The Rapidian Home

State economy loses $435 million to landfill

Due to a lack of community participation in recycling, the governor has developed a recycling initiative to increase residential recycling access statewide.
Daniel Schoonmaker, director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum board

Daniel Schoonmaker, director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum board /Alex Paolella

Resources for recycling:

The state of Michigan is lagging behind national averages in recycling, with only 15% of residents recycling as compared to the national average of 35%. Governor Rick Snyder has created a proposed plan of action with the objective to double Michigan’s recycling rate in two years. The plan was discussed at a recent luncheon hosted by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) at the Grand Rapids Brewery on Monday, Feb. 9.

The 15-point plan focuses on public education and technical assistance for communities, providing convenient access, measuring and documenting progress and developing markets. The governor has created a recycling council with nine members to help accomplish the plan.

“Michigan has a strong tradition of protecting and enhancing its environment,” says Snyder. “But when it comes to recycling, we must do better. Michigan trails other Great Lakes states and much of the nation in residential recycling. It’s a complex challenge but one that we can address. This plan puts us on the right path.”

The WMSBF luncheon on the governor’s recycling initiative was hosted by New SoilGreener Grads and BarFly Ventures. Matt Flechter, state recycling market development specialist at Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), presented the initiative.

Dr. Oz asked former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson what’s the biggest thing people can do to protect the environment. She said if we could get to a higher recycling rate, we would have a cleaner environment, we would save water and energy and we would create millions of jobs because recycling itself would become a supply chain,” Flechter says.

Flechter says the recycling supply chain is broken because there’s not enough material coming from homes into recycling facilities. The MDEQ specialist also says there needs to be a focus on building infrastructure on the local level, from education campaigns to increasing participation in the existing collection programs.

“We have a huge opportunity here to grow Michigan’s economy by having stronger recycling programs,” Flechter said. “When you see recycling bins, think of it as a home grown jobs program, an environmental program and a water program all in one.”

New Soil and Greener Grads are examples of businesses in Michigan that are working to increase recycling rates.

Brian Smith of New Soil, an organic hauling service part of the company Arrow Waste, helps companies with zero waste, which means reducing waste to 10% or less. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 89% of the waste that we generate could be recycled or composted but we only do about one-third of that amount.

“The most important part of my job is training and education. It’s having conversations with people about waste and making decisions that make sense from a sustainability perspective,” Smith says.

The number one material that goes into our landfills and incinerators is food, Smith says, so he says we need to shift the idea of food being waste to food being a resource.

Seth Yon, founder of Greener Grads, is working to have graduation gowns rented and reused as many times as possible before recycling them for other products. The gowns are made of polyester, which is petroleum based and does not break down. Yon, who used to work for the graduation industry, says the industry calls gowns “keepsake items”, but more often than not they end up in landfills.

Within one year, Greener Grads has partnered with schools like Aquinas CollegeKendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University and Grand Valley State University. They have also partnered with k-12 districts, universities, environmental organizations and Goodwill locations in 20 states. 

A part of the plan to increase the recycling rate is by sharing business practices and encouraging regional collaboration. The Governor’s Recycling Summit, which will be on May 5 at the Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center, will focus on Michigan recycling priorities, award organizations that are making progress and report on current research.

The Michigan Waste Characterization and Valuation Study, a project of the WMSBF Solid Waste Task Force, aims to identify what things are being thrown into landfills in West Michigan. They will use the data to discover the economic value of the items and have Michigan State University run a statistical analysis. The goal of the project is to determine how realistic the $435 million value is and how long it would take to see the returns.

In the WMSBF meeting Flechter discussed reusing recycled materials for new products and Daniel Schoonmaker, director of the WMSBF board, says this is key to success. Schoonmaker said the easiest way to increase the recycling rate would be to create less total waste.

“What I can’t emphasize enough is what’s really important in making recycling successful in Michigan is going to be developing market streams for recycle commodities. Otherwise, all you’re doing is stockpiling trash until you can find an alternative for it and generally that doesn’t work out very well,” says Schoonmaker.

More information on the governor’s recycling initiative can be found on the MDEQ website.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.