Resident’s request heard, recycling access granted to Hills complex

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 7, 2020

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FARMINGTON HILLS — Access and the ability to recycle may not cross the minds of people who live in a house. Put it in the bin, and put the bin at the curb for pickup each week.

For people living in apartment complexes, which are usually privately owned properties, adequate access to recycling can be harder to come by. That was the case for 23-year-old Simon Cohen, who lives at the Citation Club Apartments, at 13 Mile and Haggerty roads.

For the past two years, Cohen has had to travel to the nearest recycling center in Novi to dispose of his recyclables, costing him time and gas money. On June 8, after overhearing his neighbors talk about the complex previously offering recycling, he sent an email to the property’s management requesting recycling access in the community.

“We’ve had problems — especially when people move in, they have big box stuff and they just throw all the cardboard in the trash,” Cohen said. “Recycling is such an easy, good thing to do for the environment. It’s low-hanging fruit.”

Cohen said he hasn’t been able to engage with his complex neighbors and gauge how many are interested to see recycling access as well, but he said he’s “never talked to someone who doesn’t want recycling.”

Two weeks after the initial email, the complex’s assistant property manager told Cohen they wouldn’t be adding recycling to the complex.

Danette Stenta, the senior vice president of marketing for Beztak Group, which manages the complex, said the main reason for the lack of access was issues with cross-contamination.

“It’s a really hard item to police. Many times, not intending to do so, residents will put garbage in there as opposed to bonafide recycling, and then it becomes very expensive because that entire bin is considered cross-contaminated. We would incur significant fines to fix that situation … which, obviously, at some point in time, get passed on to residents.”

Cohen looked to the city’s Department of Public Works and City Council for help.

DPW Superintendent Kevin McCarthy said that, as private property, the city couldn’t do anything about it, though during the June 22 City Council meeting, at which Cohen spoke, Mayor Vicki Barnett said she has friends in other apartment complexes with similar issues, adding that she’d like to see the topic investigated further at a study session. Many other council members agreed.

“It has always been the goal of this council to be as environmentally sensitive to this as we can. With the recycling success we’ve had in the public parts of the community, we want to try to extend that. I think revisiting it is a good thing to do,” Council member Ken Massey said at the June 22 meeting.

After several weeks, Cohen got some good news. His apartment complex would be trying recycling again.

“We’re resurrecting this, and we’re going to see where it takes us. If it’s a successful event, it would probably be something we’d roll out at more of our sites,” Stenta said, adding that Cohen’s request was the push needed to make it happen.

“We are the community that we are because we partner with our residents, giving them the services that they want.”

While that solves Cohen’s problem, he said he’d still like to see the city and other property management companies in the city go to greater lengths to provide, educate and assist residents in recycling properly.

McCarthy said the DPW does provide educational resources, though with already 23,000 homes per week in the DPW’s collection route, he said the DPW doesn’t have the staff to police any further than they currently do. Farmington Hills is a member of Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County.

“Every recycling barrel we put out has information on how to do it. We have it on all our websites. It’s in all our newsletters. We do a lot of education about recycling, and we have a high rate of recycling in our city compared to the rest of the state to begin with,” he said. “The policing is just not there.”

According to the city, Farmington Hills has a 37.2% recycling rate. Michigan’s residential recycling rate is estimated to be 15%.

McCarthy also questioned the interest in providing recycling access in apartment complexes. He believes there isn’t enough interest from residents to make it worth it.

“Is it really worth a whole dumpster, and all the effort for five people to put their recyclables in there, and then possibly get it contaminated? It’s not a passion. It’s more convenient when it’s at your home than an apartment complex. It’s just more work.”