The Michigan Recycling Coalition often gets questions about what can be recycled where. Every community has different opportunities and policies regarding recycling. Find information on your county by checking the DEQ Michigan Map. You can also use our Recycling Directory to search for a specific location and/or material.
Another good resource is the MRC listserv. MRC members have access to archived discussions and can post any questions or answers they may have. Not a member? Click here to find out how to join, gaining access to this and other important resources.
Some common questions and answers are listed here. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Feel free to explore the website or contact our office for the answers you need.
Q: Why can’t I recycle _________________?
A: All recyclable materials must be collected, separated and ultimately sold as commodities in the marketplace to be economically sustainable. If the end-of-life product or packaging you want to recycle costs more to collect, separate and process, it may not yet contain enough value to process into a new product, and it is unlikely the material will be recycled. However, technologies, regulations, and industry needs are constantly changing. What may not be recyclable this year may become recyclable in the future. You may also be surprised by the number of types of material that are recycled. See Recycling Markets for more information.
Q: Doesn’t it cost more to recycle something than it does to just throw it away?
A: Whether you choose to put something in the trash or in the recycling bin there is a cost for the service to collect the material at your curb and transport it either to the landfill, incinerator or material recovery facility (MRF). Tipping fees at the landfill or incinerator generally pay for the costs of disposal. However, these facilities have to be monitored for the long-term and their environmental impacts (i.e.c contaminated groundwater) are absorbed by society as a whole. Tipping fees and disposal costs are avoided if the material is transported to a material recovery facility. There are costs to separate and process the recyclables into commodity streams that are then sold to companies as feedstock for production. So while there is a cost to recycle, the benefits often exceed the expense. Commodity sales often offset recycling costs and even generate revenue to pay for other services.
Q: What does the number on the bottom of my plastic container mean?
A: Recyclable plastics usually have a number, 1-7, printed on the bottom of the container. It identifies the type of plastic the container is made out of, making it easier for recovery facilities to sort them into the correct category. These plastics go on to be made into specific products based on the original type of plastic. This helpful document explains the different types of plastics, what products they are found in, and what they can be recycled into. Some plastics can be recycled even if they don’t have a number. For example, Michigan State University takes all plastics (except poly-styrene foam), whether they are clearly labeled or not. You can check out their guidelines here.
Q: Why is it important to rinse my food containers before recycling?
A: Recycling clean, dry materials makes the whole process less yucky. Food residue can create foul odors and attract pests wherever material is stored. While all recyclables are eventually cleaned or melted down, starting the process with rinse clean, dry materials is preferred.
Q: I have a product that isn’t recyclable but I don’t want to throw it away. What can I do?
A: Be 100% sure it can’t be recycled. Items like light bulbs, batteries, paints and other household hazardous wastes can’t be put in your curbside bin. However, most communities host collection events where you can take these items. Check with your community contact to see if this is offered in your area.
If it is not an item like those listed above, can you reuse it? Can you compost it? Depending on what type of waste it is, there may be many options other than sending it to the landfill. The EPA has some great tips for reducing, reusing, recycling and composting. You can also check out Terracycle, which uses waste like wrappers to make new products like bags, hats, and garden tools.
It’s also important to carefully consider the products and packaging you buy. If you can’t recycle something, it’s likely you have to pay to throw it away.
Q: What happens to my recyclables when they are taken from my curb or the drop off center?
A: Your recyclables are taken to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted by machine, by hand, baled, and sent to manufacturers that can then make them into “new” products. Take this virtual tour of a MRF by ReCommunity Recycling.
Q: Why do I need to recycle my computer or TV?
A: Electronics and appliances like computers, TVs, refrigerators, and printers contain harmful materials such as lead, mercury, flame retardants and coolants. When improperly disposed of, these chemicals can leak out and enter the water table or the air, polluting resources we rely on every day. Some manufacturers will take back their own products for recycling, such as Dell Reconnect. In Michigan, manufacturers of electronic devices must provide some means for consumers to recycle those items. Check Greener Gadgets for information about recycling you electronics. Most communities also have recycling events that accept these items. Check with your local recycling contact for more information.
Q: Do I need to take labels off of jars and cans before I recycle them?
A: No, labels are usually cleaned or burned off in the recycling process, so there is no need to take them off yourself.
Q: Can I recycle plastic bags? In my curbside recycling bin?
A: Not usually. Film plastics such as grocery bags and other film packaging can get caught in sorting machines and make the process more difficult. Check with your local grocer to see if they take back bags and other plastic film, often chain stores like Kroger have a program like this. Visit www.plasticfilmrecycling.org to learn more about the process.
Q: What is single stream recycling?
A: Single stream recycling refers to a collection method whereby all recyclables (plastic, cardboard, paper, metal) can be put into your recycling bin together, without being separated first. These items are collected together in one compactor truck and taken to a MRF for separation and baling. Recyclables used to be collected in separate compartments in a recycling truck but this collection model increases the time trucks are at the curb and limits the number and amounts of materials they can collect. Single stream recycling means that a limitless type of recyclable can be collected at the curb.
If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Michigan Recycling Coalition
PO Box 10070
Lansing, MI 48901