How well do the residents in your state do when it comes to recycling? In “The 50 States of Recycling: A State-By-State Assessment of Containers and Packaging Recycling Rates,” Maine and Vermont ranked the highest. They were followed by Massachusetts, Oregon, Connecticut, New York, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Michigan did well with a recycling rate of 48% for containers and packaging. It was far better than West Virginia’s 2%. Yet, the state still has room for improvement. That’s leading to an initiative to improve Michigan’s total recycling rate, which is at 15%. By 2025, the goal is to have the recycling rate double to 30% and then go up to 45% after that.

Each year, Americans throw away more than $11 billion worth of recyclable items. It takes plastics up to 500 years to decompose, and glass takes even longer, at up to 4,000 years. Why aren’t more people recycling? The leading answer is that recycling is too complex. One city takes items that another city doesn’t. If you live on the border of those two areas, it’s hard to know precisely what you should be doing. When you call and ask, you’re directed to an online guide, but that doesn’t answer your question. That’s why 90% of Americans say they’d recycle if it became easier to do.

While some recycling facilities in the U.S. have stopped accepting some recyclables during the pandemic, Michigan is ramping up. The state came up with a $97 million plan to improve recycling. The goal is to triple recycling rates. How is the state going to roll out the changes?

Different Grants Are Being Handed Out

The best way to improve recycling is to make it easier. If you have people recycling items, but the recycling facility can’t sell those recyclables, it creates a log jam. If the facility has to stop accepting a recyclable material, it ends up in the trash. To end problems like these, Michigan came up with a plan.

About $97 million in grant money is being distributed among different organizations across the state. The state is partnering with companies like Bank of America, Foodservice Packaging Institute, Goodwill, Keurig Dr. Pepper, and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. In all, more than three dozen companies are working together to help Michigan improve recycling rates.

One of the first projects is a partnership with Emterra Environmental. The company is helping construct a $9 million robotic recycling facility to serve Lansing and East Lansing. Once completed, the facility will handle the recyclables for close to 680,000 people. Recycled materials will go to Great Lakes Tissue, who will turn cardboard and cartons into toilet paper.

Emterra is also working on coming up with a way to get glass recyclables even cleaner. The goal is to increase the amount of recycled glass used to make new beverage containers and insulation.

Battery Solutions received a $75,000 grant to upgrade its battery recycling equipment. The U.S. company has recycled more than 178.9 million pounds of batteries in three countries. Another battery recycling company, Next Energy, received a $50,000 grant to develop an electric car battery recycling system.

GFL Environmental received a $100,000 grant to improve the technology used to recycle carts and cups.

Superstore chain Meijer is another company in Michigan that’s doing everything possible to increase recycling rates. In addition to having bins for recycling plastic wrap, plastic film, and plastic bags, the chain also recycles food waste for compost and animal feed. Drug take-back programs are also offered regularly.

MSU Recycling received a $170,000 grant to upgrade to robotic sorting equipment in its drop-off center. It also is improving the health and safety conditions for its many employees.

Finally, Vartega received a $100,000 grant to produce new thermoplastic products using recycled materials. Schupan received an even larger grant of $250,000 to add equipment that empties recyclable packaging before recycling it.

Those are some of the businesses and organizations that qualified for grant money. Several districts, cities, and towns also qualified. They include:

  • Alpena – $58,080 for recycling bins in city parks and government buildings
  • Detroit – $20,000 for more residential recycling containers
  • Emmet County – $150,000 to improve food scrap collection
  • Howell – $282,504 to improve drop-off sites in terms of health and safety and capacity
  • Huron-Clinton – $48,816 for bottle recycling bins in Metroparks
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community – $20,000 for improved cardboard and paper recycling
  • Marquette – $600,000 to Delta Solid Waste Management Authority for the district’s recycling facility improvements
  • Northeast Michigan – $55,000 to develop a recycling facility in that area
  • Northern Michigan – $75,000 to study organics recycling
  • Southwest Oakland County – $32,000 for upgrades to Novi drop-off sites
  • Three Upper Peninsula – $167,791 to the towns in that area for new recycling containers
  • Ypsilanti – $73,440 for new recycling containers in the city’s parks and downtown areas

Michigan’s “Know It Before You Throw It” Program

Michigan already has the “Know It Before You Throw It” program to help residents recycle as much as possible. The program has three easy steps.

  1. Break down and flatten cardboard
  2. Recycle glass, plastic, and metal containers after rinsing them out
  3. Do not put recyclables in plastic bags

That’s one of the biggest mistakes households make. They gather recyclables in plastic shopping bags or trash bags and place those into recycling containers. Plastic bags are not recyclable in a curbside system. You have to save them and bring them to a plastic film and plastic bag recycling bin.

Pay attention to your district’s rules. Each city or town has rules that are unique to that community. If you’re recently moved, the recycling rules you’re family with may have changed. For example, some towns in Manistee County allow glass bottles and jars, but not every community does.

Some cities and towns allow you to recycle shredded paper. If you shred your bills and medical paperwork when you get it, you may or may not be able to recycle them in your curbside container. Grand Rapids is one of the cities that does not allow curbside recycling of shredded paper. You are also not able to recycle hardcover books in the city’s paper recycling program.

In Lansing, you must write the word “SHRED” on any shredded paper you want to recycle. Plastic lids from yogurt containers are not allowed. If you put items that are not permitted in the city’s recycling program, the city may take away your recycling container.

In Emmet County, residents with curbside services use a dual-stream system. You have two bins. Into one, you put “Mixed Containers,” which are your plastic bottles, trays, jugs, jars, and tubs, juice boxes and milk cartons, metal cans and trays, and glass bottles and jars. The other contains your recycled “Paper Boxes and Bags. Into that container, put your newspapers and junk mail inserts, books and magazines, cardboard and other boxes, and plastic grocery bags and bread bags.

What do you do if something is recyclable, but your city won’t accept it in the curbside program. Set those items aside and bring them to a participating recycling facility. Enter your ZIP in Recycle Nation’s search tool and discover the closest locations to your home or business.