Can Michigan significantly increase plastics recycling?

Can Michigan significantly increase plastics recycling?

By Bobby Elliott, Plastics Recycling Update

April 17, 2014

Despite having one of the lowest state recycling rates in the country, Michigan is attempting to reinvent itself as a trendsetter when it comes to recovering plastics and other materials.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled an ambitious plan this week to double the current municipal solid waste recycling rate by 2017 through a series of recycling-focused initiatives.

"States with healthy recycling programs have found that, in addition to reducing pressure on landfills and helping the environment, recycling creates jobs and opens markets for recovered materials," Snyder stated. "We’ve been throwing away money for decades. Addressing this issue is simply the right thing to do, and I am pleased to announce we are committed to making Michigan a recycling leader."

Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality estimates the state recycles just 14.5 percent of its municipal solid waste each year — and that's with both a bottle bill and an e-scrap law on the books. According to the state, approximately $435 million worth of recyclable materials gets landfilled each year.

DEQ director Dan Wyant said the governor's recent action will go a long way. "When you have the highest elected official in your state calling for the expansion of recycling that gets people to focus on it," Wyant told Resource Recycling. "We're not anywhere near where we need to be with respect to recycling … and it's the right thing to do now."

The state's recycling initiative will focus on building in-state markets for recycled commodities, enhancing data collection practices and increasing curbside access.

Attention will also be paid to greater educational efforts, counteracting a still-prevalent attitude among some residents that recycling "doesn't really matter," Kerrin O'Brien of the Michigan Recycling Coalition told Resource Recycling. O'Brien was named to a new nine-member Michigan Recycling Council, which will help represent the various interests within the industry.

According to O'Brien, the new plan, which recommends $1 million in additional recycling funding in 2015 and another $500,000 in DEQ pollution prevention grants, will help educate stakeholders and lawmakers alike on where recycling infrastructure needs to improve in order to blossom. "We want to get to a 50 percent recycling rate," O'Brien said.

Just 25 of 83 counties within the state provide "convenient access" to residents, leaving about 70 percent of counties without sufficient recycling access, according to the DEQ website. Under the governor's new plan, all 83 counties will provide "convenient access" by 2017.

However, while Wyant and O'Brien stressed $1.5 million in funding should be sufficient to get things going, Paul Gardner of product stewardship nonprofit group Recycling Reinvented cautioned the state will have to be creative with its allotted finances. "That's not going to go very far," Gardner said, adding private and public funds will need to materialize in order to meet the new goals.

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