What Do I Do With That? Check RAA’s A-Z Zero Waste Guide

You care about living sustainably, and it’s a simple habit to recycle everyday items like bottles, cans, and paper in your curbside bin. You don’t like to dump stuff in the trash if you can avoid it, and you want to see our society create less waste--or, even better, none at all. Perhaps you’re thinking about new ways to reduce and reuse before you recycle, too.

As items come in and out of your life, you have questions. Does a burned out light bulb have to go in the trash? When I need new jeans, what can I do with my old pair, and is there anything I might think about when I’m buying a new one? And just to be sure, I can recycle my bottle caps, right?*

Maybe you already know that you can find many answers in one place online. Launched in 2016, Recycle Ann Arbor’s searchable A to Z Recycling Guide catalogues the best local disposal answers for hundreds of items, from aerosol cans and artificial Christmas trees to vegetable oil and wire hangers.

That guide is about to get even better with a major facelift and expansion in scope.

Recycle Ann Arbor just earned a Sustaining Ann Arbor Together Grant from the City to transform the current recycling guide into a comprehensive A-Z Zero Waste Guide.

More items will join the catalogue, along with zero waste suggestions, recycling tips, and composting instructions. The guide will expand its current focus from RAA and City of Ann Arbor sites and services to include a wider range of diversion methods and sites, listing differentiated information based on geographic regions.

The  A-Z Zero Waste Guide will also see upgrades to functionality, including a new means for anyone to ask questions and submit ideas for further improvement. An embedded feedback form on the site will allow users to let RAA know about further items they’d like to see on the guide, to recommend updates to existing entries, or to suggest ways to make the guide more accessible.

The project dedicates funding to offer both the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County access to an embedded widget version of the A-Z Zero Waste Guide for their websites. And, a Google Ads campaign will further help drive traffic to the guide to increase its use.

Creating the Zero Waste Guide from the current Recycling Guide will be a community effort, uniting a task force of volunteers, interns, and RAA staff. The task force will evaluate current content and benchmark other recycling and zero waste resources to propose upgrade suggestions. Volunteers will also help raise awareness of the Guide and educate their networks and the community about zero waste practices.

This community-anchored, education-oriented project matters because lack of understanding about what what can be reused, repurposed, recycled, and composted leads to unnecessary waste, both through landfilled garbage and recycling contamination. Community education requires sustained attention, especially since recycling technology advances and policy changes cause best practices to change from time to time and vary from place to place.

Michigan’s recycling rate is one of the lowest in the nation: 15% overall. Though nearly 90% of bottles with a deposit refund make it to recycling, only 2% of other returnables skip the landfill. Ann Arbor does better, but our city’s recyclable return rate has stagnated at only about 30% for the last six years; the City had aimed to reach a 40% target by two years ago.

City of Ann Arbor Environmental and Energy Commissioner and Executive Policy Advisor for Sustainability John Mirsky praises RAA’s project as a tactically smart response to this problem and as highly valuable to the City and the region, calling it “an excellent, expert-led, volunteer-supported approach to upgrade the current Guide” [with a] high value proposition given the project’s likely benefits in relation to its low cost.” Furthermore, “the proposed Zero Waste Guide will become an even greater asset to the region and its residents,” he says, “under the scenario where Ann Arbor joins the Washtenaw County Regional Resource Management Authority.”

The updated and expanded guide is scheduled to go live by the end of this year.


*Oh, and if you were were wondering about RAA’s answers to the questions in paragraph two? Here are some of the kinds of information you’ll find on the A-Z Guide, either now or later this year:


  1. Incandescent bulbs do need to go in the trash, but you can take a flourescent or LED light to the RAA Drop-Off Station. Incandescents are less efficient, too, so phasing them out saves energy and money as well as landfill waste.

  2. Lots of great brick and mortar and online thrift stores take clothing in good condition, and some retailers will give even give you discounts on new jeans if you bring in torn or stained denim to be recycled. As you search for your new pair, avoid fast fashion and opt for a quality piece that will see many years of wear. Try shopping secondhand, or look for retailers who are serious about their environmental impact.

  3. Yes, you can recycle bottle caps in Ann Arbor. Not all recycling facilities can accommodate these, but our city’s processor can. Just put the cap back on your glass, plastic, or metal bottle once you’ve made sure the bottle is clean.

Published on May 30, 2019