The majority of local government leaders in Michigan, 86%, say recycling is somewhat important or very important to their community residents, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.
However, Michigan’s estimated overall recycling rate is 18%, which lags considerably behind the national average of 32%. The recycling rate refers to the percentage of total goods that are recyclable.
Efforts to update recycling procedures, policies and practices are being made across the state.
Over the years, Delhi Charter Township, near Lansing, has made recycling significantly easier for its residents. It was the first township to receive gold status in the Michigan Green Communities Challenge.
“One thing that may be unique about Delhi and our recycling center is that it’s open to anyone, regardless of where you live, unlike many other centers,” said Allen Bryant, the township’s environmental coordinator.
One unusual way the township encourages sustainable alternatives is by bringing sheep to grassy areas to feed on the overgrowth rather than mowing it. A more recent challenge has been getting the community to embrace the change from open container collection of cardboard and plastic to using compactors.
The compactors reduce the amount of space used by the crushed material, but can also limit what recyclables can be returned.
“We’ve had to do a lot of community education, signage and increased efforts to get our community to embrace it,” said Sandra Diorka, the township director of public services. “But now we only have to haul (waste) one-quarter of the time.”
A 2011 report from the Michigan Recycling Coalition examined how the state could increase its recycling rate from 18% to 50%. The coalition, an association of recycling professionals and the state’s primary advocate for recycling, determined that an annual investment of around $76 million annually would result in at least a $400 million to $500 million positive return.
“This is because the value of the materials that we pay to put in a landfill would be captured through recycling and materials we use,” said Kerrin O’Brien, the coalition executive director.
“When it comes to disposal, it’s too easy to think that the work is done,” she said. “Waste is already invisible to the world, and paying to landfill materials that have value on the commodities market is a very high opportunity cost.”
“If we can divert these materials from landfills into new products, we can make jobs, build businesses and develop a circular economy that is beneficial to communities across the state and nation,” she said.
Read more: Michigan’s recycling rate lags U.S. average