EGLE and partners collaborate on NextCycle Michigan

Public-private effort is intended to spark ‘recycling and recovery’ economy with $97M investment, including $4.9M in grants.
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Schupan Recycling, based in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, got a $250,000 grant for equipment that empties packaging, allowing for additional containers to be recycled. Courtesy Schupan Recycling

Leaders of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and several public and private stakeholders convened in April to unveil a collaborative effort to spark a “recycling and recovery” economy in the state.

In a virtual presentation April 19, EGLE joined with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, bipartisan lawmakers and Meijer to announce NextCycle Michigan, an initiative designed to spark an economic recovery through recycling activities.

EGLE said that as part of NextCycle Michigan, already in 2020 and 2021, $97 million has been committed to recycling projects through partners that, in addition to Meijer, include Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, GFL Environmental in Southfield, Carton Council of North America, Goodwill Industries, Keurig Dr Pepper, Foodservice Packaging Institute, U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, Emterra Environmental on the east side, Washtenaw County, Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan and more than 30 Michigan companies, organizations and nonprofits.

Liesl Clark, director of EGLE, described NextCyle Michigan and the Renew Michigan grants as “the largest push in state history to promote recycling activities that divert materials from Michigan landfills, boost local economies and support Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer’s climate change priorities through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

She noted Public Thread in Grand Rapids is an example of a company whose activities this initiative is designed to support.

“Public Thread is a community-based upcycling company working to divert scrap and surplus textiles from our landfills, create living wage jobs and support a growing creative economy. By creating something new out of waste materials, Public Thread is keeping thousands of pounds of textiles from the landfill, including grain bags, fabrics, banners and billboards. Public Thread designers transformed these rescued materials into expertly crafted products for the mindful consumer. The NextCycle Michigan initiative is designed to promote more companies like Public Thread that are prosperous, green and growing,” Clark said.

Another example is Emterra, which in April opened a new $9 million recycling sorting facility built through a collaboration with the cities of Lansing and East Lansing. The facility uses robotics to process recyclables from more than 676,000 households across 12 counties in and around the Capital area, increasing access to recycling throughout the region and creating new jobs in Lansing. The materials from the Emterra facility then go to businesses like Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan, which turns old cartons into the toilet paper sold in grocery stores across the state, including at Meijer.

To highlight NextCycle Michigan’s launch, EGLE announced a record-setting total of more than $4.9 million in Renew Michigan grants to recipients in 45 communities statewide that will support the initiative.

“The funding is part of EGLE’s strategy to support recycling infrastructure, improve the quality of recyclable materials and promote market development using the Renew Michigan Fund, which was created in 2019 to bolster the state’s recycling efforts,” Clark said.

The NextCycle Michigan partnership will help fund infrastructure investment to promote the development of markets for recycled materials and recycled products, including manufacturing, said Liz Browne, EGLE’s materials management division director.

Browne said Michigan is among the first states in the U.S. to introduce a partnership like this that leverages state dollars with private investment to fund shovel-ready projects, technology installation and innovation grants.

“Our aim is to spark the state’s ‘recycling and recovery’ economy,” she said. “At EGLE, we know that recycling is one of the most important things you can do every day to make a positive difference for our environment and climate. But what many Michiganders often don’t realize is that recycling has become an essential tool in supporting our state’s local economies, businesses big and small, and major employers in the manufacturing sector.”

By turning waste materials into new products made in Michigan, EGLE and its partners plan to achieve the state’s goals of saving resources, protecting the climate and contributing to the prosperity of Michigan-based companies.

“We believe NextCycle Michigan marks the greatest accomplishment in recycling since our state achieved its first-in-the-nation status by introducing the bottle bill law in 1976,” Browne said.

Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley thanked EGLE for doing more than ever with plastics, metal, paper and all forms of recyclable materials. Together with its partners, EGLE is planning to use public and private investment in Michigan’s recycling system to put materials once destined for the landfill back into use in manufacturing.

“I am happy to speak today in support of the NextCycle initiative because this program will increase innovation and overcome barriers that have traditionally hindered Michigan’s recycling rates in the past,” Studley said. “Our state decision-makers wisely understood that partnering with Michigan’s business community to help develop market-driven solutions was critical to improving Michigan’s waste and materials management processes. The NextCycle initiative will be an important piece of accomplishing those goals.”

By helping to build out domestic markets for recycled goods, Studley said he believes Michigan can help support key industries like automotive, construction materials and paper product manufacturing while preserving the environment for the next generation. He plans to encourage Michigan Chamber members to engage and collaborate to help regulators understand their needs and develop solutions.

