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Learn About Recycling

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

Learn About Recycling

If someone asked you to recite the materials that are collected through your curbside service or at your local recycling center, could you do it? It’s probably not a question that you’ve ever been asked, but it’s an important thing to know.

Unfortunately, recycling isn’t as straightforward as searching for a recycling symbol on a product. Many packages wear the “recycle” symbol but require a special recycling process that may not be available in your area. This is something that many people don’t realize before tossing an item into the recycling bin or choosing to toss it in the trash.

This page will help answer some of the questions you may have on recycling in Michigan. 

Recycling 101 Video

Recycling 101

Wait a minute! Should you throw that in the recycling bin?  Watch this video to find out; and check out our Recycling 101 booklet to sort out more recycling facts from fiction! SPECIAL THANKS to Cascade Cart Solutions in Grand Rapids, MI, for providing us with the adorable pink recycling cart!

Recycling 101

7 plastic recycling symbols, reading PETE, HDPE, V, LPDE, PP, PS, and Other

Plastic Symbols

To most people, this code will look very familiar. It’s often assumed that this symbol is identifying an item as recyclable, but it was actually introduced by the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) to identify the plastic resin content of bottles and containers. This labeling system is known as a “Resin Identification Code (RIC)” and is used to identify seven types of plastics. 
A pizza sitting in a greasy pizza box, a cup of marinara sauce nearby

Cleaning your Recyclables

Even if you don’t have single stream recycling, recyclers rely on clean and quality materials to market to end use manufacturers. The higher the amount of residue and contamination, the lower the value of the recyclable materials, and the lower potential for those materials to be used in the production of new products. Always remember to make sure the recyclables you put in the bin are free of excessive residue.
A hand holding out a white Styrofoam drink cup

Commonly Misunderstood Items

If an item is not included on your list of acceptable items, it probably cannot be recycled through your program because they cannot manage it appropriately. Some recycling programs in Michigan do accept some of these items at drop-off sites or through special collection events, so be sure to check with your community or service provider for options in your area.
A preview of the Recycle Cheat Sheet; materials are listed with checkboxes next to them

Recycling Cheat Sheet

Do not include everyday “trash” in your recycling bin.
Be sure to clean/rinse out recyclables of excessive residue  Do not include any medical waste, COVID personal protective equipment, or personal hygiene items in your recycling bin. Check out our Recycling Raccoons Reference Sheet and Local Rules or contact your local recycling center for more information. Don’t nest materials with unlike materials (i.e. tin can inside a cereal box). Fill out our recycling cheat sheet and keep it near your at-home recycling station. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

  • “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! 

  • 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?”

  • The Michigan Recycling Directory can help you find a nearby drop-off recycling location and which materials are accepted at each location.

  • 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.

  • “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.

Learn About Recycling


Michigan Food Waste Resources

It is estimated that 33% of all food produced in the world goes to waste. Learn what you can do to reduce food waste.

Michigan Recycling Directory

Looking to recycle a wide variety of household materials? Find recycling organizations near you that accepts them.

US EPA: Recycling

Learn how reducing, reusing, and recycling can help you, your community, and the environment by saving money, energy, and natural resources. 
EGLE Classroom - Recycling Safety Video

EGLE Classroom - Recycling Safety

Got a minute? Learn how to recycle right! Proper recycling practices protect the environment and recycling workers.