From our media release on the subject dated 9/18/20
Amongst all the election mail filling northern Michigan mailboxes, a more coolheaded postcard arrived last week. Its message: that, when it comes to recycling plastics, keeping it simple is the way to go. The postcard, which was sent to households in Cheboygan, Emmet, and Presque Isle counties is one part of a larger, grant-funded effort to improve the efficiency of the region’s recycling programs by cutting down on non-recyclables deposited at recycling drop-off sites.
The three counties are working on the project as a group because recyclables from all three are sorted and marketed by the Emmet County Recycling Center (ECR). Emmet County Recycling (ECR) operates a “dual-stream” system, meaning that day-to-day recyclables are collected in two groups: 1) Papers, Boxes and Bags and 2) Mixed Containers.
Almost 20% of the materials collected in the Mixed Containers bins are not recyclable. Examples of problem materials items include hangers, binders, luggage, hoses, toys, and even vinyl siding. “This means that 20% of our labor, fuel and equipment used to haul the Mixed Containers bins is going to waste. And 20% of our labor sorting these recyclables is just removing waste. It’s a big drain on the recycling programs,” said Andi Shepherd, ECR Director.
What’s more, that 20% measurement does not include things left on the ground at the drop sites. Recycling personnel have to patrol the sites as much as daily in a pickup truck to clean up the garbage. On top of what this costs in labor and mileage, the county then has to cover the cost to landfill the garbage that is collected off the ground.
According to Shepherd these are problems that recycling programs all over the country grapple with. The good news is that the Papers, Boxes and Bags have a far lower rate of contamination: less than 1% by weight. “Our overall level of contamination is actually good by national standards.”
The counties’ recycling personnel recognize that a variety of motives are behind the messes. Some people may just find it convenient or cheap to abandon their garbage at a recycling drop site. Some may think the items they are leaving will be of use to someone else. A big problem is well-intentioned “wishcycling,” where even the most thoughtful recyclers may put items in the bins hoping they are recyclable. And some industries have added to the confusion by encouraged myths like, “It’s plastic so it’s recyclable.”
Customers using the recycling drop sites can help by:
- Sticking to containers—bottles, jugs, jars, cans, cartons and cups, for example—when recycling plastic, glass and metal items curbside or at the drop-off sites.
- Checking with their county when in doubt. Recycling guides are available from brochure racks at many of the recycling sites. All three counties have websites featuring the option to search for information on a specific item in question. And all three counties have staff who can answer questions on the phone and/or via email.
- Emmet County Recycling can be reached at EmmetRecycling.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 231-348-0640,
- Cheboygan County Recycling can be reached at CheboyganRecycling.org or 231-627-7051, and
- Presque Isle Recycling’s website is PresqueIsleRecycling.org; their phone number is 989-734-3288.
- Calling 911 if they witness someone dumping non-recyclables at a drop-off site. This may seem extreme but it is what law enforcement agencies recommend. Those caught leaving garbage at the drop sites can be fined $100 or more for littering and charged landfilling costs, in addition.
The grants to reduce junk received through recycling drop-off sites are a program of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The Recycling Partnership (TRP) is facilitating the program. TRP is a national non-profit whose mission is to improve recycling. In addition to the postcards, the grant is covering costs to install surveillance cameras, repair and paint bins, improve signage, and provide brochure racks at more sites. The grant also provides for measuring the contamination before and after the improvements. Approximately 100 communities in Michigan are covered under similar grants.