Opinion | Legislature should pass bills to expand recycling in Michigan

Todd Miller

Todd Wilson is the COO of Grand Rapids-based Perfect Circle Recycling

Michigan needs to change the way it thinks about waste, and a package of bills in the Legislature, starting with HB 5812, will help move that forward.  

The bill package, which would completely rethink how Michigan handles waste and would help bolster the efforts made by me and other business owners, as well as Kent County as a whole. I applaud the Legislature for picking up this important cause and encourage them to pass these bills.  

Michigan has the most accumulated “waste in place” per person in the nation, with 62.4 tons of buried waste for every man, woman and child in the state, according to  2019 EPA landfill data. This bill package would help Michigan get out of this unenviable #1 spot as a place to cheaply dump trash, and into becoming a leader in sustainability and managing our waste.  

In Kent County, our Department of Public Works has set a bold goal of diverting 90 percent of waste from our landfills by 2030. These bills rightly highlight the need for increased investment and initiatives that promote landfill diversion, which aligns with Kent County’s goals. The series of bills aims to update Michigan’s laws that regulate solid waste and to increase recycling, with the goal of increasing our embarrassing 15 percent statewide recycling rate to a respectable 35 percent by 2025.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has further illuminated that we lack much of the local infrastructure and processes to deal with materials once their obvious and initial use is over. We cannot continue to look to other countries or other states to handle these materials for us. These bills would shift Michigan’s focus to how we can create local industries to process materials that were previously destined for the landfill and provide appropriate oversight for composting and recycling facilities. 

Kent County has been trying to get out of the landfilling business. That’s why our company located in Grand Rapids, because of extensive efforts to reduce waste in West Michigan, including plans for the Sustainable Business Park. 

The Kent County DPW processes more than 1 billion pounds of waste each year, and estimates 75 percent of that waste could be reused, recycled or converted. However, we’re headed in the wrong direction. According to an annual report by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, Kent County had a 2 percent increase in the amount of waste buried in landfills over the past year. 

Waste shouldn’t be something that we just bury and forget about, it’s a resource we can recover and use in growing our economy.  We need Michigan legislators  to get these bills passed. They align with Kent County’s goals for reducing waste that heads to a landfill, and that’s good for business in Michigan.  

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