recycling & organic waste

A big part of the City’s Climate Action Plan is to reduce the amount of solid waste, increase recycling rates and volume and to increase the diversion of organic material from the landfill stream.  Obviously, our recycling operation is central to this.

As many of you are aware, the City terminated the contract with the operator of the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where all of our recycling is sorted and then shipped out to processors who bought the materials.  The contract was terminated for numerous and repeated safety violations which were not corrected.  In addition, as the market for recycled glass disappeared, the operator had resorted to using glass as “daily landfill cover”, which means it was being ground up and spread on the landfill each evening.  While it was permitted under the contract, that information was not shared with the public until 2016.  

Following termination of the agreement, the MRF was shut down for safety concerns and remains mothballed. In the last year, we have been able to secure interim recycling services wherein our recycling materials are shipped to sorting facilities in Ohio where they are then sold.  This is expensive and unsustainable. (Though a silver lining to this is that since November 2016, our glass is again being recycled!)

While the City has selected Recycle Ann Arbor (who is responsible for curbside pick up in Ann Arbor) to provide interim operation of our recycling program, they are just responsible for loading, shipping and then sorting our recycling.  They are not operating our MRF.  Much of the last nine months has been spent debating the merits of baling and shipping or loose loading and shipping our materials. Baling the single stream results in lower quality materials and higher residual rates (the rate of materials that must be discarded because they are contaminated). Ultimately, Council opted to work with RAA on the loose load option because it results in higher quality materials and lower residuals. Reducing the residual rate just 1% will save the City 40 metric tons of carbon emissions per month 1!

City staff has been working to determine the cost and feasibility of getting the MRF operating again.  We’ve received estimates ranging from $750,000 - $2 million just to get the MRF running again.  Therefore, we need to be also looking at the long-term future of the MRF and to determine if there is an opportunity to work with Washtenaw County and our neighbors and partners like RAA to develop a regional facility - one which would help us create more local markets for our recycled materials.

Organic Waste
Organic waste makes up a significant amount of the solid waste stream, meaning that about half of what goes into the landfill could be composted, which is both economically and environmentally beneficial for the City.  A study was recently completed outlining the costs, benefits, recommended policies, ordinances and phasing for an expanded organics diversion program.  We cannot sit back and merely extend our solid waste policies just because it is cheaper to landfill our garbage.  We have an opportunity to begin acting on many of the recommendations in the Organics study.  Specifically, I will be working to:

  • Update the City’s 5-year solid waste plan

  • Analyze the costs and benefits of a fee for service model and compare it to our current millage-funded model for waste operation

  • Expand the organic collection program to provide year-round collection

  • Expand organic collection to include multi-family building

  • Develop a commercial organics collection program for schools and restaurant

  • Hire staff or contractor with expertise in recycling and organic waste programs

  • Implement expanded education and outreach program to expand participation in the organics program

  • Provide compostable carts for all residential addresses