grow Michigan recycling markets.

What can you do to help make recycling successful?

Recycling begins with you and is modeled by you. When you choose to seek out a recycling bin, you make a real difference. But it must be done correctly, as the Know It Before You Throw It campaign emphasizes. Do your homework and seek out information about your curbside or community-based program. Know what goes in the bin and what does not. Ask your hauler or community for answers; tell them it matters to you; then tell your neighbors, your family, and your co-workers. Together we can all ensure recycling continues to be successful for years to come.

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