How will bankruptcy touch recycling in Detroit?
By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling
In the days following Detroit's much-watched, multi-billion-dollar bankruptcy filing, public-employee pensions and legal processes have grabbed much of the analytical spotlight. But the future of the city's recycling program will also likely be affected by the news.
Detroit, which was grappling with economic issues long before last week's bankruptcy move, has been looking to tighten its belt in the waste-collection realm for some time, and it's also struggled to bring robust recycling options to all its residents. Last month, it was reported that Detroit was eying ways to privatize trash collection in an effort to save $15 million a year. Although recycling was not specifically mentioned in that plan, recycling collection is currently handled by city employees and managed by the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority.
In 2012, Detroit offered curbside recycling service to approximately 38,000 out of the 264,000 single-family households in the city, according to the 2012 Annual Recycling Report distributed by the city's Department of Public Works. Participation in the curbside recycling program is cited by DPW as the largest non-financial challenge to recycling, with participation rates currently between 21 percent and 24 percent.
As the city moves forward post-bankruptcy, recycling experts in the region say recycling shifts are likely. "Privatizing curbside collection has been discussed for some time and will provide some financial relief but doesn’t leave the city with much room to add new services," Kerrin O'Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, told Resource Recycling. "We hope the process they’re going through now includes, or at least leads into, long-term planning because that’s where we’ll find the shift from pilot programs to public services, whether provided by public employees or a public-private contract."
Detroit does have a history of seeing residents step up to address recycling issues. In 2005, the grassroots organization Recycle Here started as a way to bring drop-off recycling to certain areas, and it now operates six locations and is funded by the city.
O'Brien says developing programs can be one way to turn around the city's economic woes. "Detroit’s lack of recycling services is indicative of many problems and we’ll advocate for the positive step forward, with the recognition that it could take time," she said. "We hope that whatever it is that Detroit has to go through, has it coming out on the other side a city that’s built upon a sustainable vision of the future. Recycling will have to be a part of that."