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Ideas kept getting dumped into the proverbial trash bin for weeks.

But leaders of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) knew immediately when they had finally recruited the perfect spokesperson for the state’s first-ever “Know It Before You Throw It” campaign to increase and improve recycling.

Turns out, the best person for the job of promoting the Know It Before You Throw It campaign isn’t a person at all.

It’s a raccoon – six of them, to be precise.

“As soon as we saw these adorable little creatures, we recognized instantly we had discovered the messengers to best help us educate the Michigan public on the do’s and don’ts of recycling,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark.  

The Michigan Recycling Raccoon Squad features six “talking” raccoons that each focuses on a particular recyclable:

  • Nyla P. Lastic (plastic)
  • Carlos Cardboard (cardboard)
  • Precious Metale (metal)
  • Paper MacKay (paper)
  • Gladys Glass (glass)
  • Frank (everything else)

The raccoons’ “personalities” match their specialties – reflected by the purple mohawk on Precious, for example – and their goal is to help Michigan residents grow knowledge to improve their recycling habits.

“The current recycling rate in Michigan is just 15% – that’s the lowest rate in the Great Lakes, and among the lowest in the country,” said EGLE Materials Management Division Director Jack Schinderle.

“Our objective is for Michigan to reach a rate of 30% by 2025, and to ultimately reach 45% annually. The Know It Before You Throw It campaign is key to getting the word out about good recycling practices.”  

A few simple rules.

The Know It Before You Throw It campaign is part of a statewide recycling education and engagement initiative designed to increase both the quantity and quality of material that is recycled in Michigan.

Beyond preserving the environment, reducing energy use and conserving landfill space, improved recycling in Michigan can bring important economic benefits, according to the “Expanding Recycling in Michigan” report prepared for the Michigan Recycling Partnership.

Achieving EGLE’s 30% recycling goal would produce as many as 12,986 jobs, which translates into an economic impact of up to $300 million annually.

“By learning a few simple rules, we can elevate our rate of recycling, expand the amount we recycle and help build stronger, more prosperous communities, which is a win-win-win for everyone,” Schinderle said.

It’s easy to remember many of the tips suggested by EGLE’s raccoon expert on recycling plastics – Nyla P. Lastic – on her webpage:

  • Rinse and empty all plastic containers. This means rinsing out containers so they are completely empty of food scraps, such as leftover yogurt, or liquids such as unused milk prior to tossing them in the recycling bin.
  • Check for the number on your plastic item to make sure it’s accepted where you live (1 and 2 are the most widely accepted).
  • Plastic food storage bags cannot be recycled.
  • Plastic straws are not accepted.
  • Never put recyclables in plastic bags – in most places plastic bags are not recyclable, but you can usually recycle them at grocery retailers such as Meijer, Kroger or Target.

Every municipality in Michigan has slightly different rules, however. Certain types of plastic accepted in one city aren’t necessarily accepted in another, so it’s important to routinely check with local officials about what’s permissible in individual communities.

Lights. Cameras. Raccoons.

One of the Know It Before You Throw It campaign’s highlights is a TV commercial featuring the Recycling Raccoons educating a homeowner on her recycling habits.

The 30-second ad quickly became a social media favorite after it was introduced on June 24 to Michigan audiences, generating nearly 4,000 positive reactions and 2,500 Facebook shares over its first two weeks.

“The popularity of Michigan’s Recycling Raccoon Squad is far surpassing EGLE’s expectations,” Schinderle said.

The ad has also inspired civic organizations and environmental advocacy groups across the state to invite EGLE representatives to bring the Know It Before You Throw It mascots’ message to their communities. EGLE staff members are receiving more Know It Before You Throw It event requests than they can schedule this summer, so they’re booking presentations through the fall, Schinderle noted.

The commercial was filmed on a makeshift set at a Lansing-area home with two professional raccoon “actors” – George and Boomer – EGLE hired to play the roles of all six squad members.   

“Boomer is very laid-back, so he was picked to play Nyla because he didn’t mind sitting in a plastic pool on an inflatable raft,” said Greg SmithAldridge, who served as animal wrangler for the shoot. Wranglers direct animal-actors to perform certain actions according to the script, similar to the duties of a movie director.

‘It’s easy to improve.’

“It’s all about making it fun for the animal and making sure they want to be there,” said SmithAldridge, who has previously worked on such Hollywood film productions as “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” and is currently engaged with a TV ad to sell season tickets for pro football’s Baltimore Ravens.

“You can’t convince a raccoon to do something if he doesn’t want to do it. At some point, he’s going to be just like, ‘OK, I’m done wearing these sunglasses.’”

SmithAldridge didn’t just help the raccoons with their behavior. He got a dose of positive recycling behavior modification himself and was surprised to learn plastic bags can clog the machines that sort recyclables.

“Just from looking at the script and being on set, I realized how bad my recycling habits were,” he said. “I’d been putting all my recyclables in plastic bags for years, but I didn’t know that was wrong. Since this Recycling Raccoons shoot, I’ve really changed up the way I do stuff at home and I realize that it’s really easy to improve.”

To learn more about the rules of recycling and meet the rest of the Recycling Raccoon Squad, visit RecyclingRaccoons.org.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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