Recycling Raccoons

The six-member Recycling Raccoon Squad. 

The furry varmints rummaging through recycle bins on a Michigan billboard and television advertising campaign since last summer have been elevated to national award-winning celebrities. 

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) public information campaign, titled "Know It Before You Throw It," was awarded Recycling Campaign of the Year. The award was bestowed by the Washington-based industry newsletter and magazine Waste Dive.

“The people and organizations that win the Dive Awards are trailblazers and leaders in their markets,” said Davide Savenije, editor-in-chief of Waste Dive's publisher Industry Dive. “Their achievements in 2019 are shaping the future of where the latest strategies and trends are going.”

The ads feature the six-member Recycling Raccoon Squad that, according to their own website, are “a highly motivated band of masked recycling experts who are going to help Michigan recycle better.”

The $2 million campaign also includes a pronounced digital social media presence and appearances on digital scoreboards at sporting events. EGLE Public Information Officer Jill A. Greenberg told The Center Square the marketing message is aimed at those who are already inclined to recycle, but might not be engaging in the practice properly.

“Many people wish to make a greater Michigan through recycling, but aren’t doing it in a dedicated way,” she said. “For example, a plastic yogurt cup is recyclable, but if it’s dirty it will contaminate all the other materials it’s mixed in with,” she said. “In that case, not only will the yogurt cup wind up in a landfill, so will everything else it’s disposed with.”

Greenberg also said the raccoons will be featured on the zamboni during breaks at Michigan State University hockey games and in print advertorials in the Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids markets. The campaign was developed by Lansing-based Gud Marketing.

According to the EGLE news release, the department has dedicated nearly $6 million to “double Michigan’s recycling rate to 30 percent by 2025 and ultimately reach 45 percent annually. Michigan’s current 15 percent recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes region and ranks among the nation’s lowest.”

The release continued: “The funding aims to improve recycling infrastructure and support development of emerging and new marketplace opportunities for recyclable materials in 16 counties covering every region of the state.”

Waste Dive noted the Michigan legislature increased EGLE’s budget this year to $15 million from $2 million the previous year.

Jason Hayes, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy environmental director, however, is skeptical about some of the claims made for increasing recycling.

“We have come to simply accept that recycling is a necessary and positive good, at all times,” Hayes told The Center Square. “That idea has been drilled into most of our heads since we were young.”

But Hayes noted that China has reduced the amount of recycled goods it is accepting from the U.S., which is changing the entire recycling market place.

“How much energy, time, effort and money is going into separating, cleaning, transporting and warehousing recycled goods?” Hayes asked. “We can certainly use market forces to encourage companies to design products with recycling in mind. But we should also remember that if it takes more energy, or actually does more environmental harm to reuse something, we may not want to go that route.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.