Kent County board should be encouraged to find agreement on committing to sustainable business park instead of landfills


In September, the Kent County Board of Commissioners will begin work sessions on the sustainable business park master plan and hopes to attract companies that can convert recovered material into new products — including combined heat and power plants. The master plan also focuses on a trash sorting and reuse facility, reducing landfill waste by 90 percent by 2030 — and which proffers $500 million in direct private capital investment.

Given the proactive practices of the West Michigan business community (including most recent examples of plastic straw bans and B Corp attainments) the plan is likely to find widespread support as well as participation. Business participation should be encouraged and invited by the county board.

The Business Journal specifically notes the industrious study preceding the plan, under the leadership of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. In 2015, Executive Director Daniel Schoonmaker told the Business Journal, “The project we proposed was not to address the recycling rate conversation but to get a hold on what the economic value is of what we are throwing away. That led to the waste characterization evaluation study.” The Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste study showed businesses and residents were throwing away $368 million in valuable trash each year.

Studies for the Kent County master plan showed waste sorting and processing alone would create 150 jobs with an annual economic impact of $130 million. The county master plan commits 100 acres of the 250-acre parcel reserved for removal of high-value items. The remaining land ideally would be for companies that could convert recovered materials into new products.

As discussion to finalize and fund the plan continues, the Business Journal anticipates some commissioners are likely to be shortsighted rather than future-minded. The Business Journal notes the annual waste of nearly 500,000 tons of trash, with fewer places to put it and the ash remains from the county incinerator. The South Kent Landfill is expected to be at capacity by 2029. It was only two years ago the county created the “Kent County Solid Waste Surcharge,” billing commercial customers or others with more trash than the average amount, a surcharge of $1.68 per ton of trash. (Residential customers saw surcharges at $1.68 per year, payable to haulers for each ton in the year.) The charge is used to help pay for state-required monitoring of closed landfills in Kentwood, Sparta and Rockford.

The Business Journal notes Commissioner Dave Bulkowski’s recollection that the board did not support the creation of Van Andel Arena but is reaping the benefits. His call to make changes should be supported.

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