Government and Sustainability

Kent County, GRPS get $450K to improve recycling efforts

Funds will pay for waste sorting stations at GRPS and sorting equipment, enhanced processing capabilities for DPW.

November 1, 2019
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EGLE Grants
From left, Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter; Grand Rapids Public Schools Sustainability Coordinator Kristen Trovillion; Paper MacKay, from EGLE’s Michigan Recycling Raccoon Squad; Food Packaging Institute President Natha Dempsey; EGLE Materials Management Division Director Jack Schinderle; state Sen. Winnie Brinks; and state Rep. Rachel Hood. Courtesy Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the Foodservice Packaging Institute recently doled out more than $450,000 in grants to improve recycling infrastructure and education in Kent County and Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Almost $258,000 of the EGLE funding was allocated for GRPS and more than $175,000 will go to Kent County Department of Public Works as part of the Grand Rapids launch of Michigan’s “Know It Before You Throw It” recycling education campaign.

“We are committed to informing and inspiring more people than ever before in Grand Rapids and across Michigan about how to recycle better,” said Jack Schinderle, materials management division director at EGLE.

“Increasing recycling and improving the quality of materials we’re recycling is not only the right thing to do for our environment, but it also saves energy, reduces water use, decreases greenhouse gases, conserves resources and translates into local jobs.”

In conjunction with the EGLE grants, the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) selected Kent County as the first Michigan community and sixth nationally to receive an $18,000 grant to increase awareness of recycling clean and empty cups and takeout food containers. FPI, based in Falls Church, Virginia, is the trade association for the foodservice packaging industry, and its members in Michigan employ nearly 4,000 people with a total payroll of over $250 million.

Other municipalities and partners to receive FPI grants are Washington, D.C.; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Denver; and Millennium Recycling in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“A combined 945,000 households in these six communities, including Kent County, can recycle a wide range of packaging like plastic cups and containers, clean pizza boxes and paper bags in their curbside carts,” said Natha Dempsey, president of FPI. “The FPI grant will help promote recycling these items to keep them out of the trash.”

Kent County funding

In Kent County, officials have set a goal of reducing the amount of local waste that goes to landfills by 20% in 2020 and 90% by 2030. Reaching that goal will require expanding recycling opportunities and investing in new technology that can segregate and divert waste from landfills.

The EGLE grant — the largest given by the department to Kent County DPW this century — will help Kent County purchase a piece of machinery for use at the North Kent Recycling & Waste Center in Rockford, according to Dar Baas, Kent County DPW director.

“The machine will enable us to safely pick out wood, metal, cardboard and other bulky, marketable recyclable materials from loads of waste delivered to that facility,” he said.

“It will help us begin to divert some of the 16,000 tons of construction-related waste that we receive at that site instead of sending it to landfill. Our plans are to begin to develop the downstream markets and identify gaps for construction-related material and better understand what West Michigan-based companies are able to process — or reuse — which is the first step toward building a full-scale construction and demolition debris processing plant at the Sustainable Business Park.”

Baas said currently about 20% of materials received at the North Kent Recycling & Waste Center and South Kent Landfill are from construction debris.

The $18,000 grant from FPI will help Kent County update its outreach and education materials “and encourage recycling of suitable fiber (paper)-related foodservice items that can be added to our mixed paper bales that are shipped to mill direct to Ohio to be processed into new paper products,” Baas said.

GRPS funding

The nearly $258,000, record-setting recycling grant to GRPS will go to improve recycling access, education and infrastructure in all GRPS classrooms, cafeterias and administrative buildings.

The project will impact 47 buildings, 16,656 students and approximately 3,000 staff. It will provide GRPS with 1,279 waste sorting stations and 112 dollies to address janitorial needs as part of the district’s push for a 400% increase in collection capacity.

Of the 1,279 bins, 1,229 will be placed in classrooms and administrative spaces, and 50 stations will be placed in cafeterias.

“The district intends to begin rollout of these stations over Christmas break and continue throughout the year, with 100% of the bins being in place prior to the 2020-21 school year,” said Kristen Trovillion, GRPS sustainability coordinator.

Kent County will share some of its EGLE funding to help educate GRPS on how to use recycling stations, according to Baas and Trovillion.

“Our partnership with Kent County will allow GRPS to update our waste sorting guides and signage,” Trovillion said. “This will ensure that students will encounter the same familiar waste-sorting signage and procedures whether at home, at school or at public events throughout the county.”

GRPS also is partnering with the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum to apply best practices for waste diversion programs and to document what it learns from its efforts.

“We plan to share our approach and lessons learned with the aim of furthering waste diversion efforts in other school districts in West Michigan,” Trovillion said.

“EGLE’s recycling grant is a tremendous step forward in helping Grand Rapids Public Schools implement thoughtful recycling programs that instill values and individual responsibility in our students while also delivering infrastructure support to help our educators and custodians in promoting and expanding recycling,” said Ron Gorman, GRPS interim superintendent.

State goals

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state legislators want to double Michigan’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reach 45% annually. Michigan’s 15% recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes region and ranks among the nation’s lowest, according to EGLE.

Estimates show 75% of the 2.1 million cubic yards of trash that Kent County annually discards in landfills — a volume that would fill the University of Michigan’s “Big House” football stadium twice over — could be diverted and repurposed through improved recycling, composting and waste conversion, according to a 2016 report by WMSBF.

Recycling across Michigan is receiving a boost as state legislators have increased EGLE’s funding for recycling projects from $2 million last year to $15 million in 2019, the department said. The additional funds are being used to support development of recycling markets, increased access to recycling opportunities and planning efforts to grow recycling at the local level.

The aim of EGLE’s Know It Before You Throw It campaign is to better inform Michiganders on what can — and cannot — be recycled and how to recycle correctly.

EGLE cited the following misconceptions that can be cleared up by education:

• 50% of Michigan residents mistakenly believe they’re allowed to recycle plastic bags in their curbside recycling, which is prohibited by most municipalities.

• 76% of Michiganders are unaware that failing to rinse and empty items before putting them in the recycling bin poses a risk of contaminating everything in the bin.

The Know It Before You Throw It campaign comes as communities across Michigan and the U.S. are struggling with the decreased global market for recyclables, EGLE said.

At the same time, recyclers nationwide are prioritizing shipping cleaner materials to their customers, contending that generating clean recyclables can create jobs and build stronger local economies.

The recycling industry in Michigan generates nearly 36,000 jobs statewide and an annual payroll of $2.6 billion, a 2016 analysis commissioned by EGLE shows.

Achieving EGLE’s 30% recycling goal would produce a statewide total of 13,000 new jobs, which translates into an additional economic impact of at least $300 million annually, according to findings from the Expanding Recycling in Michigan Report prepared for the Michigan Recycling Partnership. 

Recycling facts

  • Kent County’s goal is to reduce waste going to landfills by 20% in 2020 and 90% by 2030.

  • 75% of the 2.1 million cubic yards of trash Kent County annually discards in landfills could be diverted and repurposed.

  • 20%, or 16,000 tons, of materials received each year at the North Kent Recycling & Waste Center and South Kent Landfill are from construction debris. 

  • Michigan’s 15% recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes region and ranks among the nation’s lowest.

  • State leaders want to double Michigan’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and eventually to 45%.

  • Lawmakers have increased EGLE’s funding for recycling projects from $2 million last year to $15 million in 2019.

  • The recycling industry in Michigan generates 36,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $2.6 billion.

  • Achieving the 30% recycling goal would create 13,000 new jobs statewide and produce an economic impact of $300 million annually.

Sources: Kent County Department of Public Works; West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum; Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; Michigan Recycling Partnership

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