Michigan Recycling Guide

Confused about what to do with everything from plastic bags to old computers? This cheat sheet will help you properly recycle Michigan’s most commonly misunderstood materials

When it comes to recycling, Michiganders have a long way to go.

According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), half of all residents believe that plastic grocery bags can be recycled (they can’t), and more than three quarters are unaware that putting an unwashed container into a recycling bin can contaminate everything else in there.

What’s more, Michigan’s recycling rate is 15% — the lowest in the Great Lakes region. Thankfully, there are efforts underway to change those statistics. In January, Michigan was awarded a $1 million grant to enhance recycling efforts statewide, a program partially funded by EGLE, national nonprofit the Recycling Partnership and the PepsiCo Foundation. The initiative aims to double the state’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025, with an ultimate goal of 45%.

In the meantime, you can do your part to help with our handy cheat sheet on how to recycle the most commonly misunderstood materials.

Plastic Bags

Controversy over single-use plastic bags aside, they don’t belong in your roadside recycling bin. Some stores, like Kohl’s or Kroger, offer bins where shoppers can discard their plastic shopping bags to be recycled. Another option: Reuse the bag as a trash-can liner.

Food Containers

When it comes to recycling food containers, the cardinal rule is to rinse them out first. Because food residue leads to bacteria growth, plopping an unwashed jar of, say, peanut butter into your recycling bin can contaminate everything else in there.


Need to release some steam? Take it out on your cardboard boxes, which must be broken down and flattened in order to be recycled. Items that held food — think greasy pizza boxes — aren’t accepted, but containers that didn’t come in direct contact with any edibles, like cereal boxes, are generally OK. One caveat: Many programs also accept juice or milk cartons; check with your local recycling program.


Rules vary by program, but in general, skip the paper towels, tissues (ew!) and napkins. Ditto for items with plastic coatings, like coffee cups and receipts. Don’t skimp on the newspapers, magazines and actual paper — even if it has staples or paperclips.


Cans and lids are welcome, but wire hangers and construction materials like nails and screws are not. (Take them to your local recycling center or a scrap-metal yard.)


Wondering what to do with that ancient laptop? Bring it to Best Buy or Staples — most locations offer recycling programs. As for batteries and lightbulbs, find a mail-in program to send them to (try Big Green Box or Battery Solutions), or take them to your nearest Batteries Plus Bulbs store.

For more information, visit recyclingraccoons.org or Michigan.gov/egle.

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