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Proper recycling practices protect the environment — and recycling workers

Waste & Recycling Workers Week logoAs part of Waste & Recycling Workers Week, MI Environment highlights proper recycling practices to protect workers.

Proper recycling practices — as encouraged by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) — are not only good for the environment and economy. They’re also important for the safety of people who work at any materials recovery facility (MRF) throughout the state where items placed in recycling bins are sorted.

Just ask Matt Van Benten, operations supervisor at the Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County (RRRASOC) MRF in Southfield.

“Safety is huge here — it’s our No. 1 concern, and it’s our No. 1 problem,” Van Benten said as he sorted through a box of potentially dangerous items that were pulled from the MRF’s conveyor line, including a bladed instrument, scissors and a cellphone.

“These are the kinds of things we don’t want to see,” he said. “There are homes for these, but your local recycling bin is not it.”

The dangers posed by sharp objects such as blades and scissors are obvious — they can injure workers who are sorting items moving down the MRF’s conveyor line. They’re particularly troublesome because they’re often hidden among material such as paper and plastic, Van Benten said.

“You don’t know where it is,” he said.

Electronic devices such as cellphones and old laptops are a no-no because they’re powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can explode when crushed or shaken.

“We’ve had explosions and fires here caused by things like this,” Van Benten said. “We’d like to have the message out there … this is not how you deal with that. Please, do it the right way.”

Information on proper disposal of household hazardous waste is available on the EGLE Household Hazardous Waste Webpage.

Check out the accompanying video for more advice from Van Benten on how to help keep recycling workers safe.