Going green just meant recycling newspapers, with glass and aluminum a close second and third.
With practically everything recyclable now, being a responsible recycler can be a bit of a buzz kill on your Up North getaway.
To help clarify, a few of Northern Michigan’s biggest recyclers gave us the lowdown on what to throw down those bins.
SO MANY QUESTIONS
Paper, metal, glass … so easy to sort, most of us recycle these automatically.
Plastic, on the other hand, throws a wrench in what’s obvious and what’s not.
Different recycling facilities take various types of plastics, numbers 1-7 plastics being the most common.
Grocery bags? Bread wrappers? Egg cartons? Drink boxes? Shrink wrap? It’s all up to the recycler.
And that’s only the beginning.
If there’s an item in question, the easiest way to find out what to do is to call the local facility and ask. Some of them even have hotlines.
Jayna Steffel works at the Emmet County Recycling Center in Harbor Springs, which also serves Petoskey and the surrounding area.
Those without curbside recycling service can still recycle, she said.
“We and other companies have what’s called ‘roll-offs’ - they’re like an enclosed dumpster - at lots of locations that are open to the public,” she said. “In Harbor Springs, ours are by the IGA; in Petoskey, they’re by D&W Market north, and Bed Bath and Beyond south. These are more than okay for the public to bring their recycling to.”
The most recycled item at the facility is corrugated cardboard.
“So many people are getting things shipped directly to their homes now,” Steffel said.
Electronics, though not obvious, can also be recycled. “Computers, old cell phones, appliances, and TVs … these are all recyclable, too,” she said.
Styrofoam, which often arrives right along with that overload of corrugated cardboard boxes, is another tricky material as far as recycling goes.
“Styrofoam is a raw form of plastic called polystyrene, and to truly recycle it, it has to be melted down into plastic beads,” said Steffel. “We don’t have the capabilities to do that, and we don’t accept Styrofoam because the place we would have to send it away to incinerates it, and that’s not recycling.”
The best thing to do with Styrofoam, Steffel said, is to contact a shipping company to see if they will take if off of your hands.
“From what I understand, Styrofoam packing peanuts are expensive, so it makes sense to see if they can be reused,” she said.
Before doing anything, check to see if the packing peanuts are made out of cornstarch, a biodegradable substance, Steffel said.
“[Run] a few of the peanuts under water,” Steffel said. “If they’re cornstarch, they should dissolve immediately, and you can just run them down your drain.”
DOS AND DON’TS
Traverse City’s American Waste takes care of recycling needs in the Grand Traverse region, east to Gaylord, north to the Charlevoix area, and west to Suttons Bay.
American Waste’s general manager, Mark Bevelhymer, said that he thinks better recycling awareness has to start with better recycling education.
“With all of our customers, we always send them a marketing piece that outlines recycling procedures,” he said. “People just need to be really aware of what they can and cannot do as far as recycling.”
That, he said, will enable them to be more efficient recyclers.
Once the “dos” are figured out, though, potential recyclers are left with the “don’ts,” of which there’s yet another lengthy list.
Bevelhymer said there are some major don’ts as far as American Waste is concerned.
“We can’t recycle rubber products such as tires, any household paints, or light bulbs,” he said. “These are considered hazardous, and must be recycled at a household hazardous materials center.”
COMPUTERS TO BICYCLES
In addition to local recycling centers, Goodwill locations are another great place to bring computers, as they offer free recycling.
Goodwill is also well known as the perfect destination for unused clothing, furnishings, and kitchen items.
But if it’s a bicycle you’re not sure what to do with, Traverse City’s Don Cunkle can help.
Cunkle is the director of TC’s Recyclea-Bicycle, which, in cooperation with the Traverse Area Recreational Trails program, saves bikes and helps people in the process.
Recycle-a-Bicycle will take “any bicycle that’s brought through the door,” Cunkle said.
If they can’t fix the bicycle back to working order, they’ll use parts from it to repair other bikes.
“It can take anywhere from one to 10 hours to refurbish a bicycle,” Cunkle said. “If it’s unfixable, we’ll take anything good from it – the chain, seat, pedals – and use it for parts, sending the leftover metals, such as steel or aluminum, to a metals recycler.”
The effort’s worth it, he said, because Recycle-a-Bicycle’s work can actually change lives. The organization give away 150 bikes or more each year, for free, to the homeless or financially disadvantaged.