Much more than just trash talk

April 20, 2009
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When the new Kent County Recycling Center opens sometime around Earth Day next year, the facility will be able to recycle nearly 10 times the solid waste the current center does.

The county’s existing recycling center at Bartlett Street and Market Avenue SW has the capacity to handle 15 tons of trash a day. But the new $12 million facility that will go up at 977 Wealthy St. SW will have a recycling capacity of 18 tons per hour, which amounts to 144 tons of solid waste over an eight-hour workday.

The new county facility, though, didn’t pop up in a workday.

County commissioners and members of the county Public Works board talked about the growing amount of trash that was coming into county landfills and the recycling center for more than two years. They knew what they wanted to do to alleviate that situation, but the big obstacle they faced was finding a suitable place where they could do it.

“We went and saw a bunch of different plants, and then we decided that we were actually going to do this thing. Then we had trouble finding a place to build it. That was the big hang-up — finding a place to build it,” said County Commissioner Art Tanis, who also chairs the county’s Department of Public Works board of directors.

Not only did they find a place, they also uncovered a bargain.

A local private foundation, doing business for the transaction as 3900 Corp., sold the recycling site on Wealthy near Lane Avenue to the county for $1. It’s a property that was appraised two years ago for up to $875,000. The county has to raze and recycle an existing rundown building on the parcel before it can break ground on the $12 million center. Tanis said he expects a groundbreaking ceremony to be held in late June.

The property’s closing, though, will likelier be easier to complete than it was getting the site to the point where the county could agree to the deal. Tanis said the county needed to have a number of permits approved for the use and then had to have the parcel’s soil tested for environmental contaminants, which proved the property is a brownfield.

“The short answer is, I’m happy with the spot. I would have liked it to go much faster. I wanted to break ground last year, but we’re getting close now. We’re probably going to break ground sometime around the end of June,” said Tanis.

Rockford Construction Co. will manage the facility’s construction and Design Plus will design the center’s exterior. The interior will be designed by RRT Design and Construction, a Melville, N.Y., firm that specializes in solid waste processing and recycling facilities.

“They have probably 50 to 60 plants across the county that they have designed. But Rockford Construction and Design Plus are doing the outside of this building,” said Tanis.

“I’m hoping that we will be well in service by this time next year.”

The county isn’t heading to the bond market to finance the construction. Public Works Director Doug Wood said funds that have been set aside for other uses, like the closing of a landfill, will pay for the work because those monies aren’t needed for those types of projects yet and won’t be for years to come.

“We’re not going to close a landfill for many years, so we’re going to borrow the money from ourselves, because the bond market isn’t the best right now. We have up to 18 months after the facility is built to finance it,” said Wood.

The county plans to sell the existing recycling center on Bartlett Avenue to the Interurban Transit Partnership, which has an option to purchase the property. The site is near The Rapids’ headquarters.

In addition to being able to recycle a much greater amount of solid waste every day, the new facility will be set up so recyclers won’t have to sort their materials before a hauler picks up the curbside waste. They’ll just have to load a container with rinsed-out recyclables and wheel it out to the curb for pick up on collection day.

Besides Tanis and Wood, Commissioners Ted Vonk, Gary Rolls, Bob Synk, Sandra Parrish and Richard Vander Molen worked to make the new center a reality. So did former Commissioner Nadine Klein, David Groenleer and Drain Commissioner Bill Byl. All served or are currently serving on the Public Works board.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into this,” said Tanis.

As most know, market prices for recycled goods like paper and plastics have fallen quite a bit over the past year as demand has dipped. But Wood said those prices have begun to rebound.

“They’ve gone up somewhat. Paper has gone back up, not where it was early last year. But they’ve gone up somewhat, as have plastics. I think they’re going to level out a little bit,” he said.

China is one of the county’s customers for recycled paper. China was a big buyer until demand there dropped because the nation’s export business declined when the financial crisis hit last fall.

“When you ship paper from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to China, you know there is a lot of demand for paper. But that has slowed down and we’re in more local markets,” said Wood.

The U.S. price for corrugated cardboard was $75 a ton in early April. Newsprint was selling for $65 a ton, with boxboard priced at $54 a ton. Scrap computers and monitors, two items the county accepts for recycling, were selling for $125 and $46 a ton, respectively.

But whatever the prices are, selling the scrap is still better than having it occupy a landfill — even more so if the market for recycled materials stabilizes by the time the new recycling center opens next year, something Wood thinks will happen.

“I think it will be more stable. I think there is a lot of uneasiness right now. But, yeah, I think so.”

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