Team effort puts county on track for recycling goals


Brooke Taylor, a volunteer resources intern at Frederik Meijer Gardens, is tasked with sorting waste materials.Courtesy Frederik Meijer Gardens

The amount of waste entering Kent County landfills has increased, but that may change.

According to the Kent County Department of Public Works, 2.1-million cubic yards of trash was discarded in landfills in 2017 from Kent County residents and businesses. That represents an increase from 2016, which saw 1.8-million cubic yards of waste discarded in Kent County.

Among the waste that was dumped in landfills in 2017, 3,077 tons of plastic — mostly from residential customers — were diverted to Kent County’s recycling processing facility. In 2016, 3,037 tons of plastic were sent to Kent County’s recycling processing facility.

This year, through September, 2,306 tons of plastics, primarily from residents, were diverted for recycling in Kent County, which is on par to meet last year’s total.

KCDPW has a goal of reducing landfill waste by 90 percent by 2030, which may be feasible with the completion of its anticipated Sustainable Business Park, where waste that consists of recyclable materials can be stored and companies can convert those recyclables into resources that can be sold.

“This is a goal that we are working on now, utilizing our existing facilities, including (the) Waste to Energy and Recycling & Education Center, and also building toward the Master Plan for a Sustainable Business Park on land adjacent to the South Kent Landfill,” said Kristen Wieland, marketing and communication manager for KCDPW. “The Sustainable Business Park would include new technologies and additional processing capabilities to allow us to keep certain waste streams out of the landfill by capturing them and enabling them to be processed into a feedstock or a new product. This could include construction wood being turned into landscaping products, plastics being pelletized and used in new plastics products, food waste and other organic material being composted into an agricultural product and many other opportunities. Ultimately, the goal is to stop looking at waste materials as something that has no value and instead see them as opportunities to be utilized in a beneficial process or product. Plastics have a great opportunity in this new approach to sustainable materials management.”

While Kent County is doing its part to help decrease the amount of waste in the South Kent Landfill by sorting and diverting the waste that arrives, venues such as Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and SMG-owned Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall also are addressing the problem.

John VanderHaagen, Meijer Gardens’ public relations manager, said a large percentage of the facility’s waste comes from its hospitality department. In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic used, he said the gardens purchase few single-use plastic items and more “green” sustainable items, such as to-go boxes, cups and containers.

Meijer Gardens will have a new concessions building that will include a new trash and recycling room, similar to that of the trash and recycling room that was added as part of its catering kitchen expansion. That room is expected to be completed next spring to house the trash generated by approximately 2,000 guests who visit the attraction each day.

“Going forward, we are being deliberate in thinking about how waste will be handled and are making that part of early conversations regarding any area that is being renovated or constructed,” VanderHaagen said. “We have placed improved waste receptacles and signage in (the) back-of-house areas and have increased training and communication to employees and volunteers regarding proper sorting of waste materials.”

Last year, 724,000 people visited Meijer Gardens. According to a waste audit that was conducted by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, of the 1,152 tons of estimated waste material generated by patrons, 263 tons were compostable and recyclable materials.

“(That is) a 23 percent diversion rate, which is ahead of the goal of the Kent County Department of Public Works on a countywide level of 20 percent diversion by 2020,” VanderHaagen said. “We are aiming to increase our diversion rate every year.”

Eddie Tadlock, assistant general manager for SMG-owned DeVos Place, DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena, said to reduce the use of plastics, SMG works with a network of green partners and vendors that have environmentally sound practices.

“We just got new recycling containers that are made from recycled milk jugs,” he said. “So, we have full-circle recycling stations, and the stations themselves are made out of recycling material. There are three compartment recycling stations that are located throughout DeVos Place for paper, trash and bottles and cans.”

By partnering with companies that place an emphasis on being environmentally friendly, Tadlock said DeVos Place now uses utensils, serving pieces and packaging made from corn and potato starch that is quickly biodegradable.

SMG also partners with Spurt Industries to process approximately 18,000 pounds of leftover food waste per month and turn it into compost to help local farmers.

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