2017-02-09 / Front Page

Citizen Interest May Push Recycling

By Tom Pink

Representatives from Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac counties discussed their continued desire to bring a reliable regional recycling program to the Eastern Upper Peninsula during a meeting Thursday, February 2, at the Sault Ste. Marie SmartZone. The state is now considering investing money into collaborative regional efforts, the group learned, and some called for local investment in recycling facilities that would both process materials and create jobs.

Hosted by the EUP Regional Planning and Development Commission, the meeting included representatives from two EUP waste haulers, the Chippewa County Recycling Center, St. Ignace Planning Commission, Luce County, Clark Township, and Mackinac Island Department of Public Works, as well as Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Recycling Specialist Brian Burke, whose Bay City office has a territory that includes counties from mid-Michigan through the Upper Peninsula. Everyone in attendance agreed the residents of their municipalities desire a recycling program similar to what Chippewa and Emmet coun- ties have, but the lack of funding and the fluctuating market for recyclables make programs difficult to implement.

Recycling programs range from Chippewa County, which has a program that has been supported by a millage for many years, to Luce County, where residents do not have an organized program but are interested in seeing one started.

Representing his community, Jack Olson said Newberry residents are working with a local faith-based group that hopes to start a small recycling program in a similar way that Chippewa County did, working with disabled members of the community and building from there. Mr. Olson said he did not have details yet, but he said the discussions seemed as if they might be fruitful.

Clark Township Supervisor Gary Reid said his township is in the third year of a four-year millage to support recycling.

“Our recycling program was largely driven by our seasonal summer population of people who come from communities that have recycling programs in place where they live,” Mr. Reid said.

“They expect it,” he added, noting that his township sends tax bills to 38 states, “but we suffer the same problems as everyone else, and our recycling capabilities are tied to the vagaries of the market.”

Mr. Reid and others said glass, in particular, is difficult to sell, so many recycling centers in the state don’t collect it.

Betsy Dayrell-Hart, a member of the St. Ignace Planning Commission who was attending to represent Dean Reid of the Mackinac County Planning Commission, noted that the St. Ignace curbside pick-up recycling program, which is part of a contract between the city and Waste Management, no longer accepts cardboard or glass. Residents, she said, can recycle those materials in Mackinaw City.

Neighboring Mackinac Island still recycles cardboard and glass, according to Michael Olson of the Mackinac Island Department of Public Works, who said the city collects recyclable materials at residences every other week and a little more often for businesses. He said a millage for the Island’s solid waste facility essentially funds the recycling program. For the Island, which has no landfill of its own, recycling has long been a necessary component of trash disposal. Some other discarded waste items go into making compost for gardens, and some items are shipped off the island as landfill trash.

Everyone in attendance expressed the desire to arrive at a program similar to Chippewa County’s, which is supported by a millage and accepts paper, glass, cardboard, plastic, tin, and aluminum from county residents, with other materials, such as electronics and other hazardous wastes, allowed at an additional cost. The City of Sault Ste. Marie has a curbside recycling pick-up as part of its contract with Smith Sanitation that accepts most of the recyclables that are allowed at the county recycling center, with the exception of cardboard and glass.

Joel Krupa, executive director of Northern Transitions, which operates the Chippewa County Recycling Center, said glass “has continually been a big loser since we started the recycling program in 1989…The (monetary) support is not there for the breadth of items we take, but a millage supports recycling in this county. Where new programs are started, the focus should probably be on items that have revenue coming in for a starting point, and then others could be added in.”

With prices for recyclable materials fluctuating greatly, the need for a millage to support recycling programs becomes greater. EUPRDC Director Jeff Hagan, who organized the meeting, said it is difficult to get communities to approve a millage.

“Our (2009) survey showed there is a demand, but there has been no action at the county level since then,” he said, adding that government officials outside of Chippewa County are reluctant to try to pass a millage to pay for a program.

A millage allows for recycling of many materials that have low value on the market, according to Cal Lofdahl, who runs the Chippewa County Recycling Center for Northern Transitions. He said the center accepts plastic film such as that used to wrap hay bales and to cover boats during the winter, but it wouldn’t be able to do it without the millage support.

“There’s no value in it, but the millage pays for us to do it, and it’s what the taxpayers want,” he said.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart said even though some recyclable materials are not valuable, the poor market could be offset by the cost to dispose of the materials in a landfill.

“What would it cost to landfill that material?” she asked. “That’s the comparison that people may not be able to see. It will end up in a landfill, and that is not cheap.”

Mr. Burke of the DEQ told the group that the legislature is looking more closely at regional solid waste programs, as opposed to countywide programs, and said lawmakers are considering a $500,000 grant program, split between education and infrastructure, that may help boost some recycling initiatives. He said finding money to support recycling efforts is a statewide problem and encouraged those in attendance to continue their grassroots effort and apply for grants when they are available.

Those in attendance also expressed support for local use of recycled materials, such as mulch for flowerbeds on Mackinac Island and glass for roadbeds in the Eastern U.P.

“We should be making money on (recycling) and providing jobs here, not sending it somewhere else for someone else to make money,” Mr. Lofdahl said.

The group resolved to continue to bring the issue to their respective county boards of commissioners to keep the process moving.

“It comes from the citizens, if they’re interested and pushing the policy-makers in that direction,” Mr. Krupa said. “If that’s not there, local governments are not interested in pursuing a millage. It’s amazing what happens when you get a core group pushing in that direction.”

Mr. Hagan told the group he would ask his board to look into asking a regional solid waste planning committee that hasn’t met in several years to get involved in the recycling effort. He said he will notify those in attendance when another meeting is necessary.

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