Recycling 101: How to avoid common mistakes & where you can recycle in metro Detroit

Posted at 5:52 AM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 07:23:35-04

(WXYZ) — Earth Day is a time to celebrate our planet and talk about meaningful solutions to better protect it.

One area people often concentrate on during these conversations is recycling; it's something everyone can do every day to take action and reduce their waste.

Currently, Michigan has a recycling rate of around 18 percent according to EGLE, with a goal of reaching 30 percent by 2025. We're trailing behind the national average of 32 percent according to the EPA.

To get a sense of the most common recycling mistakes in Michigan, and what we can do in metro Detroit to improve the process, we visited a material recovery facility (MRF) in Troy.

You won't believe some of the crazy things that wind up at the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA).

Supervisor Lucas Dean says he's seen everything from bowling balls to animal remains.

“During hunting season we see deer carcasses, deer heads," Dean told Action News.

SOCRRA is where recyclables from Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak, and Troy go to be sorted before they're sent to a mill to be re-purposed.

Michigan doesn't have a centralized recycling system, so it's important to check with your local municipality or recycling facility to learn what is and is not acceptable for recycling.

“It comes to me and then I have to work to get rid of it, to sell it," Dean said.

The price mills offer for recyclables like paper, plastics, and glass changes every month and overall, Dean says is going up.

In order to make money, he has to ship and sell in bulk. Take plastics for example; identified by really long complicated names like Polyethylene Terephthalate or Low-Density Polyethylene and assigned a number 1 thru 7.

But here's what you, the consumer, really need to know:

  • Plastics 1-2 are, generally speaking, pretty easy to recycle. Make sure they're rinsed, clean, and have caps on and you and toss those in your bin at home.
  • But 3-7s, items like a plastic ketchup bottle, fast food cup, plastic clothes hanger, or an ice cream container, can take longer to collect at SOCRRA and despite being recyclable, are often harder to find buyers for. Those can also go in your bin at home.

"If the packaging people would talk to the mills, that would help out," Dean said on how to expand recycling and make it easier for consumers to re-use.

A new program through EGLE called NextCycle is aiming to accomplish that by expanding the state's recycling and recovery supply chain.

“We’re connecting those packaging manufacturers and the brands of the companies that make the things that we all buy with opportunities to support recycling," said recycling market development specialist at Michigan EGLE, Matt Flechter.

According to EGLE, already in 2020 and 2021, $97 million is being committed to recycling projects through partners that in addition to Meijer include: Henry Ford Health System, GFL Environmental, Carton Council of North America, Goodwill Industries, Keurig Dr Pepper, Foodservice Packaging Institute, U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, Emterra Environmental, Washtenaw County, Great Lakes Tissue and more than 30 Michigan companies, organizations and nonprofits.

The program is looking to continue to expand. Interested partners can click here.

Dean says in order to improve the state's recycling report card, consumers also have to play a role.

Things like pizza boxes, as long as they're not covered in cheese or grease, can be recycled by being brought to the SOCRRA facility 995 Coolidge, Troy, MI (between 14 Mile and Maple). Dean recommends people do not throw these directly in their bin.

He has the same advice for Styrofoam, which will likely get broken up and thus won't be able to be reused if simply tossed in your bin at home. A similar warning for batteries; if they're dropped in your bin at home and then delivered to SOCRRA, they're going in a landfill. Dean suggests batteries also be delivered right to SOCRRA.

Due to COVID-19, appointments are required at the SOCRRA drop-off site, and certain items require you are a resident of one of the member communities.

Click here to make an appointment.

Due to the pandemic, staffing at SOCRRA is down by about half and some of the sorting lines have had to slow down. Pre-pandemic, they were sorting about 15 tons per hour, but now are down to around 13.5.

Things like face masks, which SOCRRA staff has seen a lot of lately - are not recyclable. Also not recyclable? Latex gloves, IV tubes, and garden hoses.

And then there are the infamous plastic grocery store bags, or as Dean calls them - "film" which can clog up the machines at SOCRRA. "Film" is technically recyclable, but no longer at SOCRRA. He suggests bringing it to a grocery store like Meijer or Kroger to recycle.

“I might have an item, it might have a recycling symbol on it and I’ve just tossed it in the bin thinking oh it’s recyclable," explained Jill Greenberg with EGLE. She's talking about "wish-cycling," something we've all likely done before. Throwing something in the recycling bin, assuming we've done our part for the planet.

But because cities have different rules and procedures for how and what they recycle, it's important to check with that individual municipality or recycling center if you're dropping it off yourself.

At SOCRRA, try Waste Wizard -- a tool right on its website's home page where you can type in the name of an item, and it will tell you how to properly dispose or recycle it.

The state also has a tool on it's website.

"If you put number 6 plastic in your recycling bin and your collecting program doesn’t take it, then you’re creating, you’re adding additional costs," Flechter said.