Government and Sustainability

State touts new recycling marketplace

Online platform developed in partnership with nonprofit allows users to buy and sell reusables.

September 27, 2019
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Materials MKT
The Michigan Materials Marketplace is an online listings platform and matchmaking service for manufacturers, recycling companies and entrepreneurs. Courtesy Michigan Materials Marketplace

The market for hard-to-recycle post-industrial and post-consumer products just got a little bigger, thanks to a new online tool.

The Austin, Texas-based U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) — with funding from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) — in June 2018 launched the Michigan Materials Marketplace (MMM), an online listings platform and matchmaking service for manufacturers, recycling companies and entrepreneurs looking to buy and sell reusable materials.

EGLE hosted a webinar to educate current and prospective users on the platform on Sept. 25 as the state ramps up its marketing efforts for the service.

Matt Flechter, recycling market development specialist with EGLE, said the partnership with US BCSD came about in response to defined needs in the marketplace.

About two years ago, EGLE did a survey of 1,500 manufacturing businesses, engineers, and operations and purchasing executives on their enterprises’ recycling behaviors, and one of the questions was “What challenges do you face when trying to find new uses for production materials?” A quarter of the 291 respondents said they could not find a place to recycle their materials.

When asked a follow-up question, “What is needed to help you as a business find those resources?” from how to recycle the material to finding end-use markets and finding material to buy that meets specifications, the overwhelming response was that people wanted some sort of internet directory or buying platform.

Thus, EGLE and MEDC set in motion the plan to partner with US BCSD on the Materials Marketplace.

Michigan is the fourth state in which US BCSD launched a Materials Marketplace program. The organization started its first in Texas in 2014, then added others in Ohio and Tennessee.

US BCSD runs the marketplace — which is online at michigan.materialsmarketplace.org — and manages and facilitates the program with support from partners and in-state program staff.

MMM is free for users. All they need to do is create an account, set up a listing if they are a seller or create a search using filters in the browser to find what they are looking for.

Users will find listings from other states, as the Materials Marketplace is a nationwide platform, but they can filter by location if they wish to see only local listings.

Daniel Kietzer is director of operations for US BCSD and helps design, launch and manage the Materials Marketplace programs.

He said the sectors most strongly represented as users on the MMM platform so far are automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their suppliers, as well as furniture manufacturers and suppliers.

“(Those are) really good industries for us to work with, just because there’s a really strong desire for sustainable materials management and doing the right things with their materials at the end of life within that industry,” he said.

He noted auto suppliers have a tough time diverting waste and sourcing responsibly because with a vehicle, “every type of material imaginable is going into that product.”

Flechter said even though Michigan has many recycling companies “already doing a lot of great work” brokering waste and byproducts, they can’t keep up with the volume being generated by the state’s manufacturing economy, and the global and domestic markets are not what they once were.

Creating a “Craigslist” of sort — albeit with more in-depth functionalities, including a messaging platform that lets users talk to US BCSD and to other users — was a needed solution, he said.

Kietzer said one of the big pros of this platform is it creates a trusted place recycling companies can turn to when they receive unwanted materials.

“As in any business, no one likes to say ‘no’ to customers, and in the recycling sector in particular, when you show up to take one material, a lot of times, you will get asked about taking a totally different material, as well, and that’s a tricky position to be in as a business,” he said. 

“You don’t want to say ‘no’ to taking that, but at the same time, you don’t want to be exposed to the risk of taking a material that you can’t sell profitably. So, we’re hoping that this evolves into a tool to have something else to say besides ‘no’ to customers — that they can list it on the marketplace and see if there’s an avenue for that material.”

Kietzer said a significant number of MMM users are based in or do business in West Michigan, including contacts from Bell’s Brewery; Environmental Resources Management; Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber; Freedom Finishing; Goodwill Industries of West Michigan; Hilite International; Hope College; Lacks Enterprises; LG Chem Michigan; Padnos; Schupan Recycling; Steelcase; and TH Plastics.

US BCSD also collaborates with groups such as the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF), Michigan Recycling Coalition and The Right Place as partners in creating a circular economy through the platform.

According to US BCSD, the mission of the Materials Marketplace is “to create a closed-loop, collaborative network of businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs where one organization’s hard-to-recycle waste and by-products become another organization’s raw material.”

US BCSD hopes that “in addition to diverting waste from landfills, these recovery activities generate significant cost savings, energy savings, and create new jobs and business opportunities.”

More information about the platform — including a link to the Sept. 25 webinar, “Uncovering the Business Opportunity in your Waste and By-Product Materials” is available at michigan.materialsmarketplace.org/news-updates.

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