Recycle Ann Arbor joins national coalition to reject corporate influence on recycling

Recycle Ann Arbor has joined three other recycling organizations to form a new national organization that aims to prioritize environmental and social change over profit in the recycling industry.

Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis; the Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif.; and Eco-Cycle in Boulder, Colo. have joined Recycle Ann Arbor to form the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers (AMBR). The coalition plans to urge policymakers at the federal and state levels to adopt legislation that supports mission-based recycling.

Mike Garfield, director of the Ecology Center (the parent company of Recycle Ann Arbor) and a member of AMBR's steering committee, says AMBR's launch marks a big leap toward protecting the planet and creating successful circular economies in communities across the country. 

"Unfortunately, so much about the recycling industry has been distorted by plastics companies and garbage companies that have large shareholder, sometimes global shareholder, interests," Garfield says. "We've formed AMBR to bring integrity back to the recycling industry and the recycling process."

He explains that a lot of coverage of the current recycling crisis is not completely accurate. One very common narrative includes problems with the markets that recyclers used to sell their materials to in China. However, AMBR maintains that "the real crisis is a packaging crisis," and the coalition will be focusing on the impact of unnecessary single-use plastic packaging.

"There has been a proliferation of different kinds of plastic packaging. Some is recyclable through community programs, but a lot isn't and has posed problems for the facilities where recyclables get sorted in recent years," Garfield says. "But the large corporate interests that largely influence packaging and public policy around this area have a primary interest in making a profit. The quality of recycling may be a subsidiary concern."

Garfield says AMBR will also look at promoting mission-based recycling in more local contexts. If done correctly at the local level, he says mission-based recycling can generate good-paying union jobs, keep workers safe and healthy, and "turn materials into their best and highest use."   

"In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Michigan was a leader in recycling, but due to political decisions, we are anything but leaders and have fallen behind the curve," he says. "The movement today isn't what people think it is, so we hope to restore recycling back to its roots."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at
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