89.1 WEMU

Issues Of The Environment: Increasing The End-User Market For Recyclables In Michigan

Oct 21, 2020

Resource Recycling Systems CEO Jim Frey
Credit Resource Recycling Systems / recycle.com

Several bills are pending in the Michigan Legislature, regarding the future of recycling.  The overall goal is to increase recycling fromt he current 18% up to 45%.  The Michigan initiative "NextCycle" is working to make sure the goal is achieved.  WEMU's David Fair discussed the work being done with Jim Frey, the  CEO of Recycling Resources Systems (RRS).  RRS is managing and facilitating the "NextCycle" initaitive. 


Overview

  • There are currently several bills pending in Michigan that address recycling, with an end goal of increasing recycling to 30% by 2025 and ultimately tripling Michigan’s recycling averages to 45%.   To get there requires not only a study supply of recycled material (aka “feedstock”), but also a robust circular chain, with supportive recycling infrastructure and increased end-use of recycled material by industries.
  • Sending recycled materials to the landfill isn’t just bad for the environment, it is also expensive.  Currently, Michiganders spend over $1 billion to landfill nearly $600 million worth of materials every year, according to Michigan Recycling Coalition Executive Director Kerrin O'Brien.
  • NextCycle Michigan is a State of Michigan initiative of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), managed and facilitated by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), in collaboration with the Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University and the Michigan Recycling Coalition.  The initiative aims to increase the end-user market for recyclables and compost. 
  • NextCycle goals are to:
    • Develop and support a circular economy in Michigan.
    • Create a robust recycled materials supply chain.
    • Support Michigan’s recycled-content manufacturers.
    • Impact across all people and types of communities.
  • A recent EGLE report assessed recycling as an industry in Michigan, finding “Michigan’s recycling-based economy is well-positioned for growth which will need to develop in close alignment with the goals to triple the state’s recycling rate and benefit from the economic impact that it will foster.  Those end-markets, however, are entirely dependent on a strong recycling supply chain, so recognition is given to the impact on Michigan’s economy with the needed improvements in recycling access, recycling infrastructure, and service provision in order to feed the markets and grow Michigan’s Circular Recycling Economy.  The economic impact of tripling the recycling rate to 45% would support 138,000 new jobs in Michigan’s Recycling, Reuse & Recovery (RRR) Industry, providing $9 billion in annual labor income and $33.8 billion in economic output.  At a 45% recycling rate, the RRR industry would account for 3.3% of Michigan’s total economic output, overtaking Michigan’s transportation and tourism output.  If all jobs that are directly, indirectly, or induced as a result of the recycling and recovery sectors were in the same city, it would be the third largest city in the state.”  The initiative that EGLE and MEDC (State Economic Development Corp) are now calling NextCycle is the implementation of the recommendations in this study.
  • Jim Frey, CEO for Resource Recycling Systems, is working with NextCycle to strengthen recycling into a growth industry in Michigan.

Michigan Recycling Economic Impact & Recycled Commodities Market Assessment

The analysis in this report covers the economic impact of increasing Michigan’s recycling rate to 45% through capacity expansion in the recycling supply chain via improved recycling access and infrastructure investments to feed end markets both domestically and out-of-state. 

This report also provides an assessment of the current recycled commodities markets.  As part of this work, RRS updated all baseline research and analysis from the previous version of the recycling economic impact report, the Michigan Recycling Index (MRI) report, and the Michigan Waste Characterization Study.  This update and analysis brings them into alignment recognizing the past few years of significant turbulence in the international recycling markets, acknowledges the negative as well as positive impacts on domestic markets broadly and Michigan specifically, and addresses challenges and growth opportunities. 

The assessment illustrates how Michigan’s recycling-based economy is well-positioned for growth which will need to develop in close alignment with the goals to triple the state’s recycling rate and benefit from the economic impact that it will foster.  Those end-markets, however, are entirely dependent on a strong recycling supply chain, so recognition is given to the impact on Michigan’s economy with the needed improvements in recycling access, recycling infrastructure, and service provision in order to feed the markets and grow Michigan’s Circular Recycling Economy.  The economic impact of tripling the recycling rate to 45% would support 138,000 new jobs in Michigan’s Recycling, Reuse & Recovery (RRR) Industry, providing $9 billion in annual labor income and $33.8 billion in economic output.  At a 45% recycling rate, the RRR industry would account for 3.3% of Michigan’s total economic output, overtaking Michigan’s transportation and tourism output.  If all jobs that are directly, indirectly, or induced as a result of the recycling and recovery sectors were in the same city, it would be the third largest city in the state.

