Government and Sustainability

Kent County to close recycling drop-off center

Decision attributed primarily to operating costs, inefficiencies and waste dumping at the site.

May 10, 2019
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Recycling Kent County
Kent County cited operating costs and problems at the site in deciding to close the 12-year-old recycling drop-off center. Courtesy Kent County Department of Public Works

Kent County will close its 12-year-old recycling drop-off center in Kentwood on June 30, citing operating costs and problems at the site, as well as a glutted domestic commodities market.

Dar Baas, director of the Kent County Department of Public Works, announced the county’s decision April 29 in a notice on the DPW-run site reimaginetrash.com.

The recycling drop-off station is located at the Kentwood Public Works Facility at 5068 Breton Road in Kentwood. Kent County originally gained use of the site to use for a recycling station under a five-year agreement with the city of Kentwood beginning in 2007 when residents’ access to curbside collection service was limited.

Kent County continued to operate the site beyond the initial agreement until the decision was made to close it down.

“With improved access to curbside recycling in southern Kent County over the past decade and increasing operational cost of public drop-off sites, we are closing the Kentwood recycling drop-off station so that we can focus on recycling education and material processing provided at the Kent County Recycling & Education Center (at 977 Wealthy St. SW),” he said.

Baas said residents and businesses still will be able to drop off recycling at the Wealthy Street site and the North Kent Transfer Station at 2908 10 Mile Road in Rockford.

He also said the county is encouraging residents to enroll in a curbside recycling program with a private waste hauler, which has an estimated monthly cost of $4 to $6 in the Kentwood area.

“We understand this change may create an inconvenience for some residents,” Baas said. “Reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills continues to be our top priority, and we encourage residents to add curbside recycling to their trash service.”

To incentivize recycling where there are barriers, Kent County has launched an apartment and condo recycling grant program in which the county will provide property managers a 10-yard recycling container in areas where curbside recycling is not available.

The property manager will be responsible for the cost of the recycling service contract with a waste hauler and ensuring there is a dedicated space for the container on the residential property.

As part of the program, Kent County resource recovery specialists will work with the waste hauler and the property manager to provide education to residents on how to properly use the recycling container.

Baas said the improper use of the drop-off site is one of the biggest hassles the county faces in operating it. He said people intentionally abuse it “by putting couches and tires and mattresses and car parts and motor oil” and other items that are clearly not recyclable into the containers.

As a result, only about half of the 904 tons of material collected there annually are recyclable, and the rest is trash.

The scrap materials being dumped into the containers also present a safety hazard.

“We had people crawling inside of the containers and trying to scavenge metal, and if we didn’t know they were in there and that truck picked up that container, then we’d have that issue,” Baas said. “I would be horrified to think that someone was injured or worse because they crawled inside of a container they shouldn’t have.”

The drop-off site also costs about three times more than curbside collection, since the roll-off containers at the site cannot handle more than three-quarters of a ton of recyclables before they need to be emptied and hauled away.

The county drives the recyclables to processing centers and paper mills where the revenue it gets from buyers is usually less than the cost of transportation.

“We do receive some value, but it has dropped significantly because of the China National Sword policy where they were no longer accepting mixed recyclables or less than one-half percent contamination,” Baas said.

“While we never sent our material internationally, the domestic markets were flooded, and the global pricing kind of roosted here in the U.S., as well. And that’s really hit our bottom line in terms of revenue. We’ve seen a significant drop in the value for the materials.”

The final factor he cited was the low usage rates of the facility.

“While the drop-off site does not represent full participation in residential recycling, nor do only Kentwood city residents use the site — meaning others outside of Kentwood use the site — based on households in Kentwood, 20,091 tons of recycling should be collected if there were full participation,” Baas said.

“Even at 75% participation, 15,000 tons should be collected,” compared to the 904 tons collected in reality.

Dan Schoonmaker, executive director of West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, said he was “surprised and disappointed” to hear about the closure of the 24/7 facility, where he sometimes took cardboard boxes that wouldn’t fit in his curbside cart.

“I understand why it is happening and see it as a continued trend,” he said. “It’s been happening locally and across the state for the better part of a year as the recycling market has realigned to cyclical shifts in demand.”

Schoonmaker said he does not believe, based on anecdotal evidence, the move will greatly impact waste diversion in Kent County, as the private sector may absorb some of the materials and the rest can be delivered to the Wealthy Street and Rockford drop-off stations.

But he expects the closure of other facilities such as the Republic Services Community Recycling Services Center in Muskegon in February will impact waste diversion since residents of Muskegon County now have to drive 40 miles south to Holland to drop off recyclables.

Schoonmaker said if residents want to see drop-off facilities maintained, they should be vocal to their municipalities about the demand for them and their desire to see cities invest in them.

Echoing Baas, he said recycling is a sustainability priority and not a revenue generator.

“It’s just that recycling doesn’t pay for itself in this current environment,” Schoonmaker said. “So, if you want access to that service, someone has to pay for it.”

For more information about Kent County DPW and the apartment and condo recycling grant program, people can email recycle@kentcountymi.gov or call (616) 632-7920.

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