Washtenaw County awarded record-breaking $1.6M from EGLE to expand recycling

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Six Washtenaw County public agencies and nonprofit organizations have been awarded nearly $1.6 million in infrastructure grants for what the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) calls the largest expansion of recycling in the county’s history.

Granted by EGLE, the combined $1.58 million in grants will support recycling infrastructure, improve the quality of recyclable materials and promote market development using the Renew Michigan Fund, created in 2019 to boost recycling efforts across Michigan.

Recipients include Ann Arbor Public Schools, Recycle Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti, Dexter Community Schools, Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority and Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority.

The department’s support of new research, education and recycling activities in Washtenaw County comes as Michigan sees an increase in curbside recycling as residents work from home, according to a release from EGLE.

It also comes at a time when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan legislators want to double the state’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025, and ultimately reach 45% annually, says the release. Increasing the recycling rate to 45% would support 138,000 new jobs in the recycling industry which, according to a study commissioned by EGLE, would provide $9 billion in annual labor income and $33.8 billion in economic output.

  Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our email newsletter here!

In addition to the $1.58 million in Washtenaw County grants, EGLE will build on the state-wide Know It Before You Throw It recycling education campaign, which launched last year.

Here’s what the grants will do:

Ann Arbor Public Schools will use a $112,716 grant to increase access to recycling and to purchase a refrigerated vehicle. The school system will install recycling collection containers and promote food reclamation activities on school district’s campuses that serve more than 20,000 students. The truck will take daily trips to food distribution agencies to deliver unused food.

A grant of $800,000 was awarded to Recycle Ann Arbor, which will rebuild and reopen a new Materials Recovery Facility. The $6.75 million project, owned by Recycle Ann Arbor, will have a processing capacity for over 15,000-plus tons of recycled materials that currently goes to Ohio. The facility will also create between 10-20 new jobs in the region, according to EGLE.

Read: Beverage industry invests $800K to revive Ann Arbor recycling facility

The city of Ypsilanti will purchase recycling containers for the city’s downtown area, Depot Town and 12 public parks with a $73,440 EGLE grant. City leaders plan to place recycling containers next to existing public trash receptacles, a move which is anticipated to divert 11 tons of recyclables from trash containers annually.

Dexter Community Schools will expand lunchroom recycling and establish food waste collection programs throughout the school district with a $17,608 grant. The grant will help the district reduce trash pickups by increase the recycling of lunchroom items.

Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) was awarded $458,370 to purchase sorting equipment and a new truck. This will increase how many households the agency can serve and its collection and sorting capacity. WWRA serves residents in the townships of Dexter, Lyndon, Manchester and Lima, and the city of Chelsea.

Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority (WRRMA) will use a $118,605 grant to continue its efforts with high-quality recyclables and to complete the national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership’s “Feet on the Street,” a recycling education program. The agency serves over 150,000 residents in various county townships and cities.

“Recycling infrastructure grants are a critical component of EGLE’s support for recycling growth in Michigan,” said EGLE Assistant Director of the Materials Management Division Elizabeth Browne in the release.

“The objective of the EGLE recycling infrastructure grants is to increase processing and collection capacity in Washtenaw County, improve access to community recycling programs and grow participation among the constituencies they serve by assisting with the purchase of equipment and other items,” Browne said, adding that many of the projects will also reduce the spread of infectious disease as more processes will be automated.

Another goal of the Washtenaw County funding is to reduce the number of contaminated recyclables that end up in recycling bins by providing educational messaging. Contamination happens when items not accepted for recycling, including plastic bags or items with food residue, are added to recycling bins, according to EGLE.

Between 30-35% of materials currently recycled WRRMA’s service territory are contaminated, EGLE said. The agency will kick off its program in spring 2021 with a target of reducing recycling contamination by 40% by the following fall.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.