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Michigan Launches Campaign To Boost Recycling

Reginald Hardwick
recycling bins on the campus of Michigan State University

Michigan on Monday launched a $2 million educational campaign aimed at boosting the state's low recycling rate and cutting the amount of materials improperly left in curbside bins.

Know It Before You Throw Campaign: TV ads, billboards & website, Goal: double recycling rate to 30% by 2025

Just 15% of solid waste is recycled in the state, which is lowest in the Great Lakes Region despite Michigan's 10-cent bottle-return law. Officials said a contributing factor is people mistakenly trying to recycle plastic bags and not rinsing their plastics, glass and metal — leading to contamination that makes materials unrecyclable and increases costs for local governments.

Jack Schinderle, materials management division director at the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said half of residents believe they can recycle plastic bags curbside, but most municipalities prohibit it. Three-quarters are unaware that not rinsing and drying items puts them at risk of contaminating everything else in bins.

"This is the first-ever statewide effort to inform and instill confidence in people in how to recycle," he said during a news conference at a city of Lansing recycling facility.

Recycling Advice: Rinse and dry all plastics, glass and metal before recycling it & do not try to recycle plastic bags, which is prohibited by most municipalities.

The "Know It Before You Throw" campaign includes TV ads, billboards and a website . The funding comes from $15 million in new, permanent annual recycling funding that was approved by lawmakers and former Gov. Rick Snyder late last year. The state had been spending $1 million or $2 million a year. The goal is to double the recycling rate to 30% by 2025.

Michigan Recycling Coalition Executive Director Kerrin O'Brien described the initiative as a "laser-focused educational effort," noting that it is not uncommon for people to place their recyclables in plastic bags that gets caught in machines and increase costs. Not washing a peanut butter container, she said, can cause contamination.

"Really it's helping people get clear that what we're trying to produce here are marketable commodities that will be bought by an end user, and if it's contaminated in these many ways, it's more difficult for them to use it," O'Brien said.

This is the first-ever statewide effort to inform and instill confidence in people in how to recycle - Jack Schinderle, Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy

U.S. recycling programs have been disrupted by China's halt on imports of lower-grade recyclables . Without a market for low-grade, mixed recyclables, some communities have scaled back or suspended curbside recycling programs. Recycling officials said Michigan recyclables can still be valuable globally and can be used in domestic markets, but they must be of higher quality.

"The effort here is really to make it less costly for communities to recycle and to improve the end product so more end users will get on the bandwagon of using those recycled commodities in their own products," O'Brien said.

Michigan's new funding also will be used to support local planning and to help governments and for-profit companies develop recycling markets.

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