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Expert: MDEQ recycling grants a "baby step" to improve state's abysmal recycling rate

flickr user Redwin Law

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is offering communities grants to help start recycling programs. The total amount approved for the grants is $500,000.

Bryan Weinert of Recycle Ann Arbor says the money won't go far, but it's at least a start to improving the state's "embarrassingly" low recycling rate.  

The national average for recycling is about 30%.  Michigan is at about 15%.

Weinert says part of the problem is a lack of state leadership on the issue for about 20 years. He attributes that partly to complacency after the state became one of the first in the country to adopt a bottle deposit law.  

Plastic, aluminum and glass bottles account for only about 3% of the total stream of waste that can be recycled, he says.  

Weinert says an even bigger problem is the state's overcapacity of landfills. That makes it so cheap for communities to dispose of trash, there's little incentive to start a recycling program. It also makes it cheap for other states and the province of Ontario to dump their trash here.

He hopes the state Legislature approves a bill during the lame duck session that would increase dumping fees at landfills.

"(The bill) would provide a funding source for some environmental cleanups in the state, but also create a sustainable funding source for recycling infrastructure into perpetuity that does not exist right now," he says.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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