At its meeting June 10, the Harper Woods City Council voted to not renew the city’s contract with Green For Life Environmental for recyclable collection services due to rising costs.

At its meeting June 10, the Harper Woods City Council voted to not renew the city’s contract with Green For Life Environmental for recyclable collection services due to rising costs.

Photo provided by Joseph Munem

Harper Woods ends recycling service with GFL

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published July 12, 2019

HARPER WOODS — The city of Harper Woods voted against renewing a contract with Green For Life Environmental to continue to provide recyclable collection services for the city.

Harper Woods was engaged in a multi-community contract with GFL. While some communities decided to renew their portions of the contract under the new increased rates, Harper Woods did not.

Harper Woods’ garbage collection contract with GFL will continue.

“We (ended) our service with GFL on June 30,” said Harper Woods City Manager Joe Rheker. “The City Council reached a decision (unanimously) not to renew the contract at their meeting on June 10.”

Rheker said this was because of rate increases that Harper Woods officials did not think the city could bear without directly passing the increased costs along to taxpayers.

“The recycling market has changed in the last 30 years,” he explained. “Largely, American recyclables are shipped out of the country. … Many countries are not accepting these discarded items anymore, and they don’t want what’s called ‘residual,’ which has to do with materials which can still be harmful or can’t be recycled, such as metal hangers or plastic bags.”

He said that government action at a high level needs to be taken for prices to get reduced.

“Legislation at a national level needs to be made mandating standards, such as having a certain amount of materials used as raw materials, or components be made of recycled materials,” said Rheker. “Until there is a major change in how we deal with these materials, these prices will continue to be high.”

Joseph Munem, the director of government affairs and public relations for GFL, agreed that companies such as GFL had to increase the rates charged to communities for recycling services due to larger, worldwide issues.

“It’s happening worldwide,” Munem said. “If you want to get right down to where it began, China took a lot of mixed paper and plastic, and they permitted a contamination rate of up to 20%, and then implemented a new policy known as National Sword in 2018, and that contamination rate went from 20% to half a percent. China, which was the largest consumer of this material in the world, was off the table and the market crashed, with many companies no longer having anywhere left to send the material. A lot of it is still being stored in warehouses or on docks.”

Rheker said because of the increased difficulty in processing materials for recycling, waste management companies have had to increase prices to accept recyclables.

“The companies aren’t making a profit, so they’re charging communities more,” he said.

No longer renewing the contract will mean that the city will save $50,000 per year. Rheker said residents can keep their GFL recycling bins or leave them out to get collected.

“People can keep their bins or they can leave them for collection by GFL by leaving them down by the street with a note attached,” said Rheker. “I’m thinking that keeping them is a good idea in case we bring back the recycling program in the future.”

While many city administrators were displeased by the loss of recyclable collection services, Rheker said it was the only realistic choice the city had at this time.

“This is unfortunate,” Rheker remarked. “People are conscientious of the environment. When we shared this news with the Harper Woods Neighborhood Coalition, everyone sort of recoiled. This is financially beneficial for Harper Woods, and at this point the service isn’t doing as much good as most people think.”

Munem did give advice to those who still are interested in recycling to improve the liklihood that the items they try to get rid of actually get reused.

“Our suggestion is to make sure you are putting out material that isn’t contaminated,” he explained. “If you put out a jug of laundry detergent, (make sure) that it is rinsed out and dried. ... If it leaks over everything else, everything it leaks on goes from being recyclable to not. If there’s any food contaminant or oils in it, it’s also not recyclable, so items like pizza boxes are usually not recyclable. People need to be educated on these rules.”

He added that people need to learn which items can be easily recycled for reuse versus what cannot or what can be difficult to process.

“We need to reevaluate what’s an acceptable recyclable,” added Munem. “There are several items that can be recycled, but there’s no market for it. Cardboard can be reused, metal can be reused, plastics 1 and 2 can be reused, but things like plastics 3 through 7 or mixed paper cannot. Plastic shopping bags can be recycled, but only at places that accept them specifically. In general loads of recyclables, they often float away and gum up machinery. … Glass also can be recyclable but is often dangerous, as it shatters and can harm people processing the materials.”