By Mackenzie Davis
More than 22 million pounds of plastic is littered into the Great Lakes every year. In 2019, only 14.25% of recyclables were actually being recycled in Michigan. With education and projects aimed to help our environment, Michigan raised this number to 19.3% in 2022.
For student Wilson Onderko at Grand Rapids Community College some plastics are not as simple as throwing it in the right bin.
“The iffy one that I don’t know about, because Michigan is weird with their laws on recycling, is plastic bags,” said Onderko, 19. “… but I know you can bring一say if you have Meijer bags 一 you can bring them back to Meijer.”
Caleb Lee, 18, of Grand Rapids, had a broader question about the limits of recycling with our everyday waste products. “I guess what is recyclable?” Lee said. “I’ve heard things with like food on them are not recyclable.”
What students don’t know is that figuring out their questions can be as simple as clicking on a link. A website created by Kent County Department of Public Works contains a waste and disposal directory that gives information on numerous items and how they can be recycled. Below are some of the most popular items of confusion for proper disposal:
Plastic bags including plastic shopping bags, recycling/trash/garbage bags, produce, snack, food storage and any bag made from flexible soft plastic does not go into your recycling bin. Participating stores who are willing to collect these bags have drop off locations to drop these plastics off. Every Mejier store has bins in the front vestibules for these types of plastics so instead of tossing your grocery bags you can return them in store.
Other hard plastics stamped with the recycling symbol 1-5 and 7 can be rinsed and thrown in the recycling. Foam plastics like egg cartons, packaging peanuts, styrofoam, rinsed meat trays and bubble wrap with the number 6 must be recycled at places such as Arvron, Atlas EPS, and Michigan Foam.
Numbers on the bottom of these plastics allow companies to sort items correctly. By looking at these numbers it can be determined if an item is recyclable. Most programs in Michigan accept all numbers besides 6 which is styrofoam and other film plastics.
Batteries that are rechargeable contain heavy metals and can be recycled at locations such as Allendale True Value, Batteries Unlimited and Best Buy. Alkaline batteries can be thrown away in your curbside trash.
Cleaning products are accepted for safe disposal or reuse through programs such as In the Image, Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan or through the Kent county SafeChem program.
For Cardboards and Paper make sure to remove plastic strapping, bags, packaging or foam from paper containers. If cardboard is bigger than a 2-foot square, it is advised to make it smaller and any envelopes with plastic windows are acceptable.
Recycling can seem like a daunting task for students with busy lives but to Onderko it has now turned into an easy habit.
“Honestly just do it,” Onderko said. “It’s a lot easier and you just start doing it without even thinking about it once you get into the rhythm of doing it.”