According to a new study released last week, Michigan’s recycling rate is only 20%, a number considerably below the average of 30% in other Great Lakes states and 27% nationwide. The state spends only $200,000 on recycling programs while states in the region such as Wisconsin and Ohio spend $29 million and $12 million respectively on recycling. Of the nation’s largest cities, only Detroit and El Paso (where curbside recycling is being added next year), do not offer recycling with curbside collection being illegal in Detroit due to city ordinances passed to guarantee that a steady flow of trash makes its way the nation’s largest incinerator, located at Russell and I-94. Low recycling rates are blamed on a variety of factors including garbage companies unwillingness to recycle, a decline in communities offering curbside recycling (only 27% currently do from 37% five years ago), and a perception that recycling is more work and costs more (in some cities in Michigan it does cost extra, however it is free in Grand Rapids). Still, industry groups estimate that an increase in recycling in Michigan would generate $155 to $300 million in new income, generate $12 million to $22 million, and create as many as 12,000 jobs while providing a partial solution to Michigan’s landfill shortage (landfills will be filled to capacity within 20 years).
The numbers were released in a study by the Michigan Recycling Partnership, a group largely made up of grocery industry businesses and industry groups, including Meijer, Coca-Cola, Family Fare Supermarkets, Wal-Mart, and even Altria (formerly Philip Morris, parent company of Kraft). While the group does support increased recycling, it opposes an expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law citing what they claim would be a higher cost for consumers for only a 1% increase. It is also worth noting that the Michigan Grocers Association, a member group of the Michigan Recycling Partnership, claims that the bottle deposit law increases the threat of bio-terrorism because grocery stores cannot inspect every returned container. Instead, the Michigan Recycling Partnership calls for the elimination of the bottle deposit law and the implementation of their “Recycling Makes Cent$” plan to increase funding for recycling. The program would essentially implement a “flat tax” on purchases in the state over two dollars with a one-penny surcharge being added to each purchase in order to fund recycling programs with 50% going towards matching funds for communities, 40% for grants for specific programs or businesses, and 10% for education an litter abatement. However, the program falls short in that it absolves industry of any responsibility for its role in failing to produce products that can be profitably recycled and instead places the responsibility for funding programs on consumers.