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Next steps for recycling in county


Rebecca Pierce


“The world recycling situation has drastically changed due to China stopping the purchase of our recycling materials due to contamination,” Hastings Charter Township Supervisor Jim Brown told Barry County commissioners Monday.

During his presentation on recycling, Brown proposed that the county’s solid waste oversight committee form a long-range plan to take these and other local conditions into consideration.

“There are no easy answers,’ he said, “But there are things we can do. The SWOC needs to have some idea where the county commissioners stand in the overall picture of supporting a recycling effort, both physically and financially.”

When a questionnaire, called a Green Sheet Survey, was sent to townships several years ago, the returns were overwhelming, he said. Seventy percent of the respondents were positive in support of recycling in a basic and reasonable form.

Brown provided the commissioners with a four-question survey for them to fill out prior to the next solid waste oversight committee meeting Aug. 9.

The changes in the recycling industry are “the best thing could ever happen to us,” he told the board, “because we are too smart; we’ve got too much talent to ship garbage overseas. We can actually take the garbage and use it.”

One of the problems they now face is that garbage waste haulers are in the business of mixing everything into one big pile. But the technology is changing dramatically, Brown said, so that items that were not recycled in the past are actively being sought.

As an example, he mentioned pizza boxes, which were not recycled in the past. Now they are – and, earlier this year, Brown started a pizza box recycling project with Star Elementary School in Hastings to encourage students to recycle. The goal is for them to collect enough pizza boxes to recycle that, all together, would equal the height of the Statue of Liberty. (Seven average pizza boxes equal one foot, Brown said.) The Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high. “They have collected 1,600 boxes, so they’re getting close.”

The county had contracted for two years with Iris Waste Diversion Specialists, but that contract is done, so it's time for the county to step up, he said.

“Time is important,” Brown said;” not to mention money.”

Commissioner Ben Geiger, who serves on the solid waste oversight board, told fellow commissioners, “People need to understand the challenges.”

“Recycling has kind of come into our [solid waste oversight committee] wheelhouse,” Geiger said. “But it’s similar to the parks commission being responsible for recycling. This commission needs to look at what Jim’s asking and give some guidance.”

Geiger suggested commissioners look at some of the successes and model on what's working, specifically with the parks board.

“If we’re serious, separate [recycling] out from SWOC and give it to a board with some funding behind it so they can make targeted investments,” Geiger said. “I echo Jim. We need to know where the commission is on this subject.”

Commissioner Jon Smelker, who pointed out that Brown's township has one of the better recycling program in the county, said he was concerned whether there would be a market for recycled materials.

“I don’t want to see it done and end up in the landfill,” Smelker said.

“There is a market,” Brown said, noting that its like farming, with prices for products going up and down. “Recycling is the same deal. Two years ago, corrugated was going for $200 a ton. Today, it’s going for $20. With mixed paper, you have to pay to get rid of it. Take it to landfill or it can be waste-to-energy. Plastic is the same. Metal is way down. If you break even, you’re going to be lucky. But you do keep people working; you do keep this out of the environment.”

Once the system is up and running, Brown said, it's not more work. “In fact, people love it. The front page of The Reminder last week was our recycling module. The material going in there is very clean.”

“There are no easy answers,” he added. “We can do it locally. Once material is collected, there is a market for it. The markets aren't the problem.

“We haven't collected it. We haven't kept it clean. We don't have it in one place,” Brown said. “... We’ve got to do it together.

“Do I want the county commission to do all this? No. We need you to support the SWOC so we can get it done with a subcommittee beneath that to get the job done.”

Geiger added, “We don’t want to [recycle] to make ourselves feel better. We want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

In other action, commissioners:

• Awarded certificates of appreciation to five employees: Register of deeds abstractor Bindie Shumate for five years of service; Commission on Aging adult day care coordinator Diane Neeb for 15 years of service; adult specialty court program case manager Brenda Morgan for 10 years with the county; and case manager Michelle Weeldreyer for 20 years with the county. Tim Neeb, building and grounds director, who could not be present, was praised for 20 years of service. 

• Heard Charles Krammin of Hastings, who encouraged the board to spearhead a solution to the Crooked Lake flooding that would allow the county to apply for funds from the Department of Natural Resources and the Clean Water Act.

• Were invited to attend the animal shelter fundraiser to raise money for a vehicle. The event will take place from 2 to 4:30 p.m. July 27 at the Hastings American Legion.

• Approved the 2020-22 multi-year plan for Region 3B Area Agency on Aging, doing business as CareWell Services SW.

• Heard an annual report from Sarah Nelson, executive director of the Barry Conservation District.

• Heard a market integration report and updates from Don Haney, Thornapple Manor administrator.

• Approved claims of $121,447.

• Approved the 2019-20 Child Care Fund Plan and Budget.

• Were reminded that the board will not meet next Tuesday, which is the fifth Tuesday of the month. The board meets the first and third Tuesdays as a committee of the whole and the second and fourth Tuesdays for the board meetings. The next commissioners’ meeting will take place at 9 a.m. Aug. 6 in the mezzanine at the county courthouse.

The public is welcome to attend. These meetings offer time for public comment – limited to three minutes per person with no response from the board allowed at these times.





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