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Michigan Counties Prepare for Updated Recycling Rules

The state’s recycling rate was just 19 percent in 2019 and 21 percent currently, which is still far below the nation’s average at 34 percent. Michigan could reuse or compost 38 percent of its waste stream.

a Michigan Recycling bin
Students walk past recycling bins on University of Michigan's campus Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.
Nicole Hester/TNS
State environmental regulators are encouraging communities across Michigan to begin updating their recycling plans now because it won’t be long before it’s legally required.

Recycling and circular economy experts gathered up north this week to talk about ways to grow Michigan’s recycling rate and decrease food waste to meet specific goals in the state’s climate action plan.

Experts spoke both Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 24-25, at the Michigan Sustainability Conference in Gaylord about how to boost Michigan to a 45 percent recycling rate and slash its food waste levels in half by 2030.

State officials said there are multiple programs to help communities assess their waste streams and grow participation in local recycling.

Michigan’s statewide recycling rate lagged the nation at 19 percent in 2019 but is now about 21 percent. The national average is 34 percent.

Elisa Seltzer is the project manager for NextCycle Michigan, a state initiative to improve recycling and build a circular economy from those materials. She said Michigan has a lot of work to do to meet the state climate goals, and a lot of opportunities to do it.

Seltzer pointed to how 38 percent of Michigan’s waste stream comes from organic material that could be reused or composted. Those materials are a major cause of methane emissions from landfills during decomposition.

“Just 25 medium-sized compost facilities would process an additional 1 million tons of food scraps a year,” Seltzer told the conference attendees at Treetops Resort in Gaylord.

“Depending on the size, we’re estimating we need between seven and 22 either new recycling facilities or expanded capacity of those currently operating to reach 45 percent recycling rate.”

This week’s gathering of recycling industry leaders came as the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy prepares to roll out the overhaul to state solid waste laws.

Lawmakers approved the bipartisan legislation in December and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it into law just before the end of the year.

Liz Browne, EGLE’s materials management division director, said county leaders in Michigan can expect the state to officially call for their waste stream plans in the coming weeks.

Counties will have three years to create a plan and put it in action. Grant money will be available to help counties take inventory of their waste stream and plan how to boost recycling access for residents, whether with curbside services, drop-off centers, or periodic community events for recycling and hazardous materials collection.

Once the state agency calls for county plans, each county government will have 180 days to notify EGLE whether officials intend to develop such a plan to reach a 45 percent recycling rate from their local waste stream.

Each county will receive $60,000 annually to write the plan, plus an extra $10,000 for each county which participates in a regional planning group. Additionally, counties will receive an extra 5 cents per capita up to $300,000 for the first three years.

On top of that, there are additional grant funding programs and technical assistance from state officials through the NextCycle recycling grants program, said Matt Flechter, EGLE’s market development recycling specialist.

Flechter said he expects participation in those programs to increase in the coming weeks as local leaders realize the state’s coming change in recycling laws is quickly approaching.

The state climate plan’s overall purpose is to reduce Michigan’s greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Recycling reduces carbon emissions by reducing energy used to make new products from virgin materials, plus avoids emissions associated with extracting or mining those materials.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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