A new Washtenaw County Board of Public Works resolution allots up to $50,000 in county grants per year for five years for initiatives that improve recycling and use of recycled materials.
The grants will be available to NextCycle Michigan teams located and investing in Washtenaw County. Funded by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), NextCycle Michigan is an idea incubator expanded from the Colorado NextCycle program. The program includes six core "Innovation Challenge" tracks related to the state’s recycled materials supply chain and end markets.
Isabella Garramone, the board's education and outreach coordinator, says the board hopes the sponsorships will help entice more organizations in Washtenaw County to undertake initiatives that align with their goals. Businesses or organizations that are located or do business in the county can apply for funding. In order to be eligible they must either show that they will reduce, divert, or educate about waste.
Garramone says Michigan has been trying to make serious gains in creating a circular economy, which aims to reuse or restore rather than wasting materials, and that the sponsorships are a good way to move that goal forward.
"Recycling itself is an economic driver, but we can only recycle things if we have an end market to sell them to after they're recycled," she says. "You can't recycle paper if you don't have a place to send it to that's going to make it into new paper, paper towels, cardboard, or things of that nature."
She adds that the Washtenaw County Board of Public Works voted unanimously, recognizing the bottom-line impact.
"6.8 million tons of materials that end up in state landfills could be recycled," Garramone says. "The state found that we could capture an additional 2.7 million tons of materials, tripling Michigan's current [recycling] rate to 45%."
The Washtenaw County Board of Public Works reports that keeping those materials out of Michigan landfills would offset 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Reusing those materials in the state would add $9 billion to Michigan's labor economy.
What most county residents don't understand, Garramone stresses, is that recycling goals are a "constantly moving target."
"Needs change, technology changes, contracts change, [and] the materials we use change," she says. "The county grants will go a long way to complementing the existing efforts and help us stay on top."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Isabella Garramone.