EGLE awards nearly $1.6 million in record-setting infrastructure grants to support largest expansion of recycling in Washtenaw County history

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 30, 2020

Jill A. Greenberg, EGLE Spokesperson, GreenbergJ@Michigan.gov, 517-897-4965

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced a combined total of more than $1.58 million in infrastructure grants awarded to six public agency and nonprofit recipients that will support the largest expansion of recycling in Washtenaw County history.

“Recycling infrastructure grants are a critical component of EGLE’s support for recycling growth in Michigan,” said Elizabeth Browne, assistant director of the Materials Management Division at EGLE.

“The objective of the EGLE recycling infrastructure grants is to increase processing and collection capacity in Washtenaw County, improve access to community recycling programs and grow participation among the constituencies they serve by assisting with the purchase of equipment and other items,” Browne said.

“In addition, several of these projects will have a direct impact on reducing the spread of infectious disease through greater use of automation, which aligns with Michigan’s efforts to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

The Washtenaw County grants are part of EGLE’s strategy to support recycling infrastructure, improve the quality of recyclable materials and promote market development using the Renew Michigan Fund, which was created in 2019 to boost the state’s recycling efforts.

EGLE’s Washtenaw County grant recipients are:

  • $458,370 to the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) to purchase sorting equipment and a new truck to increase processing and collection capacity. The funds equip WWRA to accept new commercial and municipal customers. The automated truck will dramatically increase workplace safety and will enable WWRA to add 3,000 households per week, while the new sorting equipment doubles the capacity for sorting plastics. WWRA is subsidized by five communities that work cooperatively to implement residential recycling programs in the townships of Dexter, Lyndon, Manchester and Lima, and the city of Chelsea. It’s the largest EGLE grant to WWRA since it formed in 1991.
  • $118,605 to the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority (WRRMA) that will continue its efforts to increase the quantity of member communities’ high-quality recyclables. WRRMA members consist of the charter townships of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield and Ypsilanti, Scio Township and the cities of Dexter, Saline and Ypsilanti, representing a population of over 150,000 Washtenaw County residents. WRRMA will use the funds to complete the national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership’s “Feet on the Street” program at single-family residences in WRRMA communities beginning in spring 2021. The program provides recycling education to residents and curbside feedback through tagging carts, as well as records pre- and post-program metrics through a sorting process at material recovery facilities. The program has been successfully implemented in communities throughout the nation, obtaining a 20% to 40% decrease in recycling contamination. It’s the first EGLE grant to WRRMA since its creation in 2019.
  • $112,716 to Ann Arbor Public Schools to significantly increase access to recycling by installing recycling collection containers and promoting food reclamation activities throughout the district’s campuses and buildings that serve more than 20,000 students. A refrigerated vehicle purchased through the grant will transport as much as 100 pounds of unused food daily to food distribution agencies, such as Food Gatherers. It’s the largest grant EGLE has awarded to the Ann Arbor district.
  • $73,440 to the city of Ypsilanti to expand public space recycling through the purchase of recycling containers for the city’s downtown area, Depot Town and 12 public parks. Ypsilanti’s parks have become popular with a growing number of festivals and businesses and have seen increased foot traffic. Once the recycling equipment is installed, the city estimates it will annually divert 11 tons of recyclables from Ypsilanti’s public trash containers. City leaders plan to place a recycling container next to existing public trash receptacles, which is an important best practice for public space recycling.
  • $17,608 to Dexter Community Schools to expand lunchroom recycling and establish food waste collection programs throughout the district, which serves 3,635 students. The grant will help Dexter schools to recycle more lunchroom items and achieve cost savings due to reduced trash pickups.
  • In addition to the grants announced today, EGLE on Nov. 18 unveiled the award of $800,000 to Recycle Ann Arbor. The grant – which is the largest-ever EGLE has made to the Ann Arbor-based 40-year-old nonprofit – will help rebuild and reopen the community’s materials recovery facility that has been closed since 2016. The new facility will be owned and operated by Recycle Ann Arbor. The $6.75 million project, which includes an additional $800,000 loan from national nonprofit Closed Loop Partners, will ultimately create a state-of-the-art materials recovery facility that allows for enhanced sorting of valuable recyclable materials. The new facility will provide processing capacity for 15,000-plus tons of recycled materials that is now being transported to Ohio, as well as processing additional volume from the surrounding region. The project is expected to create 10 to 20 new full-time jobs upon completion.

EGLE’s support of new research, education and recycling activities planned for Washtenaw County come as Michigan and states across the United States are seeing significant increases in curbside recycling due to more Americans sheltering and working from home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

EGLE-commissioned research surveys show Michigan residents view recycling as an essential public service. And during a time of social distancing where many nonessential employers are closed and commercial recycling is near an all-time low, producers see residential recycling programs as a critical supplier of manufacturing feedstock so more companies can make their products from recycled content instead of new materials.

“Common mistakes are making their way into the recycling bins and causing problems within the recycling system,” said Recycle Ann Arbor CEO Bryan Ukena.

“Recycling contamination causes extra wear on the equipment, increases the amount of material ending up in the landfill and degrades the quality of recyclable material to be sold to end markets,” Ukena said. “Recycle Ann Arbor is committed to helping the community recycle more and better. More recycling and better recycling produces better results.”

Another goal of EGLE’s funding support in Washtenaw County is to minimize contaminated recyclables from going into bins by providing educational messaging across all municipalities. Recycling contamination occurs when materials not accepted for recycling are put in recycling bins, such as plastic bags or items with food residue. An estimated 30% to 35% of the materials currently recycled by residents in WRRMA’s service territory are contaminated. WRRMA plans to kick off its program in spring 2021 with a target of reducing recycling contamination by 40% by fall 2021.

“WRRMA’s strategy is aimed at reducing costs by increasing the quality of our recycling stream and making strides toward a stronger recycling system in Washtenaw County,” said Washtenaw County Public Works Director Theo Eggermont.

EGLE’s grants to Washtenaw County will help build on the success of Michigan’s national award-winning Know It Before You Throw It recycling education campaign that EGLE launched in 2019. The aim of the first-of-its-kind statewide push is to better inform Michiganders on what can – and cannot – be recycled and how to recycle correctly.

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

Tripling the rate to 45% would support 138,000 new jobs in Michigan’s recycling industry, providing $9 billion in annual labor income and $33.8 billion in economic output, according to a study commissioned by EGLE.

More information about the Know It Before You Throw It campaign is available at RecyclingRaccoons.org. To stay up to date on other EGLE news, follow Michigan.gov/MIEnvironment.

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