Getting in Touch with Your Inner Hobo

:: A guide to recycling in Michigan ::

Michigan does a lot of things right. But I wonder if the powers-that-be get some twisted pleasure out of making us look like hobos. If you live in Michigan, you already know what I’m talking about. That’s right: recycling.

As I’m sure you know and are tired of hearing me say, I’m from California. In that highly regulated state, recycling is mandatory. You must separate your recyclables from the garbage or you will be fined, tarred and feathered, and shunned by the community. It’s unthinkable to not recycle in California. Everyone does it. There’s also a government-subsidized shaming program that keeps recycling participation high.

So you can imagine my discomfort when I moved to Michigan and saw people throwing away perfectly recyclable items. Paper, cans, bottles, plastics, compostable items…it was all going in the garbage. I found out that it costs money to recycle these things in Michigan. You have to pay for it, just like you pay for your garbage service. A lot of Michiganders are already short on disposable income, so I can see why no one is jumping on board with recycling out here.

If you’re invited to someone’s house in Michigan and you help clean up after dinner, you’ll see a lot of recyclables going into the garbage. And if you’re from California you’ll have a knot in your stomach and you’ll be watching for police choppers to fly in any minute, as if you were dumping oil into the ocean under cover of darkness. But then your hosts will confuse you by carefully rinsing and setting aside certain cans and bottles as if they were precious, endangered eagle eggs. Why? Because if your recyclables fit into several complicated parameters, then you can recycle them and get paid to do it.

If Michigan and California had a conversation about recycling, here’s how I imagine it would go:

CA: You don’t recycle?!

MI: Yes we do. We can recycle any glass bottle, plastic bottle, or aluminum can that once contained a carbonated beverage.

CA: You know, bottles and cans are still recyclable if they contained non-carbonated beverages. It doesn’t really matter what was IN the bottle.

MI: Yes it does matter. A bottle that touches water or lemonade is no longer recyclable. This is basic physics. Go back to school, you hippie.

CA: You’re an idiot.

MI: Also, cans and bottles must be in perfect condition, no dents. Bottles and cans that have been crushed, or even gently smooshed, are not recyclable.

CA: That’s not true…

MI: Zip it, hippie. This is our way. Another thing is the original label must still be on the bottle. If the label has slipped off, ripped off, or otherwise been damaged in any way, that bottle goes in the garbage.

CA: I don’t think you’ve really grasped the concept of recycling. The goal of recycling is to keep things OUT of the landfills, not add more to it.

MI: Shhh, it’s quiet time, California. No more talking. I almost forgot, here’s another thing — all caps must be removed before recycling, especially off plastic bottles. We throw all caps away in the garbage can conveniently located next to the recycling machines.

CA: Again, you’re throwing away perfectly good—

MI: Zip. It.

CA: Any other spectacularly stupid recycling rules you have?

MI: You can only recycle your bottles and cans at the store where you originally purchased them. Unless it’s a big brand name like Coca-Cola or something.

CA: I’m not even going to comment.

So as you can see, we have a lot of strange and logic-defying rules about recycling. But we get 10 cents for every bottle and can that CAN be recycled and embarrassingly, that’s enough incentive to get us to schlep huge, rattling bags of cans around to all the grocery stores we’ve visited in the past month to cash out. Here are some tips for successful recycling in Michigan:

*Collect your bottles and cans in an easily accessible place, like the kitchen counter. That way you can have a pile of clutter that attracts giant ants year-round.

*Don’t rinse or dry the bottles and cans ahead of time. You want to achieve a really robust, decaying smell. Like something sweet and sour and rancid all at the same time. Plus, you want that nice coating of sticky liquid all over your hands and car and clothes when you’re done recycling, to achieve the hobo look. Remember it’s not just a look, it’s also a smell.

*Wait until you have A LOT of bottles and cans to take in, so you can load up a heaping, overflowing grocery cart with your bags. If you’re going to look like a hobo, you need to really commit to it.

*Once you’ve pooled your recyclables into a big heavy garbage bag, throw it in the back of your car and drive around with it for about a month. The jingling and clanking coming from the back seat will give you a cheery feeling every time you stop too quickly or turn left.

*Don’t sort the bottles ahead of time. This will make things fun when you get to the recycling machines. You see, there is one machine for glass and another for plastic/metal. You’ll start out at the glass machine, receiving a cash voucher ticket when you’re done. Then you move over to the plastic/metal machine and get started there. But what’s this? You have more glass bottles hiding in the bag. Cash out of the plastic/metal machine and move back over to the glass machine. Toss in the few extra bottles and collect another voucher ticket. Move back to plastic/metal. Find some more glass bottles. Cash out. Move to glass machine, repeat. Instead of going to the register with only two voucher tickets, it’s much more exciting to have 12 tickets for tiny amounts like 30 cents each.

*Buy your drinks from many different stores all over town (and out of town!) so you can visit several stores during your recycling adventure. That will add to the fun. Why not make a day of it!

Happy Recycling!

Watch your fingers on this thing.
This bottle has ceased to be recyclable.
Garbage, according to Michigan.
The payout!

One thought on “Getting in Touch with Your Inner Hobo

  1. I’m sad I haven’t seen any updates! Hope all is well. P.S. Have you tried making vinegar? That’s my latest project in the works. 🙂


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