Recycled materials, such as plastic, are at the center of China’s controversial National Sword, which bans imports on certain types of solid waste and recyclables. Courtesy Schupan Recycling
It has been over four decades since Michigan implemented its bottle bill deposit law, and one West Michigan business has been responsible for processing over 45,000 tons of the returns generated by that law each year for most of that time period.
Schupan Recycling, which is a division of Kalamazoo-based Schupan & Sons, operates a 55,000-square-foot facility in Wyoming that is one of two facilities in Michigan responsible for handling about 80 percent of all carbonated beverage containers recycled under Michigan’s bottle bill law.
The other facility is located in Wixom.
Troy Lincomfelt, director of Michigan operations for Schupan Recycling, said it all started with beer.
“We first started in the arena of providing a better solution to the beer wholesalers in the state of Michigan as far as how they were handling all of their empty containers of the deposit law,” Lincomfelt said.
He said the software distributors and wholesalers soon came knocking, as well.
Schupan Recycling takes in aluminum, PET plastic and glass bottles at its facility.
The materials are collected mainly via reverse vending machines located at grocery stores around the state but also from outlets that bag up their returns.
They are transported to Schupan Recycling by UBCR, another Schupan & Son’s business, which has contracts with the state of Michigan through the Michigan Soft Drink Association and the Beer & Wine Association.
“We are servicing around 600 retail stores in the state that qualify, based on volumes that are brought back to their stores, for that pickup service,” Lincomfelt said.
Lincomfelt said the Wyoming facility has two processing lines used for processing all of the materials that are brought in by the truckload each day.
The materials are processed for recycling and either baled, shredded or crushed depending on the material. They are often color sorted, as well.
Lincomfelt said aluminum has the greatest value of the three commodities and can be recycled repeatedly.
“Aluminum cans can be back on store shelves within 60 days,” he said. “They go to a mill that melts it back into a can sheet, and you can turn it around and put it back on the shelf.”
Lincomfelt said Michigan has benefitted greatly from the bottle deposit law in terms of how it has affected recycling and litter.
He pointed out while the state’s overall recycling rate is one of the lowest in the nation, with a residential recycling rate of 14.5 percent, the recycling rate for carbonated containers is 97 percent.
Lincomfelt also said Michigan far outpaces national averages with its container recycling.
He said a study done recently found the average American citizen recycles 102 beverage containers annually, while Michigan citizens recycle an average of 553 beverage containers annually.
He also said compared to other Great Lakes states, Michigan’s beaches see less container litter (5 percent) than the others (10 percent).
Even among other bottle deposit law states — some of which have five-cent deposits — Michigan is a leader.
“The big motivator, why the recovery is at 97 percent while other bottle deposit states are closer to 75 percent, is because of the dime,” he said.
While container recycling remains a stable business, Lincomfelt said recent consumer trends, including increased consumption of sports drinks, energy drinks and bottled water, are leading to a decrease in the number of carbonated beverages being purchased and, therefore, returned annually.
He also acknowledged as people are becoming more health conscious and more aware of the sugar content of soft drinks, some of them are decreasing or eliminating their consumption of those beverages.
“You have less consumption of carbonated beverages than what you had 10 years ago,” Lincomfelt said.
At the same time, consumers still are buying plenty of beverages in plastic, aluminum and glass bottles.
“There is no incentive to recycle those water bottles or energy drinks, so they go to the landfill,” Lincomfelt said.
Even for those containers making their way into curbside recycling streams, Lincomfelt said that isn’t the best way to recycle those materials.
Lincomfelt explained there is more contamination from single-stream recycling, which means commodities lose their value. He said curbside recycling efforts often require recycling centers to pay to get rid of the end materials, while his operation produces clean materials he can sell and will be made into a variety of other products.
Lincomfelt would not say if he thought increasing the bottle deposit law was the solution to ensuring more containers find their way into the recycling stream, but he did say Schupan Recycling wants to see recycling rates increase and to be part of the solution.
He noted the Wyoming facility has the capacity to increase its operations to meet the state’s non-deposit container recycling need.