County contributes to a sustainable economic future

February 6, 2011
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Sustainability will play a significant role in the county’s long-term economic future, and Kent County took a major step to further securing that future by building the new Kent County Recycling and Education Center.

The center, 977 Wealthy St. SW in Grand Rapids, came in under budget — at $11.5 million instead of the estimated $12 million — and ahead of schedule, beginning part-time operations a month before its targeted completion date. Topping those achievements is the fact that the center can recycle more waste than anyone initially thought.

Dennis Kmiecik, who directs the solid waste division for the Department of Public Works, said 18,620 tons of household waste was recycled in 2010 — up by 33 percent from 2009. He said the department estimated an increase of around 15 percent because the center was only fully operational for the last five months of the year. “For the year, we’re up 33 percent, comparing 2010 to 2009,” said Kmiecik.

Kmiecik added that the increase started when the new recycling center went into daily operation in August, and the monthly total of waste recycled went up each month from August through December. “We’re pleasantly surprised. Our learning curve was quite short, and we had to do some adjustments on the fly,” he said.

So it’s all but certain that the single-stream facility will recycle even more waste this year with a full year’s worth of operations under its belt. The center can process 18 tons per hour, while the former facility at 322 Bartlett St. SW processed about four tons per hour.

The center also has allowed the department to cut the number of processing hours from 13 hours a day at the old building to six hours, which now marks an average processing day.

That means the new center is more cost effective and efficient, as it recycles for half the time of the old one but processes more than twice the materials. A major reason the new center is more efficient is because it’s a single-stream facility. The old facility used a dual-stream processing system with cardboard and paper using one stream, and other waste such as plastics using the second stream.

Waste haulers no longer need to separate the materials.

“Everything is co-mingled and is separated by using machines at the new facility,” said Doug Wood, county Public Works director. “There is just one feed line coming in. The paper goes in one direction and glass goes in another and plastics go this way.”

And Kent County has made sure that the concept of sustainability, which is so vital to its economic future, will leave a legacy by making a lasting impression on coming generations through its educational center.

Former County Commissioner and past DPW board chairman Art Tanis said the educational component was always on the building’s drawing board, and is now teaching children as young as pre-kindergarten age about recycling. Other educational efforts are aimed at elementary and high school students, as well as adults.

DPW financed the building’s construction through a 20-year municipal bond package that pays an interest rate of 4.19 percent; it raised about $12 million for the project. DPW bought the property it sits on from 3900 Corp., a local private foundation, for $1, and sold the Bartlett site to the Interurban Transit Partnership for $960,000.

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