Ask ELi: How is East Lansing’s recycling handled now? Is a recycling sorting center coming to the area?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

East Lansing's recycling center on State Road is open and considering offering more services.

How is recycling currently handled in East Lansing?

An ELi reader recently expressed concerns about how East Lansing processes recyclable materials following national reports that have questioned the efficacy of recycling programs. We spoke with Cathy DeShambo, the City of East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator, to learn more.

As many may know, East Lansing recycling is collected at the drop-off recycling site at 1800 E. State Road, through curb-side pickup, and from public space recycling.

Curbside and public bins are both routed through single stream collections, which means that the recycling is not separated by source. Instead, various types of recycling, such as cardboard and plastic, are placed loose into one bin, unlike the materials collected at the drop-off site, which are separated by source.

The Department of Public Works collects public space recycling and then combines it with curbside materials to be processed together. DeShambo informed us that for the past five years, the City of East Lansing and the City of Lansing have an agreement to combine recyclables from both cities after they are collected to cut down on the costs of processing.

Materials from both cities are combined in Lansing then transported to Republic’s Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Detroit for “sorting, baling, and on to end markets.” These markets include various manufacturers. As Mid-Michigan does not have its own MRF, the shipping of local recyclables to Detroit and other parts of the state has been a necessary – if not ideal – solution.

How will recycling from East Lansing be handled in the future?

The lack of an MRF in Mid-Michigan, however, will change by the end of October 2020. DeShambo recently announced the construction of an MRF in Lansing on S. Pennsylvania Avenue that is slated to open by Halloween. Both Lansing and East Lansing recyclables will be processed there in a facility run by Emterra Environmental.

Emterra Environmental USA is an arm of Emterra Group, a company based out of Ontario, Canada. It currently has three locations in Michigan. Emterra claims to provide “cost-effective recycling” with a mission focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Emterra Group has been ranked as one of Canada’s “greenest employers” for five years and according to DeShambo, was carefully selected by the cities of East Lansing and Lansing after a call for proposals for an appropriate waste management group to run the upcoming MRF.

DeShambo refers to this joint-city venture as “exciting” and “a more sustainable solution” for handling recyclable material in East Lansing and mid-Michigan.

How have things changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has not greatly impacted the recycling process in East Lansing, according to DeShambo. The drop-off recycling site closed with Mayor Ruth Beier’s declaration of a local state emergency on March 13th and resumed operations on July 15th. Curbside recycling, however, continued throughout this time for East Lansing residents.

DeShambo reports that the volume of recyclable material during the pandemic has differed “very slightly,” fluctuating during the last six months. A decline during the month of May can likely be attributed to the pandemic. Compared to previous years, East Lansing saw fewer people – primarily students – moving in and out of town, generating recycling in the process.

DeShambo stated in the spring that the pandemic had not affected recycling processing. Instead, the most common issue that hinders processing is residents not recycling properly.

How can residents recycle better and smarter?

DeShambo urges East Lansing residents to be more “vigilant” when disposing of recyclable materials. “We have actually seen a rise in contamination of our public space recycling – people not being careful to only recycle items that are empty and free of food or liquid.”

ELi readers can refer to this guide for the appropriate ways to recycle various goods in East Lansing and to keep informed about a few minor changes in which products will be acceptable through curbside pickup.

Only ELi provides this type of in-depth reporting on your local community. Keep this sort of news coming!

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