Vik Srinivasan, senior vice president for real estate and properties at Meijer, also spoke at the virtual event. He said Meijer provides recycling solutions to its customers by offering plastic film recycling and drug-takeback programs. Every year, Meijer keeps over 100,000 tons of material from the landfill through recycling. Meijer also has food waste reduction programs in its stores and manufacturing facilities that recycle unused food into animal feed and compost.

“We’re proud to say that, since 2018, we’ve achieved more than a 95% waste diversion rate at our five food manufacturing facilities,” Srinivasan said. “But we still have a long way to go to reach our goals, which is why we’re excited to be partnering with EGLE in support of the NextCycle program.

“This program will help us find new ways to recycle some of the most challenging materials in our supply chain, which include packaged food waste from our stores and difficult-to-recycle materials in our distribution centers,” he said. “We look forward to our shared innovation not only to help us reach our sustainability goals, but also to help build the infrastructure for our successes to be replicated statewide.”

Whitmer and the state Legislature are committed to raising Michigan’s recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reach 45% annually — Michigan’s current recycling rate is at about 18.5%, Browne said, which is among the nation’s lowest.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, who serves the state’s 11th Congressional District in southeast Michigan, shared several projects across Michigan that will boost the state’s recycling rate in 2021 with Renew Michigan grant funding.

Among the grants Stevens unveiled were:

  • NextEnergy, Detroit: $50,000 for an assessment of electric vehicle battery recycling system needs in Michigan
  • Battery Solutions, Wixom: $75,000 for battery sorting technology upgrades
  • Schupan Recycling, based in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids: $250,000 for equipment that empties packaging, allowing for additional containers to be recycled
  • Recycle Livingston (city of Howell): $282,504.80 for Howell drop-off site upgrades that will improve collection and processing capacity and worker health and safety conditions
  • City of Ypsilanti: $73,440 for recycling bins in downtown and public parks
  • City of Detroit: $20,000 for residential recycling carts, part of multiyear, ongoing EGLE support of Detroit’s recycling program
  • Huron-Clinton Metroparks: $48,816 for plastic bottle recycling bins in Metroparks
  • The Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County: $32,000 for Novi drop-off site upgrades
  • MSU Recycling (MSU Recycling and Surplus Store): $170,000 for robotic sorting equipment that will improve drop-off recycling in the region, as well as worker health and safety conditions
  • Vartega, Detroit: $100,000 for the production of new recycled thermoplastics products
  • Emterra Environmental, multiple eastern Michigan locations: $250,000 for technology to produce cleaner glass material that will be used to make beverage containers and insulation

The Legislature two years ago in a bipartisan move voted to increase EGLE’s funding for recycling projects from $2 million annually to $15 million per year moving forward. The additional funds through Renew Michigan grants are being used to promote the development of recycling markets, increase access to recycling opportunities and support efforts to grow recycling at the local level, said state Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

“I was proud to be one of the members in the Michigan Legislature who voted to provide new funding to support recycling throughout our state,” Schmidt said. “Now, more than ever, Michigan residents view recycling as an essential public service, and during a time of social distancing because of COVID-19, when many nonessential employees are working remotely and commercial recycling is near an all-time low due to the coronavirus pandemic, producers see residential recycling programs as a critical part in the manufacturing supply chain so they can make their products from recycled content instead of new materials.”

The Renew Michigan grant recipients in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula that Schmidt highlighted include:

  • Great Lakes Tissue: $250,000 for technology that will recycle more types of containers into paper products
  • GFL Environmental: $100,000 for technology needed for cart and cup recycling
  • The Northeast Michigan Council of Governments: $55,000 to support collaborative efforts to secure a new recycling processing facility for the region
  • Emmet County: $150,000 for expansion of the food scraps collection program
  • Delta Solid Waste Management Authority: $600,000 for equipment needed to take advantage of the new recycling facility in Marquette that was built through a previous EGLE grant
  • Three Upper Peninsula townships (Ishpeming/Neguanee/Marquette Charter): $167,791 for residential recycling carts for residents of those three townships, with materials going to the new recycling facility in Marquette
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community: $20,000 for equipment to collect paper and cardboard needed by Michigan businesses like U.P. Paper
  • City of Alpena: $58,080 for recycling bins in public parks and government buildings
  • SEEDS: $75,000 for a study of how to optimize the organics recycling system in Northern Michigan

EGLE also announced last month the next round of NextCycle Michigan Innovation Challenges and Renew Michigan recycling funding opportunities. People can visit EGLE’s website at michigan.gov/mirecycles for details about applying for recycling grants.

The NextCycle Michigan initiative and Renew Michigan grants align with EGLE’s national “Know It Before You Throw It” recycling education campaign featuring the Recycling Raccoon Squad. The aim of the campaign that began in 2019 is to increase recycling and promote best practices to reduce contaminated materials from going into recycling bins and drop-off sites.

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