University of Michigan: Michigan government leaders support recycling efforts, work to confront implementation challenges

Recycling remains popular with local government leaders in Michigan, which recently established a goal of tripling the state’s current per capita recycling rate.

Still, those leaders often encounter difficulties in implementing their programs, tied to costs, improper recycling practices by users and a lack of end markets for their recycled materials, according to a new University of Michigan report.

The results appear in the second report on recycling issues based on the fall 2021 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey, conducted by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy. The first was released in March.

Costs are a problem for those jurisdictions that have recycling programs (46%) and are also cited by those where recycling services are not available (55%), particularly in urban jurisdictions and those in west central Michigan. Fully 73% of respondents believe additional funding is needed to help them improve or expand their recycling efforts.

The logistics of recycling programs—infrastructure, staffing and reaching end markets—concern leaders in areas large and small, with or without such programs.

“The results of this survey shows that challenges exist across the board. Besides costs, improper recycling practices by users can create contamination and a lack of end markets for recycled materials can cause bottlenecks,” said Debra Horner, senior program manager for the Michigan Public Policy Survey. “These issues may be intertwined in the decision-making process for local governments.”

More than a quarter of local leaders cite lack of public awareness or participation in recycling efforts and staffing for recycling services as additional challenges.

The report, Michigan local leaders’ views on recycling: Current challenges andopportunities for improvement, as part of the Michigan Local Recycling Policy Project, has recommendations for improving the situation. Beyond extra funding, local entities are looking for additional local or regional partnerships.

In order to introduce recycling, these same resources were also the top mentions by those with no recycling available to residents today, according to the report.

Recycling efforts across Michigan have been the focus of significant activity and investment by the state government. In 2018, lawmakers created the Renew Michigan Fund to make resources available to improve recycling in Michigan.

Since then, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has partnered with state, local and national organizations to create programs that upgrade local recycling infrastructure, improve public awareness and participation, and grow recycling end markets.

Higher revenues from the sale of recycled materials, state-funded outreach and educational efforts aimed at residents and/or businesses, and technical assistance (such as customized advising on funding, partnerships, contracts, etc.) are also resources local leaders believe are likely to help expand or improve current recycling services.

“Against the backdrop of operational challenges, local leaders have expressed optimism regarding the impact that additional resources could have on the likelihood of expanding or introducing recycling services in their communities. And they say additional technical assistance would have an impact as well,” said Natalie Fitzpatrick, project manager at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy.