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Michigan leaders support recycling programs, but struggle to implement them

Leaders of Michigan communities large and small overwhelmingly agree that recycling remains important, but they face challenges implementing recycling programs for their residents.

A recent public policy survey from the University of Michigan showed broad support among community leaders for offering recycling services that are both environmental and cost-effective, but respondents said they often face challenges getting these started. programs. The struggles are often related to costs, inappropriate recycling practices and unknown end markets for recycled materials, according to the survey.

Debra Horner, project manager for UM’s Michigan Public Policy Survey, spoke this week at the Michigan Recycling Coalition’s annual conference in East Lansing, where she detailed the findings of the opinion research.

“We asked if recycling programs could help reduce waste and pollution at the local level. Can it protect clean water across Michigan? Can it contribute to global climate change? And then we also asked a question about whether new state and regional recycling efforts can drive local economic development,” Horner said.

The researcher said 77% of leaders agreed recycling could solve local waste problems and 87% agreed it could protect drinking water. More than half – 56% – said recycling can help tackle the global climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gases.

Horner said UM’s repeated opinion poll results over the years have shown that the number of community leaders who support recycling efforts has continued to grow, particularly in recent years.

Attending the conference was Erik Petrovkis, director of environmental compliance and sustainability at Meijer Inc. He said many of the university’s opinion polls mirrored what the major retailer found in its own customer surveys between 2017 and early 2021.

“This latest assessment, we surveyed 5,300 customers and the percentage of customers for whom sustainability is important or very important has increased from around two-thirds to well over three-quarters – a change of around 14 points over the last few years. last three years,” Petrovkis said.

Additionally, Horner said 76% of community leaders surveyed across Michigan agreed their residents want recycling programs available, and 73% believe additional funding is needed to help improve or expand their communities. local efforts.

Sean Hammond of the Michigan Township Association said even the early stages of administratively setting up recycling programs can be difficult for some small municipalities, both financially and logistically. He spoke to a panel about the results of the survey.

“How can we access more recycling services? Because clearly it’s supported,” he said. “There is a gap on how we will get there.”

Horner said his experience conducting this survey over the years has taught him that local government officials, especially in smaller jurisdictions, are “just overwhelmed” and lack the ability to draft and submit grant applications for state recycling grants. She suggested that it might take a collective effort for some places to succeed.

“Find ways to get – to the janitor – to hold their hand and say, ‘These are the steps you need to take’ and be very explicit about it. I think that’s really going to help move the needle for a lot of these places,” she said.

Boosting recycling in Michigan is part of the state’s new climate action plan, meant to be a blueprint for a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The recently adopted MI Healthy Climate Plan calls on the state to increase its rate at least 45% recycling and halving food waste by 2030.

Michigan currently trails the rest of the United States with its recycling rate of 19%.

A multi-year, bipartisan effort under the last and current administration to revamp Michigan’s solid waste laws resulted in a package of legislation designed to improve the recycling, composting, and reuse of materials. The bills passed the State House in the spring of 2021, but have since stalled in the Senate without any discussion or committee hearings.

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