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Reggie the Recycling Raccoon says: Recycling is a product-driven market; you have the power to change the market

Courtesy photo. Reggie the Recycling Racoon.
Courtesy photo. Reggie the Recycling Racoon.

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Frank Hammer for the information in this column,)

Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) has two missions: the first is managing materials and finding buyers for them. The second is educating the community to increase the amount of recycling and to minimize the use of the non-recyclable products.

This week, Reggie points out how you, the consumer, can influence the recycling marketplace.

Recycling is gradually moving toward a self-sustaining service, but it’s not there yet. For example, a recent column explained how plastics “3 to 8 just don’t rate”, at least not at this time. Instead, these plastics add to the costs not the income of WWRA.

But, the good news is that you, the consumer, have the power to influence this market.

For example, many restaurants in Ann Arbor are using totally recyclable cardboard containers for takeout foods and “doggy bags”.  Not only can they be recycled, but also they can be used to reheat food in a microwave. (Reggie’s health tip: Never microwave food in Styrofoam containers because it releases Styrene, a potent carcinogen.)

So, why doesn’t every restaurant use those containers? It’s a matter of cost. It costs the restaurant owner about 40 times more for cardboard than for Styrofoam (e.g., the Styrofoam version of a take-home container is $.02, while the same size cardboard container runs between $.65 and $1.12)

Think of the last time your family brought home part of a meal to savor later—probably 4 or 5 containers in all. Ann Arbor eaters have shown a willingness to pay a bit more for their meals, so Ann Arbor restaurant owners build the cost into their pricing.

Courtesy photo. Cardboard containers.
Courtesy photo. Cardboard containers.

You can let your favorite Chelsea area restaurant know you would prefer to support recycling and are willing to absorb the price premium for takeout containers. Without knowing your preference, restaurant owners have little market incentive to change. (To illustrate the power of the marketplace, California banned Styrofoam takeout containers and the price offered by cardboard container suppliers, now competing for business with each other, is far cheaper in California than in Michigan.)

So, a letter to your state legislators requesting a change couldn’t hurt, either.

Some chain restaurants and franchise coffeehouses have taken it upon themselves to use recyclable materials. When you get a burger at Wendy’s, it arrives in a recyclable cardboard box. Biggby’s Coffee is served in a recyclable high-density paper container. Zou Zou’s also sells its coffee in recyclable containers. Plus, the community’s newest coffee vendor, Catered Coffee, made the decision to use the more expensive double-walled paper cups. Kudos to all these establishments.

These business decisions reflect the power of consumer and owner priorities for a cleaner world. Reggie recommends supporting these establishments and thanking them for using recyclable containers. Then once you’ve finished your food or coffee – remember to recycle the containers.

In a recent article on plastics, we explained the increasing use of #1 recyclable plastic, instead of Polystyrene, for large blister packs. That is a growing trend as companies desire to be “greener” with their products. Some organizations that provide processed meats have switched from Polystyrene to #2 plastic containers in a move to be greener as well.

Encourage your grocery store to find products in recyclable containers, thank them when they do, and then buy those products.

Because of your concerns, WWRA has done a lot of research on plastic bag recycling and found that a big-picture market force is beginning to emerge.  Many major grocery chains that purchase plastic bags by the truckload are responding to consumer concerns and beginning to require the supplier to pick up and return used bags. At that level of recycling, shredding and converting the bags to recyclable materials is cost effective.

So here’s a new Reggie Re-lert (that’s Reggie-talk for “alert”): You can now take those plastic bags back to the store from which you got them for recycling. There’s no need to trash them any more, but please, use the grocery store identified containers, not WWRA’s bins. And, be sure to thank the store managers for making this change.

This is an excellent example of how a product-driven market, the recycling industry, makes changes. This also shows how that market has ups and downs. WWRA keeps abreast of those changes, and will let you know how you can both help save taxpayer money, and protect our earth.

Keep reading this column each week, and check the WWRA website from time to time, for New Reggie Re-lerts.

Reggie update:  WWRA is working with Dart Container Corporation in Mason to establish a procedure for recycling clean, dry white Styrofoam but this change will require the cooperation of residents. Hopefully, a New Reggie Re-lert about this change will be coming soon.

Meanwhile, keep your questions and ideas coming.  For starters, let us know of any Western Washtenaw area eateries that use or have switched to recyclable take-home containers. Reggie will recognize each one with thanks, and spotlight those that make the change.

Reggie Raccoon’s Royal Recycling Review:

  • Recycling puts materials back into use; trash is for things that cannot be used again.
  • Flexible plastic of all kinds go in the trash, not in the recycling bins.
  • Styrofoam and Polystyrene are good for packaging, but have to go to the trash.
  • Plastics 1 and 2 can live anew, but 3 to 8 just don’t rate.
  • Most other plastics are recyclable—but never foam rubber, garden hoses, or flexibles.
  • Be a recycling consumer. Let businesses know you want recyclable containers and thank those establishments that provide them.

NEW Reggie Re-lert:

  • All plastic bags can now go back to their source — participating grocery stores.
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4 thoughts on “Reggie the Recycling Raccoon says: Recycling is a product-driven market; you have the power to change the market”

  1. Karla

    The articles are written to provide information about the marketplace and the comment about 3 through 8 plastics not have much of a market is a simple fact. However, WWRA is always trying to improve markets for our products and those plastics are no exception, thus rather than confuse everyone by dropping those plastics from our signage now and then….hopefully….finding a good market in a few months and changing the signage again, we are continuing to take the plastics. WWRA is striving to provide the service but letting everyone know the truth of the market.

    Thank you for reading the articles and asking the question.

  2. Jim

    We still take glass even though the market has fallen through the floor. What we would ask is the residents throw the glass into the bins that still have separate glass doors, colored and clear. If we could talk City of Chelsea residents to not put glass into the curbside carts but take it to the Old Manchester Rd. site, that would be fabulous.

    With Michigan’s governor trying to improve recycling, WWRA is pushing to get the state to buy and use a glass crusher that converts glass to sand, which then can be used on all kinds of projects. Whether or not anyone will listen is another question.

    Thanks for asking!

Comments are closed.

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