Opinion: Trash can get picked up in lame duck

Kerrin O’Brien
O'Brien writes: "The time is now to support the funding and policy necessary to improve materials management to the benefit of Michigan communities."

Michigan lags behind the entire nation in the amount of material we recycle. But a proposal in the state Legislature would set us on a better path.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Snyder announced a landmark proposal to fund priority environmental issues. Sen. Mike Nofs, R- Battle Creek, introduced supporting legislation – Senate Bill 943 – to invest in finding new and innovative ways to move currently wasted resources into productive use. Michigan needs this sustainable, long-term funding mechanism to address the legacy and challenges of waste. The longer we wait to address these issues, the more they threaten the health of residents and the environment.

The Michigan Recycling Coalition supports an increase to the surcharge on landfill tip fees to dedicate $24 million to address the most challenging disposal issues. The Coalition is actively working to gain bipartisan support on this important measure before year’s end.

The impacts of the products we consume are leaving a complicated legacy of convenience and crisis behind them. In the 1970s, Michigan had to take a hard look at solid waste management and focused on developing a system that was more protective of the environment and human health. We closed old dumps and worked to make landfill disposal safer.

Forty years later, however, we have a wide array of new products and know more about the limits of waste disposal for these diverse and growing waste streams. Experts agree that the future is not in disposal but rather in finding new uses for the diverse resources in our computers, plastics, and paper. It’s time to bring Michigan solid waste policies and practices into the future and support communities and businesses managing waste in a way that protects the environment and grows the economy.

Waste and recycling stakeholders identified the need to support planning and infrastructure investment to align recycling and composting systems across the state long ago. Educating the public about recycling and finding new uses for the material communities and businesses collect and process here in Michigan makes the whole system hum.

Outdated policy makes it cheap and easy to throw things away. Investment in recycling carts, trucks, and processing facilities to manage and sell reusable material developed out of community interest and business opportunity. We must protect these investments and support these programs as they adapt to address the challenges of the changing recycling landscape so that instead of sending recyclables to China, we are keeping those valuable resources circulating in our economy.

Michigan families deserve clean water, beautiful landscapes, and healthy communities. Michigan businesses deserve the opportunity to capitalize on the raw materials we should be diverting from disposal.

Let’s stop kicking the can down the road and recycle it instead. The time is now to support the funding and policy necessary to improve end-of-life materials management to the benefit of Michigan communities and businesses. I encourage you to voice your support as well.

Kerrin O’Brien is executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.