- Detroit recently received nearly $800,000 in grants to support the city's largest recycling program expansion to date. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) provided more than $458,000 and nonprofit The Recycling Partnership (TRP) provided $325,000.
- A portion of the money will go toward purchasing more than 16,000 residential curbside recycling carts and 1,500 commercial carts or bins for multifamily and commercial buildings, Detroit Sustainability Director Joel Howrani Heeres told Waste Dive. Funding will also be used to deploy 150 recycling bins in public spaces and expand participation to all municipal buildings.
- This is the first grant Detroit has received from TRP. It is part of a $2.2 million public-private partnership between TRP, EGLE and the PepsiCo Foundation to improve recycling education throughout Michigan in 2020.
Detroit's Department of Public Works (DPW) no longer collects residential material and instead contracts out service. Some of the grant funding will go toward purchasing a new truck for DPW to haul commercial recyclables. Residents are not required to participate in the curbside recycling program, but they can opt in by paying a $25 fee, which includes access to one recycling cart. The city intends to cover that fee on as as-needed basis as part of its plan to distribute new residential carts.
"It might seem nominal, but for people in poverty or with financial challenges, it's a barrier. With the funds we're getting we'll be able to waive that fee and more people will be able to participate," Heeres said.
In addition to expanding the number of locations with access to recycling carts, a large part of the money will go toward recycling education programs. The focus will be on reducing contamination by teaching — or re-teaching — citizens what materials can and cannot go in their recycling carts. This builds on the statewide "Know It Before You Throw It" campaign EGLE launched last year. The campaign received nationwide recognition for creative, humorous messaging that features "recycling raccoons" and has reportedly been very popular with the public.
"[The raccoons are] a funny and approachable way to educate folks about contamination," Heeres said. "Obviously, we'll have some Detroit-specific branding for this campaign, but we definitely want to leverage the raccoons' social media and video [messaging]."
Improving and expanding the recycling program helps to fulfill some of the goals laid out in Detroit's "Sustainability Action Agenda" released last summer. Expanding the recycling program indirectly influences several of the targets and directly ties to a goal to "reduce waste sent to landfills." Detroit's current overall diversion rate is 4%. The city aims to more than triple that to 15% by 2024 and 30% by 2029.
Another smaller goal is to expand curbside recycling to multifamily buildings. This aspect of recycling has begun to gain more attention outside of Detroit as well, as it is considered an area of opportunity many cities have not adequately tapped into.
Last year, two ordinances passed in Orlando, Florida requiring multi-unit residential and commercial buildings to offer recycling by 2023 in a phased implementation. Dallas approved an ordinance in 2018 requiring all residential buildings with eight or more units to provide recycling by this month. Chicago's Office of the Inspector General is also currently conducting an audit on compliance with the city's own multifamily recycling requirement.
In Detroit, Heeres said the city is working on a budget plan for the grant money allocation and also aims to update its commercial recycling ordinance to change the pricing model. He hopes to start getting new carts to residents under the expanded program in the late summer to early fall. Another goal is to hire the city's first recycling coordinator. Looking ahead, Heeres believes the success of Detroit's recycling expansion will benefit from outside expertise.
"This is very much a public-private partnership and will be more successful because it is that model," he said. "It's super exciting."