Kent DPW approves $500M trash reuse project


Kent County has taken another step toward reducing solid waste by 90 percent by 2020.

The Kent County Board of Public Works unanimously approved the master plan to build a sustainable business park, estimated at $500 million, on 250 acres of land adjacent to the South Kent Landfill, 10300 S. Kent Drive SW in Byron Center.

While the Department of Public Works has three years to plan the overall project, there are three projects the board approved that can be implemented immediately, according to Darwin Baas, DPW director.

The DPW will begin planning in the next several weeks to integrate comprehensive systems in the park for construction and demolition waste recycling, composting and ash mining.

According to an earlier Business Journal report, these three pieces are part of the DPW’s solution to the growing amount of waste buried in the South Kent Landfill.

The county would own the park and lease land to private companies, with 100 acres committed to removing the many high-value items from the trash. The remaining land ideally would be for companies that could convert recovered materials into new products, such as a combined heat and power plant.

The project’s waste sorting and processing alone is expected to create 150 jobs and an annual economic impact of $130 million.

The Kent County DPW processes more than 1 billion pounds of waste each year at its facilities and estimates 75 percent of that waste could be reused, recycled or converted. Currently, only 6 to 8 percent of waste is recycled.

These first three projects could divert 25 percent of that waste.

The estimated value of the discarded materials in West Michigan is $56 million, and recovering and selling those valuables could create 370 jobs.

Now that the plan has been approved, Baas said the next step is to build a small business development team in the coming weeks comprised of some DPW staff, as well as economic development and business professionals.

He said the team will plan the details of the project over the next three years, addressing the waste and potential economic development.

Once the team is formed, members will revisit responses to a request for information issued by DPW in March, beginning with the first three projects immediately.

Baas said there will be discussions with those companies on details of their proposals and how to best carry them out, including service costs and the volume and types of materials they can manage. They also will need to discuss types of infrastructure, space needs, tipping fees and lease arrangements.

There are several companies interested in setting up a compost facility, including Zeeland-based Spurt Industries and Holland-based Cocoa Corporation.

Baas said much of the compostable waste comes in large quantities from commercial establishments, which will be relatively easy to separate. He said the DPW and the chosen company will need to determine if residential trash is sorted and where, which could lead to residents using some services to sort organics into separate containers at home.

Baas said there was a time early last century when Grand Rapids residents separated organics.

As a matter of convenience and habit, that changed midcentury, along with the overall culture involving trash.

“Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, we decided we would put all our trash into one container,” he said.

Baas said the DPW will issue a request for proposals to establish a system of sorting out construction and demolition materials, which he said the DPW plans to operate itself.

Of the 1 billion pounds of waste processed at DPW facilities each year, Baas said about 20 percent is from construction and demolition projects, including materials such as wood, concrete, steel strapping, drywall, plastic sheeting and corrugated cardboard.

There are two companies interested in setting up an ash mining facility in the park, which Baas said could be running by late 2019 or early 2020.

The chosen company will pay the county for metals mined from the ash created at the Waste to Energy facility, which burns refuse to create electricity.

Over 1 million tons of combustor ash already have been produced, and another 1 million tons are expected to be produced in the next 25 years. Leftover metals may have a value near $1,000 per ton.

Baas said he hopes to choose companies for the projects by early next year and have a facility ready for operation by late 2019 or early 2020. He said the projects’ individual costs are yet to be determined.

If at the end of the three-year planning process the DPW determines the overall project is not doable, the fallback plan is to convert the reserved land into another landfill, according to Kristen Wieland, DPW communications and marketing manager. At its current rate of growth, the South Kent Landfill will be at capacity by 2029.

Baas said most people are interested in doing what’s best for the environment and will support the project, but he is interested in moving quickly. He said the DPW has spent years preparing for this project, and the board has been supportive the whole time.

To be successful, he said it will take additional public support and cooperation in looking ahead.

“We can get it separated, but there’s a cost,” he said. “People will have to decide if they’re into convenience or if they’re into something in between.”

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