The Michigan Recycling Coalition (MRC), located in Lansing, Michigan, is a not-for-profit organization that has supported and advanced the recycling and composting industries in the state for over 30 years.
In 2014, Governor Snyder announced a statewide recycling initiative with the aim of boosting material recovery through public education and technical assistance, provision of convenient access to recycling and development of markets that will capture an increasing stream of recycled content. For the purpose of providing a statewide baseline measurement and benchmark of recycling activity against which progress could be measured going forward, the MRC was awarded a grant through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The MRC was charged with three distinct goals for the study:
- Identify access levels to recycling opportunities through curbside and dropoff services in communities across the state;
- Measure statewide curbside and drop-off recycling participation;
- Develop a clear understanding of Michigan’s recycling rate with a focus on municipal solid waste (MSW).
MRC engaged RRS to lead the project team and accomplish these goals – enter the Michigan Recycling Index (MRI). RRS developed the brand and informational website, as well as identified key stakeholders to be surveyed. RRS then launched a data collection campaign through a series of surveys that targeted all of Michigan’s major municipalities, all 83 counties, large and small material recovery facilities (MRFs), as well as collectors and haulers of recyclables. Michigan communities were characterized for access by the type of services that were provided including curbside pickup provided by local government, curbside pickup through subscription services with private waste haulers, and drop-off locations for recycled materials.
Beyond having a strong understanding of municipal recycling, the MRI team realized it was critical to understand the flow of materials that may bypass municipal programs. A significant fraction of recycled material is reported by collection points to the DEQ such as organics, electronics and tires. Michigan also has a robust bottle deposit system that collects fees for beverage containers. RRS ensured information was gathered on this significant fraction of the recycled material stream. Finally, RRS solicited information from all Michigan-based paper mills, major plastics re-processors and a variety of take-back programs.
In all, RRS was able to evaluate levels of access to recycling and composting services for over 95 percent of the state’s population. The team compiled data from communities on participation rates for their recycling programs – defined as the percent of households who make use of the program over the course of a year. Although data on participation is limited as this information is challenging for recycling programs to collect, the MRI found a wide range of participation in recycling programs, ranging from less than 1% of households participating, to over 90%. Additionally, the MRI study successfully identified significant patterns and characterizations of participation that varied both geographically and demographically.
RRS successfully achieved the final goal of understanding sources and quantities of curbside and drop-off materials and materials that are processed for the production of new products.
- Michigan MSW recycling rate is estimated at 15% for 2013, with a possible range of 12.9%-18.7% based on study parameters.
- 44% of recycled material is ‘traditional’ recyclable materials, 26% is composted organics, and 19% is other source separated streams (such as lead-acid batteries, white goods, tires, e-waste, and textiles)
- At least 61% of Michigan households have access to curbside recycling services, while 33% of Michigan households have minimal or no access to convenient recycling.
The Michigan Recycling Index provided a new lens for understanding who has access to recycling, how material is recycled, and the level of recycling in the state. The information and insights from this project will be used to inform, guide, and justify state leadership and funding in this arena, attract public and private sector investments, and improve program performance at all levels.