Sterling Heights

Sterling Heights is 'on a roll': Universal curbside recycling starts this May

It’s not easy being green, as our friend Kermit once said, but the City of Sterling Heights is doing its part to at least make it look like it is.

It’s become an April tradition around these parts, when city officials take the opportunity that the month presents to celebrate those initiatives designed to improve quality of life factors for all of its living, breathing residents — and not just for the humans who call Sterling Heights home, but the flora and fauna, too. And what a perfect month for it, with spring having finally sprung and holidays like Earth Day and Arbor Day arriving on the fourth month of the calendar each year.

In years’ past, Sterling Heights has used April to celebrate its green milestones, including that impressive streak of being awarded the Tree City USA distinction from the Arbor Day Foundation for 38 consecutive years and counting; the signing and execution of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge; and the 2023 unveiling of the Think Sterling Green initiative, an umbrella brand for the city’s ever-growing list of sustainability programs.

For all of its accomplishments, one thing that Sterling Heights has been lacking, however, is universal curbside recycling services for its residents; the current recycling program requires residents to opt-in and pay an annual $57 subscription fee.

That’s all set to change come May, when the city’s new 10-year contract with waste management company Priority Waste begins. City officials have been celebrating the new contract since it was first announced in September 2023, and for a number of reasons.

It’s expected that the new waste management contract will save City taxpayers approximately $23 million over the course of the contract.

Priority Waste’s unified cart system will contribute to neighborhood beautification efforts.

And, yes, universal curbside recycling is finally coming to Sterling Heights.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael C. Taylor: “Sterling Heights is committed to sustainability, and this is a significant step toward achieving our goals.”

While the new system won’t go into effect until May 1, the city is using April to prepare residents for a change in how we take out the trash. Priority Waste will be delivering the new refuse and recycling carts throughout the month, and city residents have already reported starting to receive theirs. The month-long “We’re On a Roll” awareness campaign will prepare residents for the changes coming, the details of which are available via the city website.

It’s out with the old and in with the new in Sterling Heights. Let’s take a look.

Out with the old: Current refuse containers will be in use until the end of April. After that, Priority Waste will pick up and dispose of unwanted containers beginning in May. Residents are also welcome to keep the old containers for personal use in their garages, basements, and the like. The same goes for the bins belonging to the current recycling program.

In with the new: Priority Waste has already begun to deliver the new carts, with each residence set to receive a 95-gallon refuse cart and a 65-gallon recycling cart at various points throughout the month.

Best practices: “A uniform cart system is certainly more pleasing to the eye, but it also prevents open bags attracting rodents, cans and lids from blowing around the streets on windy days and heavy lifting of bags and cans that aren’t on wheels,” said Mayor Michael C. Taylor. “It’s best practice among communities nationwide, and it’s simply a better system altogether.”

The "We're On a Roll" public awareness campaign will inform residents about upcoming changes throughout April.

Out with the old: Sterling Heights’ current recycling program is based on a subscription model, with users opting into the program at a cost of $57 per year. Those roughly 10,000 subscribers will have their bills prorated through April 30, where they’ll then join the citywide program with no breaks in service. The new recycling program also means that the city will move to shut down its own recycling center, which will save Sterling Heights more than $157,000 each year.

In with the new: Universal curbside recycling means that each residence now has unfettered access to recycling, almost certainly resulting in more households recycling more items that would otherwise pile up in the landfill. The curbside recycling program was made possible by a $664,000 grant from The Recycling Partnership and a $659,400 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Environmentally sound: “This funding will enable us to enhance our community’s recycling efforts and make a significant positive impact on the environment,” said Mayor Taylor. “Sterling Heights is committed to sustainability, and this is a significant step toward achieving our goals.”

Out with the old: With the city’s current waste management contract set to expire, with it, too, goes the old special refuse millage rate that averages $107 annually, or $8.92 per month.

In with the new: A slight bump that the city attributes to “inflationary factors” means that the new rates average out at $136 annually, or $11.33 per month. City officials point out that that’s still lower than what many neighboring communities pay for waste collection, and all the while Sterling Heights’ refuse and recycling services receive several upgrades. But in the long run, the City expects taxpayers to collectively save $23 million over the course of the 10-year contract.

Sterling Heights Department of Public Works Director Mike Moore.

Big picture: “We were particularly impressed with Priority Waste’s processes which include supervisors connected to drivers in real time via video and GPS that track each truck’s progress and can help supervisors be alerted immediately if there are any issues that need to be addressed,” said Sterling Heights DPW Director Mike Moore. “Priority’s ability to quickly resolve issues helps save a tremendous amount of money on things like missed stops and returns, and these savings are trickling down to our residents. It’s a big win.”

Visit Sterling Heights online to learn more about universal curbside recycling, We’re On a Roll, and more.

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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.