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Regional Recycling

Communities team up to replace the MRF.

by James Leonard

From the February, 2019 issue

Ann Arbor and nearby communities are moving ahead on plans to create a shared recycling system. None too soon, says Bryan Weinert, director of strategy for Recycle Ann Arbor.

"We've stagnated as a community," Weinert says. Ann Arbor was a pioneer in civic efforts to keep reusable materials out of landfills, but "the latest statistic is at an embarrassingly low 29 percent recovery rate," he says. "The national average is 30 percent."

County water resource commissioner Evan Pratt is coordinating the effort with representatives from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, and Dexter, plus Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Scio, and Ann Arbor townships. Tentatively called the Washtenaw Resource Recovery Management Authority, it's also looking at ways to save money on trash hauling and increase composting. Pratt emails that representatives "are attending Board, Council and Committee meetings in January and February" to explain and seek support for the project.

For more than twenty years, Ann Arbor's Materials Recovery Facility on Ellsworth processed recyclables from the city and other municipalities. But citing safety issues, the city closed the MRF in 2016 and fired the private company that operated it. The site now serves only as a transfer point between the Recycle Ann Arbor trucks that collect recyclables and its semitrucks that haul them to Cincinnati for processing. "We're in a holding pattern and have been for two and a half years," Weinert says, spending $1 million a year to send "three trailer loads a day 240 miles."

RAA has lobbied to reopen the MRF, but "the facility continues to suffer from significant equipment and building issues," city spokesperson Robert Kellar emails. "Its future is part of the new solid waste planning process."

"Everyone is gung-ho to replace the MRF," Pratt emails. "But owning, operating, or otherwise being exposed to the risk of a facility is a concern. Whether there would be a local public recycling facility is really in the group's hands. Regardless of ownership, I don't think there is any way around

...continued below...

public bidding for contract services, and we would expect Recycle Ann Arbor would respond to any Request for Proposals.

"Most group members would be pretty interested if a private entity were to seek long-term contracts with communities in order to build a new facility," he writes. "So the initial focus of the group will be to improve the quality and consistency of recycling, in order to be an attractive bulk contract customer of a MRF."

Last year, city council extended RAA's long-haul contract through June of this year. The city is recommending that the new authority extend it again, through June 2020. By then, the success or failure of regional recycling will probably have been determined.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2019.]


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