Whether you live in the City of Midland or in the townships of Midland County, there are local resources available for recycling materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Esther Williams, executive director of Midland Recyclers, said recycling, in addition to reusing and reducing, are key factors in mitigating climate change. If people are concerned about climate change, the one thing they can do that makes a positive difference is to recycle, she said.
“When you make products out of recycled content, it reduces the energy use, the water use and it produces fewer greenhouse gases,” she said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Williams is right about tackling climate change through recycling, explaining how the life cycle of products creates greenhouse gas emissions.
“The production, transport, and disposal of municipal solid waste leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere,” the EPA’s website states. “The release of these gases occurs at every stage of a product’s life-cycle, thus contributing to climate change.”
Williams said recycling is also a way to save our resources, such as paper, glass and metal, from being discarded.
“We don’t want to fill our landfills with resources,” she said.
In addition to directly recycling, residents should buy products that utilize recycled content, Williams said, to help fuel the cycle.
“A lot of times (recycled material) is going into practical things that people use all the time, like insulation, carpet, paper and cardboard boxes,” she said.
Curbside recycling in the city
Serving just shy of 15,000 customers within city limits, Midland’s Curbside Pick-up Program is funded through city tax dollars.
“Our program is mainly residential, and we do offer it to some businesses as long as they can comply with the residential requirements for collecting,” said Karen Murphy, Midland Public Services director.
The program is made possible through a contract agreement between Midland and Republic Services, a waste collection service based out of Bay County. Along with recycled material from several other townships within the area, the waste Republic picks up from Midland is sent to a recycling transfer station in Pinconning.
Like all single-stream recycling programs in the United States, Murphy said, contamination of recycled material is a significant issue facing waste management programs. “Single-stream” recycling refers to a system in which all paper fibers, plastics, metals and other recyclable materials are mixed within a collection truck instead of being sorted by the depositor into separate commodities and handled separately throughout the collection process.
“Some of it’s not purposeful contamination — a lot of it is from people who think they’re doing a great job and putting as much as they possibly can in their bins because they see the ‘recycling’ symbol on (the material),” Murphy said. “A lot of materials are recyclable, but they’re not necessarily recyclable through our curbside program, so that’s where that contamination happens.”
Among the most common mistakes people make when recycling is throwing pizza boxes into the mix.
“Pizza boxes are recyclable as long as they’re completely free of any food contamination,” Murphy said. “If there’s one spot of grease on that pizza box, it then contaminates all of the paper products it’s recycled with.”
Another tip Murphy often gives is to never put recycled material into plastic bags. Due to the single-stream nature of the Curbside process, all material is meant to be placed directly in the recycling bin.
Any recycling that is bagged is sent to a landfill.
Though grocery store bags are recyclable, they are not processed through the Curbside process due to their tendency to get caught in a recycling center’s separation machines, often causing damage.
After enough material is collected at the Pinconning facility, it is then transported to one of two material recovery facilities in either the Traverse City area or Metro Detroit, Murphy said.
Republic reports an annual amount of 1,800 tons of material is recycled.
Murphy said Midland residents interested in learning more about what is and is not permitted through the Curbside Program can visit RecyclingSimplifed.com, which is hosted by Republic Services, or get a more statewide perspective of the issue at RecyclingRaccoons.org, organizing by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
For those who live outside of the City of Midland limits, or have recyclable items that Curbside doesn’t collect, like glass, Midland Recyclers is the place to go.
Located at 4305 E. Ashman St., Midland Recyclers is a non-profit organization that offers niche recycling services and educational and volunteer opportunities for the community.
Based solely on donations and volunteers, Midland Recyclers is a do-it-yourself drop-off recycling program. Anyone can bring their recyclables; however they must be properly cleaned and visitors must sort them into the appropriate bins themselves.
Midland Recyclers takes the same items as Curbside, such as office paper, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans. However, the center also accepts things like glass — colored and clear — corks, ink jet cartridges, batteries and more.
From there, the materials are transported all over the state to be processed and recycled. For example, Williams said the cardboard goes to various mills to either make more boxes or to Kalamazoo to make cereal boxes. The plastic bottles go to Dundee where they’re washed, grinded and turned into pellets that are then shipped all over the world to make products with.
In addition to taking hard-to-recycle items, Midland Recyclers offers its services during community events, such as collecting water bottles during local run/walks, and it offers educational tours for schools and local businesses.
Just like the Curbside Program, contamination of materials is a challenge for the non-profit.
“It’s so important, no matter where you recycle, whether it’s Curbside or here, it’s got to be clean,” Williams said. “If you don’t have time to clean that peanut butter or milk jug out, just throw it out because it’s just going to cause — well it’s going to impact the health and safety of other human beings.”
She said if things like bleach containers get dropped off with the lids still on them, they will throw them away to avoid risk to volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, Williams said the center can always use extra help.
“Anytime we’re open we need help; there’s stuff to do,” she said.
Midland Recyclers is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, until 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The facility is closed on Sundays.
The state of local recycling programs
A year ago, China stopped taking the bulk of America’s recycling — paper and plastics — which they had done for decades. Williams said this caused the value of most recyclables to drop.
“The prices are low — cardboard lost 70% of its value,” she said. “So, some of the income that we make here (at Midland Recyclers), or any of the recycling centers, comes from selling the materials. So, that’s down.”
While Williams is confident the prices will rise again, she said this has caused pressure on the non-profit.
“We’re surviving; it’s tough right now,” she said. “We do need the public to help us to keep going.”
Those looking to support Midland Recyclers can give donations and/or attend the center’s fundraising Halloween Bash from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at St. Brigid Catholic Church Parish Hall.
However, Williams said Midland Recyclers is working to stabilize its income through its fee-based business recycling program, which directly collects recyclable material from local businesses.
Williams said the program is gaining new customers all the time as businesses look to implement sustainability and landfill goals. There are about 100 Midland businesses in the program already, and it is now expanding to businesses in Saginaw and Bay county.
To learn more about Midland Recyclers, visit http://www.midlandrecyclers.org/