The recent release of the Governor’s Recycling Council recommendations to enhance overall recycling in Michigan helps bring attention to a serious issue we face as a state.

For decades Michigan’s recycling rate has been about 14.5 percent. This means that of all the solid waste we generate only 14.5 percent gets recycled or composted. Unfortunately, over the last two decades our recycling rate has been virtually stagnant and Michigan is currently among the lowest performing recycling states in the United States.

Gov. Rick Snyderin 2014 appointed a nine-member council consisting of bipartisan recycling experts to advise the DEQ on how to increase recycling in Michigan with the goal of achieving a 30 percent rate. The Recycling Council’s report is encouraging, but we cannot just chart a path forward, we must also act on this plan.

We must ask why our state does such a poor job of recycling. For a state that prides itself on its natural beauty, we need to understand why the average recycling rate of our neighboring Great Lakes states is double that of Michigan’s. The answer to the question is actually very simple. Our state lacks a comprehensive recycling policy that considers the entire waste stream in its totality.

Currently, our statewide recycling policy is based on only 2 percent of the total waste stream. This 2 percent is beverage containers we lug back to our grocery and convenience stores. We disregard 98 percent of the waste materials we generate. To recycle this marginal amount of the waste stream over $100 million per year is spent. Think about this: We spend $100 million to recycle 2 percent of the waste stream. This is wildly inefficient and, frankly, ineffective.

Michigan must adopt a more comprehensive recycling policy. We are not only missing out on the positive effects recycling has on our environment but also on our economy. By doubling our recycling rate, we could create between 6,810 and 12,860 jobs. These new jobs would generate $155 to $300 million in income, $1.8 to $3.9 billion in receipts, and tens of millions in state and local tax revenue.

The Governor’s Recycling Council report addresses these issues and now our state leaders must seek opportunities to carry out these solutions. Let’s focus on all the waste we generate and how to comprehensively handle this material to reap the many rewards of strong recycling policies.

Dan Papineau, chairman

Michigan Recycling Partnership

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