Sorting it out
WWRA recyclers expect a boost
by Shelley Daily
Since the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority was launched twenty years ago, it's recycled enough paper, glass, metal, and plastics to fill eighty football fields fifty-six feet high. But general manager Phil Bolyard says that's just the beginning. He predicts that recycling volume, which dipped during the recession, will start to grow again next year, when the WWRA switches to "single-stream" collection. Instead of sorting paper and containers into different bins, residents of Chelsea and four western townships-Dexter, Lima, Lyndon, and Manchester-will simply deposit everything in a single cart or drop-off bin.
The transition is expected to cost $3.2 million, and the single-stream system is planned to be operating by September 2012. It includes a 12,000-square-foot building expansion at the WWRA's facility on Werkner Rd. and an estimated $1.7 million in new sorting and baling equipment there. The WWRA will put up $500,000 in cash, with the $2.7 million balance coming from bonds issued by WWRA and backed by Washtenaw County. Residents will repay the debt through annual assessments over a projected fifteen-year period-$56 a year in Chelsea, where residents will have curbside cart pickup, and $24 a year in the townships for access to single-stream drop-off bins. Households will also pay a separate operating and maintenance assessment of $44 in Chelsea and $26 in the townships. WWRA chairman Frank Hammer says both the bond repayment period and the operating assessments could be reduced, depending on how much recycling increases.
"Our goal is to make this self-sustaining," says Hammer. "Nationally, we've seen that a switch to this system can boost a community's recycling by forty percent. We're being conservative with our estimate that we'll see an increase of twenty-five percent the first year." An increase in sales of recycled materials translates into a decrease in assessments-and, Hammer says, "it's almost a sellers' market" for recyclables.
Hammer spearheaded the creation of the nonprofit WWRA in 1991. It was originally a partnership among eight communities, but Bridgewater Township pulled back to non-voting
associate member status, and the village of Manchester and Sylvan Township have withdrawn from the group.
Hammer says recycling was steady at WWRA for many years but hit a ten-year low in 2010. He thinks both the economy and decreased time for individuals to spend sorting recyclables may be to blame. "The state is saying that recycling is stagnating," he says. "Something needed to be changed." When Ann Arbor switched to single-stream in 2010, it saw recycling volume grow 21 percent in the first year.
Phil Bolyard believes the new system is good for everyone involved. He points to Chelsea's "bag and tag" system for trash, which charges $2.50 per bag. More recycling means less garbage for households, and that's a cost savings. And, he says, single-stream is "less labor intensive, it means less equipment and less fuel-and hopefully this will also mean less trash bags on our roadsides and in our landfills.
[Originally published in February, 2012.]