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What happens to the stuff you recycle?

13 ON YOUR SIDE stopped by the Kent County Recycling and Education Center for a look at their latest efforts to limit waste.

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — What actually happens to the materials you recycle? It’s a common question with an answer that’s ever-changing with advancements in technology.

13 ON YOUR SIDE stopped by the Kent County Recycling and Education Center for a look at their latest efforts to limit waste.

Micah Herrboldt is a waste reduction educator with the Kent County Department of Public Works. He said, “Paper, glass, metals and plastics, of course,” are the standard items that should go into your recycling bin, adding that, “the cleaner, the better,” when it comes to the condition that you put those items inside your bin.

These are all products that can often be repurposed into something new.

“You know that if you put that can or that bottle into your recycling bin that it will end up being a new product within the next few months and it’s not going to end up into a landfill,” said Herrboldt.

While there are many privately owned landfills, Kent County owns just one and it’s filling up.

Herrboldt explained that, “We have about seven years left of life on that landfill before it does, in fact, fill up.”

So, which items can be recycled? Kent County provides a guide online.

You can also go by what’s known as the resin code.

“Often times, people see that little symbol on a piece of plastic where it looks like the chasing triangles and it might have a number in it. That number is usually going to be a one, two, three, all the way up to seven. So, if it has that number on it then it’s probably okay for your recycling bin,” said Herrboldt.

Recycling batteries is always a no-no, according to Herrboldt.

“We have a decent amount of fires here at this facility, every year, because of batteries,” said Herrboldt who explained that, “Those shouldn’t go in your recycling bin, regardless. So, a rechargeable battery is actually a pretty valuable thing that if you take it to an electronics recycler, they’ll be able to recycle it and get some of those valuable metals out of it.”

He says standard alkaline batteries can go in the trash. He recommends that you put tape on the ends to minimize the risk of fire, but says there are no harmful materials that would make it necessary to keep alkaline batteries out of landfills.

Using a combination of humans and robots, Kent County sorts and separates recycled items that are then placed in one to two ton bales. Then, those bales are sold to vetted buyers who reuse the materials.

“These are examples of items that you would put into the recycling bin but also what they could be made into,” said Herrboldt, who showed us some examples of repurposed products.

He pointed out, “This is kitty litter here, we have like fire starters here and sometimes even bathroom tissue can be made out of paper products.”

Glass products, he said, “Those get broken down into another sand material again and can be made into a lot of different items – fiberglass.”

“Metals are kind of a recycler’s dream because they can be recycled as many times over as you would want,” said Herrboldt, before explaining that, “Often times, it’s just going to go back into another container.”

Herrboldt also told 13 ON YOUR SIDE that it’s not a bad idea to do you research as to whether a company actually recycles or uses recycled materials as it claims.

Individually, he says, it will take more than just recycling to make a difference. He encourages us to think about other ways, in our everyday lives, that we can prevent adding to the problem of waste. Are you making necessary purchases? What is the lifespan of the product you’re purchasing? Can that product be repaired? Are you taking home items just because they’re being handed out for free, but aren’t sure that you’ll ever really use them? Those are questions that Herrboldt says we should challenges ourselves with anytime we bring something home.

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