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Protecting Michigan’s Future

The state of Michigan has long been touted as “Pure Michigan,” to attract tourists and visitors by sharing the beauty that is the Mitten State. Yet, with a recycling rate of 15 …

The state of Michigan has long been touted as “Pure Michigan,” to attract tourists and visitors by sharing the beauty that is the Mitten State. Yet, with a recycling rate of 15 percent as compared with the national average of 35 percent, the state is ramping up its efforts to keep Michigan pure for future generations to enjoy. 

Statistics show that Michigan ranked 41 out of the contiguous 48 states and is 26th in its rate of recycling efforts in 2012, and since that timeframe has been struggling to make an improvement in those numbers. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was quoted to say that the failure was “probably one of the most disappointing initiatives in my time as governor.”

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Recycling and Waste Minimization Specialist Katie Venechuk recently pointed out that Michigan throws away about 49 billion cubic yards of trash annually. However, around 40 percent of that is likely recyclable with around 35 percent being compostable.

It’s not like we haven’t been trying to make improvements. As far back as 2012, Snyder proclaimed a statewide plan as part of his special message, “Ensuring Our Future: Energy and the Environment,” to help increase Michigan’s recycling rate in several ways, such as providing better access to residential recycling. He also appointed a nine-person team as a Michigan Recycling Council to lead the plan’s implementation. The plan, according to Snyder, was to put the state on the right path to keep with Michigan’s “strong tradition of protecting and enhancing its environment.” 

The plan had four main points: to measure the progress and find a better method of tracking recycling in the state; to set up public education and technical assistance for cities and communities; to provide more convenient access to a recycling program for communities; and to develop markets for the recycled products via financial incentives, such as grants.

Forty-five stakeholders, along with the DEQ, drafted the plan. Stakeholders included businesses such as landfill operators, waste haulers, grocery stores, recycling plants, manufacturers, bottling companies, etc. At the time, DEQ Director Dan Wyant touted the plan as a way to keep “Pure Michigan” pure.

The DEQ was charged with coming up with a statewide recycling plan and helping discussions with stakeholders to determine what types of things would help drive a successful program. It was agreed that the state needed to not only measure its recycling efforts, but it also must educate its citizens on why and how to do recycling, as well as give them a convenient place to do it, and to also grow markets for recycled materials.

Two years later, the newly formed plan was formally announced by the governor in April 2014. Appropriated by Snyder’s fiscal year 2015 budget, $1 million and a half-million in grants were provided to DEQ to support local recycling programs.

Since then, several other measures continue to be enacted or proposed to help boost the state’s recycling rate. These include:

  • Senate Bill 507, which became law in March 2016, created a standardized system to report the amount of recycled material and provided for data collection to help the DEQ to create a baseline state recycling rate. It also requires yearly registration of the businesses that recycle specific kinds of material and measures how much materials were separated from home and business garbage.
  • House Bill 5486: Michigan does quite well with bottle deposits, with statistics showing a 90-98 percent return rate. Bottles make up 2 percent of the recyclable materials in the state, which also include plastic, metal, paper, glass and organic materials. In January 2018, Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) sponsored the bill that would modify the current beverage containers law, first enacted in 1976, to include bottled water and all types of beverages sold in metal, glass or plastic bottles, with the exception of milk products. The bill is currently with the Michigan House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Dumping Fee: Earlier this year, Snyder proposed an increase in the present dumping fee at landfills from 36 cents a ton to $4.75, which would bring in nearly $80 million to help enhance the state’s recycling efforts and waste management initiatives. Considering that some states in the Midwest charge up to $13 a ton, the proposed hike would not
    be unprecedented.
  • House Bill 5485 was introduced in January 2018 by Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) that would help boost recycling efforts by requiring apartment buildings to provide recycling containers or services to their renters.

Additionally, according to Matt Fletcher, recycling and marketing development specialist at the DEQ, other things being considered to help boost recycling efforts include updating Michigan’s solid waste laws, increasing efforts to get recycled materials turned into other reusable new products, emphasizing campaigns to educate people on why recycling is so important, ensuring the state lead the efforts by showing a good example and securing more long-term funding.

Some of the ways these efforts are being put into place are by encouraging more curbside recycling bins and recycling drop-off places in Michigan communities, educating local governments on best practices in managing waste materials and looking at the state’s regulations and enforcement policies in order to ensure businesses follow the existing state mandates. 

Why bother with recycling, especially since the cost to use landfills is not currently expensive and recycling itself is not free? The reality is, recycling is vital for several reasons besides dumping less trash into our ever-filling landfill spaces, which recent information says will be filled within the next 27 years. 

According to data, it can do things such as provide new jobs in material processing fields, give the farmers a natural, non-toxic enhancer for the soil and supply the state with raw materials for local production of products made from recycled trash. And don’t forget the fact that by recycling, we are making our state better for ourselves and future residents.

All in all, Michigan is striving to reach the goal of recycling 30 percent of recyclable materials by 2025.  However, meeting this goal requires ongoing funding, participation and support. These issues and more will be discussed at the 36th annual conference at the Kalamazoo Radisson from May 15-17, which is hosted by the Michigan Recycling Coalition

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