How to recycle properly in Michigan

About 20%-40% of recycled items shouldn’t be recycled

Earth Week tips: How to properly recycle
Earth Week tips: How to properly recycle

We only have one Earth, so we only have one chance to do it right.

This Earth Day, we’re focusing on one of the best ways to reduce waste and help the environment: recycling.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to recycle the right way, and so a significant portion of recycled items don’t even end up getting recycled at all.

Data shows that, depending on the community, about 20-40 percent of recycled items received by sorting facilities can’t actually be recycled. Joe Munem with Green For Life in New Boston says that some of these items are extreme -- like the deer carcass he saw recycled once -- but most items that aren’t recyclable are sent by people with good intentions who just don’t know better.

Related: Michigan commits to $97 million investment into recycling

Munem says his sorting facility receives strange items like extension cords, Christmas lights, chains and bowling balls nearly each day. It goes without saying: these items cannot actually be recycled.

But other items that can’t be recycled may come as more of a surprise: grocery bags and pizza boxes.

Those plastic bags you get when grocery shopping should not go into your recycling bins. Munem says those bags get tangled up in the sorting belts, and it’s bad for the facility. However, those bags can be returned to your grocery story so that they can be recycled.

Anything with food contaminates cannot be recycled, and that includes pizza boxes. Munem says that any cans or containers, including those pizza boxes, must be cleaned before they can be recycled, or they’ll be thrown out.

In Canton, a state grant is funding recycling inspectors who will do a non-invasive check of recycling bins before the truck picks them up for about two months. Officials say residents who have improperly recycled will first receive a friendly reminder on the dos and don’ts of recycling. The next time it occurs, the recycling bin will be tagged and will not be picked up.

The goal of the inspectors is to help residents correct their habits and recycle properly.

Watch the full report in the video above.


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