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Can I recycle that? Ann Arbor’s guide to best recycling practices

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ANN ARBOR – We recently received a reader question about whether recycling placed in plastic bags actually gets recycled or ends up in the landfill.

When it comes to recycling, it can be difficult to determine which materials should be recycled or what the best way to dispose of recyclable materials is.

CEO of Recycle Ann Arbor, Bryan Ukena, said his best advice is: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

While those who recycle may have good intentions, he said too often people unknowingly place the wrong materials in the recycling bin and end up causing damage to the facility’s machinery, and in some case, the workers themselves.

Plastic bags of any kind should not be recycled, said Ukena. Known as “tanglers,” they get caught in the equipment, causing damage and delays in the process.

Ukena also said to keep in mind that plastic bags filled with materials can pose a threat to those who have to open them.

“It’s a really bad idea,” he said. “When people bust the bags open, there are sharps and all sorts of hazards there that make it dangerous to open bags. These are people -- these are actual people that are handling that stuff and they don’t know what’s in that bag. There have been sharp sticks and people have had to go to the hospital. We don’t want people to bag their recyclables.”

Instead, residents are asked to place their clean, dry and loose materials directly into the recycling bin.

Another issue is yard and food waste.

“That’s a big issue,” said Ukena. “They think recyclable and compostable are similar and they throw it out.”

He said a good rule of thumb is if it’s a bottle, it’s recyclable. Other common items he’s seen come through the machinery are garden hoses and video cassette tapes. He said it’s important to break the mindset that all plastic is recyclable, and urged residents to take materials that they’re not sure about to Ann Arbor’s Drop-Off Station.

Other common contaminants:

  • Clothing and textiles
  • Electronic waste and large appliances
  • Light bulbs
  • Furniture
  • Construction materials
  • Wood
  • Styrofoam
  • General trash

For more information about contaminant materials and why they can’t be recycled, click here.

Did you know that Recycle Ann Arbor also has a searchable recycle guide? Search for any item or material and see if you can recycle it or not here.

The Drop-Off Station is at 2950 E. Ellsworth Rd. Fees may apply.

Do you have a question about something in Ann Arbor? Contact mbruckner@wdiv.com.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.