Recycling Made Easier

  • The Environment Report

No more sorting…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Let’s be honest. Recycling can be a pain. Sorting out the glass from the plastic from the paper… takes a lot of time. But some communities in Michigan have switched to recycling you can do with your eyes closed. It’s called single stream recycling.
An animated video explaining single stream
Single stream in Grand Rapids
Midland goes single stream


You can just toss everything into one cart… and your city’s new recycling facility sorts it for you.

At least 25 communities in Michigan already have this system. It’s rolling out this summer in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Midland. And it’s coming soon to Lansing.

Curt Curavo manages the Materials Recovery Facility in Ann Arbor. He says the new system uses machines and people to sift through the materials.

“If you’re a kid and you go to the beach and you’re playing with the sifters, making sandcastles and as you go through you want the smaller sand to go in one direction, larger granules in another, rocks in a third, and that’s essentially what we do.”

The system uses optical scanners – devices that scan the belt to sort materials. Then the machine shoots a blast of air to blow plastic bottles up onto a different belt and separate it from the paper.

(Sound under…)

Experts say this kind of system increases how much a city recycles… and saves on landfill fees.

Jim Frey is a recycling consultant with Resource Recycling Systems and he’s been involved with implementing these new systems throughout the Midwest.

I asked him what this’ll mean for homeowners:

“Communities across the country that have done this double, triple the amount of recycling they do at the home. Amongst the things here locally, that you’ll be able in the Ann Arbor area to recycle, is you’ll be able to add large plastic containers – this will be kitty litter buckets, five-gallon pails, plastic furniture that’s been broken, along with what we call all plastic bottles along with plastic containers, except for Styrofoam and number three – what happens is when you add all those things up, as much as three quarters, 75 percent, of what your home generates, probably can go in your recycling bin.”

So in Ann Arbor, with this new system, you’re actually going to be rewarding people for recycling. How is this going to work?

“So the citizen, the household, will have their cart and their cart actually has a small identification chip on it that recognizes when that cart is actually being moved by the truck and each recycling event then becomes recorded and it then allows the householder to earn points. Then you can reimburse those points for gift cards that you essentially have the range of thousands of different options. The value for a home on an annual basis can be anywhere on average anywhere from about 240 dollars to as high as over 500 dollars a year. Most families would like that.”

If my community doesn’t have single stream recycling, how do I get it?

“Fortunately, as more of these recycling facilities are developed across the country and across Michigan, many communities will be able to say ‘where’s the nearest one?’ And once they find out where that facility is they can actually contract directly with that facility to take their recyclables there and we actually encourage that because one of the things that does is it allows that facility for years and years and years and years and years and years to be the place where all of your recyclables go. So most places in the southern part of Michigan have a place where they could make arrangements to take their curbside recyclables to and that’s really what Michigan needs to do across the state.”

Jim Frey is a recycling consultant with Resource Recycling Systems. Thank you so much for your time.

“It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.”

You can see a behind-the-scenes video of single stream recycling at environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Thanks to Suzy Vuljevic for her help with this story.