8/6/2014 12:01:00 AM Emmet County Recycling undertaking business recycling measurement
Recycling is big in Emmet County: over 80% of its households recycle and the county recycling facility processes and ships over 11,000 tons of materials a year. Exactly how big is a mystery, though, even to Emmet County Recycling (ECR). That's because a large portion of the recycling goes unaccounted for: the portion recycled by businesses through channels other than the county. Tons of metals are moved by scrap yards. Huge amounts of cardboard are baled and backhauled or sold to brokers by supermarkets and "big box" stores. Pallets are collected for reuse and recycling. Dozens of different materials are recycled through such channels every day. The county's Parallel Recycling Study, launched July 1, will pull together numbers on this activity to get a fuller picture of recycling locally.
The current Emmet County measurement effort grows out of Governor Snyder's Michigan Recycling Plan, released in April of this year. The ambitious plan aims to essentially double the volume being recycled in the state by the end of 2017. What is the very first step in the plan? Improve measurement of recycling occurring in the state.
Emmet County Recycling has long been considered a model rural recycling program and has been the subject of a great deal of attention as the Governor rolled out the Recycling Plan. ECR Director Elisa Seltzer was appointed to the nine-member Governor's Recycling Council, an advisory body working on implementation of the plan. While working to move state measurement efforts forward, getting that fuller picture of recycling in the county is the next step to keep ECR ahead of the curve.
"I suspect the amount of material being recycled through other channels may equal what we collect through the county system," said Kate Melby, the Emmet County Recycling staff member who has headed up the study. "It tends to be heavy materials and there is definitely a lot out there."
ECR keeps excellent records of all of the recyclables it handles, which puts it ahead of most communities in Michigan. Many counties have a hodge podge of municipal and charity/private recycling programs which may or may not record or share volume data. No Michigan communities are known to have substantial data on parallel recycling by businesses.
Emmet last gathered parallel recycling data in 2012, with the help of an intern from Baker College, Barb Stevenson of Petoskey. She contacted roughly 50 businesses identified as likely large generators of recyclables and obtained numbers from about a third that semester. Brown Motors was one of the respondents to the 2012 survey. Rick Kline, their service manager, reported that they recycled a wide range of materials, from antifreeze to tires with a total annual weight of over 110,000 pounds.
Two more local interns will be picking up where Stevenson left off, conducting the new Parallel Recycling Study. The interns are Lindsey Hall and Andi Shepherd. Both are from Harbor Springs and studied at Northern Michigan University. Andi graduated this spring and Lindsey will return to school in Marquette in the fall. The two will be sending out letters and calling local businesses to request the volume data. Businesses which participated in 2012 will be contacted for updates.
Many businesses are pleased to share the details of their recycling. Recycling and waste reduction are now widely recognized as practical ways to cut costs and improve the sustainability of businesses. Corporations are setting high goals for reducing, reusing, and recycling and are proud to highlight their accomplishments.
"You're darn right we're proud of it," said Ron Foeller of the Petoskey Home Depot, who reported the store recovered an estimated 105 tons of cardboard and 7,000 pallets in 2013. About the Parallel Recycling Study, he added, "I think it will be fun to learn about all the things that are being recycled out there that you wouldn't even think of."
Another local business which takes great pride in their recycling accomplishments is Yazaki's Circuit Controls operation. They were the winners of Emmet County's 2011 Recycler of the Year Award and have achieved "Zero Waste" status. Their plant on M-119, where they manufacture connectors for vehicle wire harnesses, is full of unexpected things being recycled. Even oils and bits of scrap metal from their mop water are recovered. Producing billions of connectors, they recycle millions of pounds of materials annually, primarily metals.
In some industries, however, waste generation and recycling data is proprietary information. To address this concern, ECR is setting up secure mechanisms to receive and aggregate data from all those businesses that need to keep their data confidential. Under the Emmet County Solid Waste Ordinance, the DPW licenses and collects data from businesses which haul waste and recyclables. Chain retailers which backhaul their recyclables may be integrated into this system.
"We look forward to speaking with Emmet County businesses and learning more about what they're recycling. We have long commended businesses that recycle with our county program. We will now have the opportunity to acknowledge businesses recycling through other means. Any 2013 recycling volume data will be appreciated as we build our database," concluded Elisa Seltzer, Director of Emmet County Recycling.
For more information on the Parallel Recycling Study, call Emmet County Recycling at 231-348-0640.