Raccoons are teaching Bay City residents how to responsibly recycle

The raccoons in the campaign remind people what can and cannot be recycled in the city-provided curbside bins.This spring, raccoons in Bay City shed their reputation for rifling through the trash and instead took responsibility for educating humans about recycling.

Bay City is one of several Michigan communities awarded funding through the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to use the cleverly-named rodents in an public education campaign, which includes a website, billboards, and social media posts.

In 30-second commercials, Gladys Glass, Paper MacKay, Nyla P. Lastic, Carlos Cardboard, Precious Metale, and Frank, are caught sorting through a recycle bin picking out things that shouldn’t be there.

The goal of the lighthearted campaign is to teach people the best ways to recycle.
City Parks and Sanitation Manager Tim Botzau says the effort started nearly a decade ago under then-Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder wanted to expand recycling across the state and in June of 2019, his administration announced a $15 million recycling education fund.

Early in 2020, ads were set to run in communities including Bay City. That was until the pandemic hit.

“The whole funding source from EGLE was put on pause,” Botzau says, adding that when COVID hit the state put a hold on spending that wasn’t considered essential. So, the ad campaign and all the educational efforts went into storage until about two months ago.

In its press release announcing the ad campaign, EGLE Materials Management Division Director Jack Schinderle says the agency wants to teach people to “recycle better.”

Bay City celebrates Earth Day with several events, including an opportunity to drop off recyclables that can’t be collected in the curbside bins.It isn’t that people aren’t recycling, but need some education about what goes into the curbside bin and what should be recycled in other ways.

That’s where the raccoons come in, Botzau says. In 30 seconds, the precocious critters tell residents about washing out containers and what should and shouldn’t go curbside.

For example, television sets put on the curb can’t be recycled. Instead, the city suggests donating old electronics or taking them to designated centers. The city’s website includes a Re-Directory that offers options for safely disposing of common items. If you do put a TV, for example, on the curb, it ends up in the landfill, where it becomes a contaminant. Contamination from landfills is so environmentally hazardous, Botzau says, that oftentimes the properties become toxic and require expensive remediation. He says recycling has a cost, but it is far less than the cost of cleaning up the environment.

The educational and marketing campaign is designed to help get the word out that Bay City takes recycling seriously and is working to make it a priority. He says along with the educating local residents about what they can put at the curbside, the campaign will also allow the city to draw attention to the local drop-off center, 2900 N. Water St.

One category of recyclables is emphasized. Botzau says it’s important that people know they can recycle so-called “tanglers,” and other materials that simply cannot be put out at the curb.

“Tanglers are things that do just that. In the processing equipment at the (recycling center) it tangles in the equipment and they have to shut the line down.” Botzau says so hoses, cables, or even Christmas lights are recyclable, just not at the curb.”

Other common household items such as paint, polystyrene, and electronics can be recycled, during the upcoming Earth Day events on April 24.

Over the past few years, the city also been working with the local schools to talk to students about recycling.

“We’re strong believers in that kids will get parents to recycle, and at least they will recycle when they’re old enough to. That’s something really rewarding and is something luckily that the city has allowed us to do the last couple of years. It’s made great partnership with the schools,” Botzau says.

“We’re trying to be more and do more,” Botzau says, adding that the recycling campaign is just a piece of the puzzle for recycling in Bay County. “As of February of this year, every township and city in Bay County now has organized collection for recycling.”

He says that effort took some time, but he thinks it helped the city land the EGLE grant. It also set Bay County up as a recycling hub for the state and as an example of how a community can make a strong effort to be environmentally responsible.

“I’m a true believer in if we’re going to try to do something, we want to do it right. We’re engaged, and we’ve done a little bit of an industry change ourselves.”