The benefits of a robust RRR Industry for Michigan are not just economic.  Greenhouse gas reductions from tripling the recycling rate would eliminate emissions of an additional 7 million metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide beyond current diversion practices - equivalent to taking nearly 1.5 million passenger vehicles off the road for one year or conserving the annual energy consumption of more than 760,000 households (approximately 20% of Michigan households).

As this study indicates, several things become clear: gaps in the supply chain are barriers to the development and expansion of markets and must be addressed if the recycling economy is to grow.  There are also clear indications regarding which commodities require investments and incentives to expand their capacity in the state.  The results of this study provide clear take-aways targets for market development, infrastructure and access grants to remove barriers, fill gaps, and connect end markets to the growing volume of recyclables in the state. 

End-Use Market Development

  • Development of end markets for specific commodities in Michigan for materials where foreign import restrictions have been imposed, as well as the development of programs and technologies that can reduce the level of contamination to meet market specifications. These solutions will begin to resolve current issues in recycling markets for materials that were primarily exported in the past. 
  • The State should focus on a communication program that encourages products made in Michigan with recycled content. Case studies should be developed that illustrate how a commodity flows through the system and into what new product. 
  • The State should provide information on Michigan capacity, quantities of material Michigan generates, and identify areas of opportunity, like how to recycle specific materials like agricultural plastic. 
  • The State should implement policies and regulations that incentivize recycling, such as a solid waste surcharge on top of the tipping fee, tax credits for recycling equipment, or material bans. 
  • Solid waste districts could serve as a clearinghouse on the recyclability of products and provide a clear message on education. • Increase the use of recycled materials content standards to incentivize recycling and end-market development • Attract forward thinking companies to invest and locate in Michigan with a focus on utilizing the recycled commodity materials generated in the state.
  • Consider innovative incubator-type approaches to developing, vetting, and funding promising end-market solutions. 

Continue to Assess The State of End-Use Market At Regular Intervals

We recommend that EGLE conduct a comprehensive census of manufacturers who currently or could potentially consume recyclable feedstocks and maintain a regular survey to identify current and potential consumers of recyclable feedstocks in Michigan and the region. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.michigan.gov/documents/egle/egle-mmd-Michigan-Market-_Development-Final-Report_678214_7.pdf)

NextCycle

  • NextCycle Michigan is a State of Michigan initiative of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), managed and facilitated by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), in collaboration with the Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University, and the Michigan Recycling Coalition. The initiative aims to increase the end user market for recyclables and compost. 
  • NextCycle goals are to:
    • Develop and support a circular economy in Michigan.
    • Create a robust recycled materials supply chain.
    • Support Michigan’s recycled-content manufacturers.
    • Impact across all people and types of communities.

(Source: https://www.nextcyclemichigan.com/)

Increasing Michigan’s Recycling to 45%

Sending waste to landfills is more expensive than it seems, a recycling advocate told Michigan lawmakers.It costs money to store and manage trash. 

It also takes valuable material like plastic and aluminum out of the supply chain and away from manufacturers who could reuse it, Michigan Recycling Coalition Executive Director Kerrin O'Brien said.

"Currently, Michiganders spend over $1 billion to landfill nearly $600 million worth of materials every year," she said, figures shown in a 2017 state recycling council report.  "That's a lot of money."

A package of bills recently introduced in the state House aims to flip that equation by rewriting Michigan's solid waste law to emphasize recycling and composting material over sending it to landfills. 

O'Brien, lawmakers and waste industry representatives testified Monday in front of the House Natural Resources Committee about those bills, which aim to increase the state's recycling rate, provide curbside or drop-off recycling for almost every Michigander and strengthen oversight of landfill and composting facilities.  The proposed overhaul has been years in the making, starting in 2012 as an initiative to improve Michigan's recycling rate — which hovers around 15% — under former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. 

Specifically, the five-bill waste overhaul package aims to: 

  • Increase the recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately to 45%.
  • Expand residential recycling services.
  • Increase state oversight of landfills, recycling and composting facilities.
  • Use some of the money in the Solid Waste Management Fund, supported by fees levied on landfills, composting and waste processing facilities, to develop the Michigan recycling market.
  • Require counties to rewrite their waste management plans, with state funding help, to increase recycling and composting in their communities. Those plans would have to be approved by the state.

The initiatives they propose would be paid for by the Renew Michigan Fund, created in 2018.

Jim Frey

Jim Frey co-founded RRS in 1986 and has served as the CEO since its inception.  He offers over 35 years of expertise in recycling and waste management program development for public services and private enterprises. Jim began his career growing recycling programs from non-profit start-ups to full-scale municipal collection services and material recovery facility operations.  Jim has developed and managed projects of all sizes, including material recovery and solid waste management systems, recycling based manufacturing, market development, corporate sustainability, policy and legislation, as well as public/private collaborative recovery initiatives.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu