A popular regional recycling program operated by Emmet County was held up as an example of successful rural recycling programs on Wednesday, Feb. 5, in Washington, D.C. during a hearing by the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations.
The hearing on “Strengthening Community Recycling Programs: Challenges and Opportunities,” was convened to explore how the federal government can partner with states and counties to increase recycling.
Emmet County was first mentioned in testimony by Adam Ortiz on behalf of the National Association of Counties. He said, “Emmet County, Michigan is a rural county with a population of 33,000. The county offers curbside collection services to 60 percent of its residents and operates 13 recycling drop-off sites. In total, 80 percent of county residents participate in the program, and as a result, Emmet County has a recycling rate of 40 percent, five percent higher than the national average.
The county began making investments to improve recycling efforts in the 1990s through state grants; a voter-approved, two-year dedicated recycling tax; community engagement and education. When the recycling market was at its peak, the county invested in new technology and infrastructure to improve the county’s recycling efforts and expanded recycling collection services to communities outside the county.”
Later in the hearing, Michael Gajewski, Managing Director, Closed Loop Partners seconded Ortiz’s remarks about Emmet County Recycling (ECR) in informal comments opening his testimony. Closed Loop Partners is a New York-based investment firm focused on building the circular economy. Closed Loop has made a $1 million interest-free loan to Emmet County for improvements to the sort line where ECR separates bottles, cans, cups, trays, and cartons to go to the separate factories which use them. The improvements will include the addition of sorting robots.
Emmet County Recycling sorts and ships recyclables collected by Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties as well as their own, achieving economies of scale for all three counties. Emmet County prioritizes recycling locally, with 95 percent (by weight) of the materials produced supplying a Michigan business. While Ortiz noted that Emmet County recycles over 40 percent of its waste stream, Michigan’s average is 15 percent.
Emmet County Department of Public Works Director Andi Shepherd commented, “Emmet County has successfully provided quality recovered materials to manufacturers while saving our residents and businesses money—and of course improving the environment—for 30 years. We are able to do this thanks to our dual-stream collection and processing systems, solid policy and funding foundations, and the enthusiastic support of northern Michigan residents and businesses. We appreciate the recognition and look forward to continuing to contribute to improvements in recycling at the regional, state, and national levels.”
A full video of the hearing is available at https://appropriations.house.gov/events/hearings/strengthening-community-recycling-programs-challenges-and-opportunities. Mr. Ortiz’s testimony begins at minute 53 of the recording. More information about Emmet County Recycling can be found on their website at EmmetRecycling.org.