Michigan strives for 30% recycling goal by leveraging key grant money

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A program aiming to leverage state recycling dollars through public-private partnerships has generated about $97 million in investment in 2020 and 2021, the Department of Environmental, Great Lakes and Energy said Monday. 

The investment through the NextCycle Michigan initiative leveraged about $4.9 million in Renew Michigan funds with a goal to increase residential and commercial recycling and help businesses to develop processes and infrastructure needed to reuse the recycled products. 

The initiative has more than 30 partners participating as well as a platforms to serve as a sort of recycling business incubator to drive recycling innovation. The state hopes the incubator will generate ideas such as those implemented at Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan, where recycled material will be made into toilet paper, or Meijer, where excess food is repurposed for compost or animal feed.

State leaders are seeking to increase Michigan's recycling rate from the current 18% to 30% by 2025.

The partnerships with local governments and private businesses are part of  one of the largest recycling pushes in state history, said Liesl Clark, director for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The department dubbed the initiative as one of the biggest recycling accomplishments since bottle recycling bill in 1976.

“At EGLE, we know that recycling is one of the most important things you can do every day to make a positive difference for our environment and climate," Clark said. "But what many Michiganders often don’t realize is that recycling has become an essential tool in supporting our state’s local economies, businesses big and small, and major employers in the manufacturing sector.”

The overall goal of the program is to increase Michigan's recycling rate, which the state has been trying to push from around 15% to 30% by 2025 and eventually to 45%. The U.S. average recycling rate was about 32% in 2018.

The state estimates Michigan's current recycling rate is at about 18%.

On Monday, the state announced at least 20 new grants through the initiative including $50,000 for Next Energy for an analysis of Michigan's electric vehicle battery recycling system, $75,000 for battery sorting technology upgrades at Battery Solutions and $250,000 for Schupan for equipment that empties packaging so that the containers can be recycled. 

Another $250,000 will go to Emterra Environmental for upgrades that will produce cleaner glass materials and $170,000 to Michigan State University Recycling for better equipment to handle local drop-off recycling. 

About $250,000 was given to Great Lakes Tissue so it could accept more types of containers to produce paper products and $55,000 to the Northeast Michigan Council of Government for a recycling processing facility. 

Another $150,000 was given to Emmet County for an expansion of a food scraps collection program. 

State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Traverse City Republican whose district includes some of the businesses and communities benefiting from the program, touted the increased recycling money the Legislature allocated two years ago, when it upped annual recycling funding from $2 million to $15 million. 

“Now, more than ever, Michigan residents view recycling as an essential public service," Schmidt said in a statement. Especially during the pandemic, he said, "producers see residential recycling programs as a critical part in the manufacturing supply chain so they can make their products from recycled content instead of new materials."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley also endorsed the program, noting it would help to "build-out domestic markets for recycled goods."

“Our state decision-makers wisely understood that partnering with Michigan’s business community to help develop market driven solutions was critical to improving Michigan’s waste and materials management processes," Studley said. 

People wishing to apply for the next round of grants can visit michigan.gov/mirecycles. People wishing to participate in the next round of NextCycle innovation challenges can visit nextcyclemichigan.com.