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Michigan has new, sweeping policy to revamp its solid waste management system, following a seven-year push for change. March 29, 2023, an eight-bill package becomes law that’s intended to help bump the state’s 19 percent recycling rate (among the lowest in the nation) to 30 percent by 2029.

Arlene Karidis

March 28, 2023

5 Min Read
Michigan recycling bins
Linda Johnsonbaugh / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Michigan has new, sweeping policy to revamp its solid waste management system, following a seven-year push for change. March 29, 2023, an eight-bill package becomes law that’s intended to help bump the state’s 19 percent recycling rate (among the lowest in the nation) to 30 percent by 2029.

Some of the package’s language makes minor tweaks to existing policy around landfill management. But some of the bills, especially HB4460 and HB4461, are anticipated to catalyze real movement along the path toward diversion, says Liz Browne, director of the Materials Management division, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

HB4460 revises regulation of solid waste materials utilization facilities, which include materials recovery facilities (MRFs), compost and anaerobic digestion operations. The bill also introduces a new category: “innovative technologies” in order to support scaling of new ideas.

HB4461 revises solid waste materials management planning to beef up recovery efforts and lays out a whole new planning process.

“We have turned the planning process on its head,” Browne says.

“Historically each county had to account for assuring adequate disposal capacity for solid waste within their respective jurisdictions.  Now we are expecting them to focus much more heavily on recycling and composting. And we are looking at a considerably broader range of materials.”

The agency has spent the past year working with counties to help them understand the priority shift from an emphasis on disposal to diversion.

Among expectations, they will need to do detailed assessments to determine their current capacity and ensure access in their communities, or identify options outside their boundaries for managed materials.

EGLE is incentivizing jurisdictions to work collaboratively to divert more. Jurisdictions who agree to share facilities and other resources receive an additional $10,000 with the understanding it takes time and money to jumpstart partnerships.

Regulators gained insight from facility operators to help shape policy terms.

“We heard from composters and MRFs that were doing a good job that they were stymied by some operators who were cutting corners, resulting in issues, especially with compost where there were odor complaints from the community,” Browne says.

“We did not have the tools to effectively deal with improperly run operations from a regulatory perspective, so we put a lot of time and thought into creating programs to address the problems.”

Setting up policy was a balancing act, with consideration to that rules could not be so onerous as to impede operations, while bearing in mind that for residents buy into the systems they had to know they would work.

MRFs, composters, and anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities will be regulated at different levels based on materials volume, with the highest authorization required set at $20,000 in financial assurance and a five-year permit process.

The idea was to come up with “buckets” according to what operators will be managing in order to meet each one where they are, Browne says.

To prepare operators for new regulations and get them up to speed, EGLE has brought in compost trainers and is developing training and outreach materials and working with associations to educate MRF and AD operators.

The statute requires recycling benchmarks by jurisdiction to gain access to more information to understand what’s in place and gaps in the system to inform strategies.

“Michigan awards grants, and with benchmarks written into the statute, counties looking for these monies will see they have to identify materials [traditional recycling and organics] generated in their communities and figure out how to manage them,” Browne says.

The grants are not new, though they were set up with the idea that change was coming and that they could help support the transition to a materials recovery focus.

The legislation includes language around these funding programs specific to diversion practices, including around upgrading MRFs; increasing access to collection programs; and for community outreach and education around recycling. Compost and AD operators can also access grant funding if their activity will lead to more material use versus disposal. Additionally, grant programs emphasize development of local markets, which Browne points out as especially important.

“It does not do a lot of good to capture all of these recyclables and have to ship them as far as Texas, Arizona, or Washington State. We want to keep the ability to use these materials as close to home as possible.”

Flint, Michigan just had a ribbon cutting in February, welcoming ACI Plastics, who will build a $10 million plastic film recycling facility there, with monies from a Renew Michigan infrastructure grant from EGLE, and a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The site was chosen over another location under consideration in Ohio.

Jim Holcomb, Michigan Chamber president and CEO, said in a statement, “This legislation enables Michigan communities to work in partnership with industry to utilize the latest science and a market-driven approach to ensure far better recycling and materials management – long overdue in the Great Lakes State."

He added: “We appreciate the governor’s and legislature’s leadership to work cooperatively on this important issue that will significantly bolster Michigan’s sustainability efforts.”

Michigan’s work toward new policy began with recommendations in 2016, but reaching the finish line took years, with the next step being to put those recommendations into statutory language. With feedback from 70 stakeholders the proposed package finally moved on to the House, quickly garnering support. It took just under two more years to push the bills through the Senate, where they gained momentum after a shift in the legislature, passing in December 2022.  

Michigan Recycling Coalition Executive Director Kerrin O’Brien said the changes embodied in this bill package “are the key to growing recycling and composting opportunities for residents and businesses across Michigan. ... We look forward to supporting local governments as they plan and implement programs and services to manage waste more productively in the future.”

 

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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