‘Recycling detectives’ to visit Washtenaw County neighborhoods this summer

‘Feet on the Street’ campaign aimed at improving curbside residential recycling

ANN ARBOR – If you see people rummaging through your recycling cart this summer, don’t be alarmed.

They’re members of a new program to improve curbside recycling and educate residents about the do’s and don’ts of the practice.

The first-of-its-kind project is a partnership between the Washtenaw Regional Resource Management Authority, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership.

The nationally renowned Feet on the Street program will begin on Monday and will cover Ann Arbor Township, Dexter, Saline, Scio Township, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

A newly formed waste authority, WRRMA aims to improve the quality of materials residents are recycling by visiting the area’s approximate 40,000 households and provide real-time recycling feedback and education.

Read: Can I recycle that? Ann Arbor’s guide to best recycling practices

“Recycling is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do – and this program represents a major step forward for recycling in our communities,” WRRMA manager Theo Eggermont said in a release. “Recycling properly not only saves our taxpayers money by reducing the cost of processing at the materials recovery facility, but it also supports jobs and improves the health of the environment.

“We know our residents want to recycle the right way. Through this Feet on the Street campaign, we are providing them customized, immediate feedback to do just that.”

Established by The Recycling Partnership, the program helps communities make their recycling programs more economically efficient, improves cleanliness of cities and towns and provides more recycled items for new products, reducing the need for new resources used in packaging.

How the program works

A group of community-based observers will visit every resident’s cart and provide individualized feedback on how to improve items that end up in recycling.

Feet on the Street encourages residents to recycle the following items:

  • Paper and cartons
  • Cardboard
  • Metal items such as cans
  • Plastic bottles, jars and jugs
  • Glass bottles and jars

Residents are urged to not recycle the following items:

  • Plastic bags or plastic wrap
  • Cords, hoses or chains
  • Yard waste
  • Food or liquids

“The Feet on the Street program works by giving residents instant feedback on what is and is not recyclable,” director of community programs at The Recycling Partnership, Jill Martin, said in a release.

“Through this personalized and real-time feedback loop, we are going to help the communities of WRRMA capture more quality recyclables that can then be transformed into new materials, creating and supporting jobs, a less wasteful planet and stronger, healthier communities.”

Recycling market development specialist with EGLE, Matt Flechter, said a material isn’t truly recycled until it is repurposed into a new item for use. The process of recycling an item saves reduces water consumption, saves energy, decreases greenhouse gasses and more.

“Material should be clean and practically free of any contaminants to be considered viable for an end market and repurposing,” Flechter said in a release.

The Feet on the Street program has been implemented by The Recycling Partnership in 70 communities nationwide, resulting in a 27 percent increase in capturing quality recyclables, and in some communities, a 57 percent decrease of nonrecyclable items in their carts.

“We are looking forward to partnering with Michigan communities and The Recycling Partnership on this data-driven approach,” director of EGLE’s Materials Management Division, Liz Browne, said in a release. “It’s more important than ever to communicate with the public in order to improve the quality of materials being recycled.

“We all have a role to play in helping businesses get materials to make the essential products Michigan needs for our economic recovery from COVID-19, such as toilet paper, food containers and shipping boxes.”

For more information about the program, visit www.wrrma.org or call 734-222-3920.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.