Detroit renters frustrated by lack of recycling options

Some apartment and loft residents downtown have resorted to giving their recylables to the homeless — or boyfriends with houses

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Walk into Ryan Floring’s storage closet, and you’ll find cases of empty Oberon, Angry Orchard and Summer Shandy bottles. The beer bottles, among other cans and boxes, have cluttered the closet for over a year because his apartment doesn’t offer recycling.

“Because there’s no real easy way to do it, I just don’t do it,” says Floring, a resident of Detroit City Apartments on Washington Boulevard, “so they just build up.”

Once, he left four bags on the street, where a homeless person soon picked them up. Otherwise, the 28-year-old Quicken Loans mortgage banker can’t bring himself to throw away items of value.

“When I was a kid we didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I would grab all the empty bottles from my house, cash them in and buy whatever I needed,” he says. “I saved a lot of money that way.”

While the city has ramped up efforts the last few years to offer curbside recycling for homeowners, many apartments and lofts don’t offer the service. Of 22 apartments and lofts surveyed by The Detroit News, 12 do not offer recycling. Property owners and management largely cite limited building space as recycling roadblocks.

Giovanni Lucia, assistant manager at Cityside apartments on Joseph Campau, says for every 10 interested renters who view units, about two get upset that recycling is not available. One woman was so appalled that she started a petition, he says. The service may be offered next year, he adds, but the focus of the parent company of Cityside has been on renovating the 142 townhouses and apartments the company purchased over a year ago.

“(Recycling) is not one of our last concerns, I don’t want to say that, but we have to make sure the pipes aren’t bursting,” he says.

Sam Magar, president of Magar & Co., which took over management of the 117-unit Kales Building on West Adams a year and a half ago, says recycling is on the list of improvements. There’s just a delay from the vendor, which is figuring out where to place the dumpster.

“It’s difficult because there’s tight space in this building that’s 100 years old,” he says.

Matthew Naimi, director of operations at Recycle Here! — a community recycling drop-off center in Detroit — says many older apartment buildings downtown were built for one-way streaming, or just garbage. Adding a second stream for recyclables might be challenging because management would have to find space for a large recycling container.

While some property managers may be wary of hiking rental prices to add recycling, Naimi says it isn’t that expensive to contract with a recycling vendor. He estimates the service costs roughly $1,000 a month for 100 units. That comes to $10 a unit.

Chris Sefcheck, 25, who didn’t want to disclose his complex, says he’d readily pay the extra 10 bucks — but not everyone feels the same way. Residents recently held a community meeting where someone proposed to lobby for a recycling service.

“It was shot down pretty quickly,” Sefcheck says. “I’m sure people didn’t scoff at the idea of recycling, but that it would cost them more. If you’re not a regular recycler, you don’t see any value.”

So what does he do with his paper and plastic? What any environmentally conscious millennial would do: Drop them off at his parent’s house.

Margaret Weber, the convener of Zero Waste Detroit, a coalition of over 20 community and environmental organizations, says recycling wasn’t part of the city’s culture until 2009, when the city started a pilot program to provide curbside recycling.

In 2014, the city outsourced its waste hauling service to private companies Rizzo Environmental Services and Advanced Disposal. The contracts mandated that they had to offer curbside recycling for residences with up to four units — not businesses or apartment buildings. The change was a move in the right direction, Weber says.

“The city of Detroit is the last major city to offer curbside (recycling) to all its residents,” Weber says.

It’s because of the service that Lauren Lewis, 25, recycles her bottles and boxes. Lewis lives with a roommate in Carlton Lofts in Brush Park, which doesn’t offer recycling. But her boyfriend has a recycle bin at his Corktown house.

“When he comes over I’ll give him a giant bin of our recycling, and he’ll put that in his bin, because it’s a lot more convenient than me lugging everything out to a recycling center,” she says.

Ron Brundidge, Detroit’s Department of Public Works director, wrote in an email that the city is still adapting to its recycling program. As of July, just 15 percent of residents, or 32,500 households, are recycling.

“Given that the vast majority of Detroiters live in single-family homes, our emphasis is currently on building participation in our curbside recycling program, which is voluntary,” he wrote. “At this stage in the development of our program, we don’t have any programs that are specific to apartment buildings, although that is a possibility we are actively exploring.”

When the waste hauling contracts come up for renewal in 2019, Weber says she hopes the city will consider ways to change the waste system. She points out cities such as Seattle and San Francisco that are “very aggressive at reducing waste” have incentives encouraging waste haulers to take care of recycling.

“(Their goal) is to reduce the waste and to recycle and reclaim those commodities as much as possible,” she says.

Recycle Here!’s Naimi says recycling is “an amenity a lot of people are looking for,” but complexes can’t just hand residents a blue bin and expect them to use it properly. “Any time you roll out a recycling program ... there needs to be an education, awareness and roll out (effort),” he says, “and a lot of apartment buildings, I just don’t think want to go the extra mile.”

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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg