The University of Michigan collaborates with the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority to provide single stream recycling to the University community. Most of the plastic, paper, cardboard, and metal you use can easily be recycled here on campus, but there are some exceptions...
Starting January 2016, U-M suspended its glass recycling program and asked the U-M community to not place glass in the mixed recycling bins on campus. While glass is an easily recyclable material, the market for selling recycled glass has diminished in recent years. In response, the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority suspended its glass recycling program when the only option for glass was to send it to a landfill.
Wax Coated Cardboard
Wax coated cardboard is typically used for shipping food, because the wax coating repels water and prevents contamination and infestation. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove the wax from the cardboard. When this material is recycled, it produces a lower quality paper that is prone to breaking. While there are some municipalities that provide outlet for recycled wax coated cardboard, it is not provided at U-M.
Tip: Unsure if a box is wax coated? Try scratching the material, and if you feel the wax, then it's coated, if not, then the material is most likely shiny paperboard, which can be recycled!
Frozen Food Containers In Direct Contact With Frozen Food
Similar to wax coated cardboard, frozen food containers are made from cardboard coated in polyethylene, or a plastic coating. While this plastic coating helps with food storage by repelling water and preventing freezer burn, it cannot be removed from the cardboard to be recycled.
Tip: Ice cream containers and frozen spinach containers should go in the landfill bin.
Biodegradable plastic is perhaps the most greenwashed product on the market. Products made from biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled because of structural incompatibilities with all other types of plastic. What’s more, biodegradable plastics cannot be composted either. The term biodegradable is misleading because it implies that the plastic will break down over time, similar to compostables. However, unlike compostable materials, there is no standardized time range for biodegradables to break down in nor is there regulation of product labeling.
Tip: If you’re at a U-M hosted Zero-Waste Event, there’s no need to worry about the quality of plastic. All materials used at these events can be composted!
Knowing which items cannot be recycled on campus can help us reduce recycling contamination. Recycling contamination is the portion of non recyclable materials found in recycling. Reducing contamination helps to prevent unsafe working conditions for sorters, maintain the quality of our recyclables, and prevent damage to machinery.
The new standardized recycling labels on campus are an effort to reduce contamination rates by showing the U-M community exactly what should go into the recycling bin. So if the product you’re trying to recycle is not on the sign, place it in the landfill bin or contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions!
Find a complete list of recyclable materials and recycling outlets at recycle.umich.edu.