2005-05-20 / Columnists

Mackinac Islanders Good at Recycling, Reusing Items

Nature Notes By Patricia Martin

Last week I began writing about the importance of celebrating, or at least remembering, Earth Day every day, especially because we live on an island which is one of the most beautiful in the world. It is our job to preserve and protect the natural beauty of our Island for ourselves and our descendants and to be careful stewards of it for all of the visitors who come here.

“Reduce, recycle, and reuse” are the three “R’s” of environmentalists, or tree huggers, as I am often called. Last week I discussed a few ways (and there are many others) of reducing our use of energy, water, and toxic materials and this week will go on to the other two “R’s.”

Recycle and reuse are two things that most people at Mackinac are pretty good at, in part because we are an island. Getting rid of things is not as easy here as it is on the mainland. We can’t just fill up a pickup and drive it to a dump. One of the questions I get asked frequently by visitors is, “What do we do with our garbage?” About 15 years ago, the dump on Mackinac closed and the City of Mackinac Island had to come up with another way to deal with solid waste. At that time they instituted a program to reduce the amount of garbage being removed from the Island and dumped on the mainland. One way was to see if part of the trash could be sold to a recycling company. The citizens of Mackinac were asked to save out glass (except for blue bottles), plastic labeled #1, newspapers, and corrugated cardboard and place them in a recycle bin. Over the years the list has changed and now includes Styrofoam food containers, magazines, and a few others. For a complete list, check with the Mackinac Island Department of Public Works (DPW). Every two weeks the recyclables are collected by a horse-drawn dray. On the dray are a number of bins. The driver picks up the bin of recyclables, sorts them at your door, and then takes them to the recycling/solid waste center in the middle of the Island. When enough recyclables are collected, they’re shipped to a recycling plant on the mainland. In fact, as I write this it’s Wednesday, and the recyclable dray just picked up.

Other materials are recycled at the solid waste center. When a dray arrives at the center with a load of materials left over from a construction site, or from someone cleaning out trash from their house, any metals that can be recycled are removed, as are pieces of lumber. If no one scrounges the wood, it is eventually chipped up.

In Michigan we’re fortunate to have a can and bottle recycling law, which requires a 10-cent deposit to be placed on cans of pop and beer. If the cans and bottles are returned, the consumer gets the 10 cents back. This law has helped clean up many of our roadsides and parks, not only of cans and bottles, but also of other trash. I guess that if you’re keeping the pop cans from the picnic to turn in, you might as well save the garbage and dispose of it properly, too. Even if the person who buys the can of beer does throw it on the ground, most of the time some enterprising kid or worker will pick it up and turn it in. Oregon, Maine, New York, and a few other states have similar “bottle bills.” Unfortunately, the beer and pop companies spent huge advertising budgets in a number of other states to defeat comparable legislation. While the “bottle bill” is not perfect, it has been a step in the right direction.

Another step in the recycling process is to buy products that are made from recycled materials. Many greeting cards and other stationery are made from recycled paper. Most recycled products are clearly marked, so it’s a good idea to buy them in place of those from new materials whenever feasible.

Another way people on Mackinac have reduced the amount of solid waste leaving the Island for dumps is in the separation of their garbage. There are two colors of garbage bags at Mackinac, the white bags and the blue bags. White bags are biodegradable waste such as food waste (except bones), paper, etc. The blue bags are for waste that is not recyclable and not biodegradable. It is the blue bags that get shipped off the Island. Both the blue and white bags are purchased from the DPW, the blue bags costing twice as much as the white bags at $3 and $1.50 respectively. This means that it’s not only environmentally responsible but economically smart to separate the trash. Unfortunately, not everyone is doing their part to separate the garbage, or not separating it properly. I would like to encourage all the businesses and residents to do their part and instruct employees and household guests in the art of trash separation. It’s important.

When the white bags reach the solid waste facility they’re opened and further sorted. It is then composted along with yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) and the biggest component, horse manure. With more than 500 horses on the Island at the height of the summer, there’s a lot of the stuff. At the solid waste center the manure is mixed with the rest of the biodegradable material. It is allowed to compost, being turned over periodically. When it’s ready, the compost is sold back to gardeners for use on their lawns and vegetable and flower beds. Around here we joke that we pay to have the stuff taken away and we pay to get it back. I would like to encourage the city to continue the composting program and perhaps investigate some of the new products on the market for making composting quicker and less smelly by adding a mixture of microbes especially concocted to break down manure. It might be a good idea to at least experiment with it.

There are many other ways to reuse existing materials. If you don’t want something, someone else might have a need for it. In the case of clothing, swapping parties and rummage sales are popular. If that doesn’t work, send it to Goodwill or other used clothing charities. If I can’t sell a large item, like cabinets or furniture, I put a sign up in the post office letting people know that they’re available if anyone wants to pick them up, and there almost always seems to be someone who can use them. There are simple ways of reusing items. Take bailing twine. I have a horse that eats a considerable amount of hay. I use the bailing twine from the hay to tie up the cardboard for recycling, tying up my hollyhocks in the garden, and for many other things.

I could go on and on and you probably have a ton of ideas of your own to help protect our special Island. One simple thing I encourage everyone to do is to take a bag with them when you walk in the woods to pick up trash that people have dropped. It’s a little thing, but little things help and while you’re at it, hug a tree.

P.S. For those of you who haven’t been out in the woods, the spring flowers are up. The trillium are opening, along with trout lilies, hepatica, spring beauties, and toothworts, and the warblers are back.

Trish Martin is a year-around resident of Mackinac Island, has earned a master’s degree in botany from Central Michigan University, and owns Bogan Lane Inn.

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