The mistakes we make when it comes to recycling

You're probably recycling wrong
Posted at 6:45 AM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 12:17:52-04

(WXYZ) — You’re recycling wrong. Probably.

It’s not the most uplifting message, but it’s a reality for the folks who run local recycling plants in Michigan. It’s starting to hurt too.

At the recycling plant in Southfield roughly 16% of goods sent to the plant aren’t capable of being recycled. That material has to be sorted out and taken to a landfill.

It comes at a time that China, which imported a lot of recycled goods until recently, is cracking down on what it’ll allow to be brought into the country. The move comes because American recyclables have been routinely exceeding the amount of “contaminants” found within recycled bundles. For example, in the past, they would allow up to 3% “contaminants” in a bundle of mixed-paper — in other words 20 tons of recycled mixed-paper could contain 3% of other materials — now they’ve lowered the threshold to 0.5%.

“We can do that,” explained general manager of Resource Recovery Michael Csapo, “but that means we have to be more diligent, put more labor on our sort line. We have to slow our sort lines down and that impacts the cost associated with recycling it.”

Meanwhile, China has essentially stopped taking plastic altogether.

In some ways it’s good. Michigan is starting to ship more of it’s recyclables to plants within Michigan. It’s also changed the pricing as goods have flooded the market.

“We want people to recycle more, but recycle right, said Csapo. “and they can help the system by making sure they’re putting the right thing in the recycling bin, or recycling carts.”

There’s confusion too. Some items can be recycled, but can’t be recycled at your curbside recycling program. For instance, people who live in Farmington, Farmington Hills, Milford, Milford Township, Novi, South Lyon, Southfield, Walled Lake and Wixom (RRRASOC communities) you can’t recycle styrofoam. However, if you look at the bottom of any styrofoam cup you’ll find a recycling symbol — when in reality that symbol is a bit of a misnomer. It signals what type of plastic is in the cup, and many plants can’t handle it — while some can.

There is some good news: the recycling coming from metro Detroit seems to be coming sorted better than most other counties. As Csapo explained, the RRRASOC communities have done a good job of educating the public on what can/can’t be recycled. They’ve even launched an app that you can double-check on the go for both Apple and Google Play.

Local recyclable deliveries tend to have less than 10% contaminants, meaning places that ship in recycling materials like Saginaw and Toledo are bringing the overall product down — which leads to slower process times, and higher costs.

The best thing you can do, according to Csapo, is be vigilant about sorting goods — and if you’re not certain about a particular item look it up on the company’s website, or print off a handy chart to keep near your recycling bin.