Workers at the RRRASOC processing facility in Southfield sort recyclable and nonrecyclable items as they move through the facility’s conveyor system.

Workers at the RRRASOC processing facility in Southfield sort recyclable and nonrecyclable items as they move through the facility’s conveyor system.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


RRRASOC partners with EGLE to improve recycling in service communities

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published August 25, 2020

 Bundles of aluminum cans line the walls.

Bundles of aluminum cans line the walls.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

 A commercial recycling truck dumps recycled materials onto the floor.

A commercial recycling truck dumps recycled materials onto the floor.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

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METRO DETROIT — A first-of-its-kind Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy-led program, in partnership with national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership, is taking aim to improve recycling across the state through education, outreach, policy changes and market development.

“We’ve got a multi-pronged effort,” EGLE Materials Management Division Acting Director Elizabeth Browne said. “We’re trying to move the state from a history of putting everything in landfills to putting as little as possible in landfills (and) finding sustainable options for recycling and reuse of materials.

“Landfills will always have a place in our system, but we’re really trying to have people think about recycling — residents, commercial businesses and the entire industry — to assure they’re recycling appropriately when they do take those steps, so the materials that come out are of use to another company.”

The Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County has hopped on board the project as one of 14 grant recipients, each receiving $150,000 from a total pool of $800,000, to increase recycling initiatives in the communities it serves.

RRRASOC services more than 284,000 residents in Farmington, Farmington Hills, Milford, Milford Township, Novi, South Lyon, Southfield, Walled Lake and Wixom. It has a drop-off facility in Novi and a processing facility in Southfield.

Consumers should get a better understanding of what can and can’t be recycled and how to better comply with RRRASOC’s guidelines, General Manager Mike Csapo said. What the project will do is “draw a laser focus” on specific challenges and problems his business is having.

“One of the key features of this undertaking is to identify specific issues — not just general issues like there’s too much contamination or not enough recycling — but what specific things are people trying to recycle that aren’t recyclable or how are they improperly preparing their recyclables and what are those behaviors we want to try and address?” Csapo said, adding that RRRASOC will then be deploying various educational methods — direct mail, website updates, social media alerts, press releases — to inform consumers.

One issue Csapo is already aware of is the improper recycling of plastic bags, which RRRASOC doesn’t accept.

“Not only is it not cost efficient for us to be opening bags, but it’s a safety issue. We don’t know what’s in those bags many times. We don’t know if it’s something hazardous that might injure a worker (or) if it’s garbage that may contaminate the rest of the recyclables that are properly prepared.”

Education is one major strategy being implemented, but it’s not the only piece involved. Browne said there are currently six bills in the Michigan House of Representatives that address some of the programmatic and grant-funding issues needed to move the state forward.

Alongside those strategies sits market development, the leg of the project focused on incentivizing current or new businesses to stay or come to Michigan by offering them clean recycled materials.

“It takes a lot of energy to get these materials into the marketplace to begin with. The more we can reuse them and as easily as possible get them back into reuse … the better off we are,” Browne said. “You need to look at the full cost of getting virgin versus recycled materials into people’s hands.”

The overall goal of the project is to increase Michigan’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025. Michigan currently sits at roughly 18% statewide, though Csapo said RRRASOC’s communities already sit well above that.

As of 2019, RRRASOC communities had a 38% recycling rate. The national average is 35%. Csapo said that, despite the higher-than-average rate, there’s always room to improve.

“We know there are people out there who simply aren’t recycling. We know there are people who do recycle but could more, and we know there are people who recycle but could do (it) better.”

Overall, Csapo hopes the project can incentivize more recycling and better recycling, “but what does that mean, specifically?” he said. “It means more operational efficiency, improved safety and higher product value at the processing facility.”

For more information on RRRASOC, visit rrrasoc.org. For more information on EGLE, visit michigan.gov/egle.

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