Ask Planet Detroit: What’s up with multi-fam...

Ask Planet Detroit: What’s up with multi-family recycling in Detroit?

water bottles/plastics in large pile to be recycled

Dear Planet Detroit, 

I am a Detroit citizen living in the Palmer Park historic apartment neighborhood. Why doesn’t the city provide recycling bins and access to recycling just as the single family homes and other areas of Detroit? 

-Tired of seeing the waste and consumption. 

Dear Tired, 

Recycling services in Detroit have been primarily focused on single-family homes in the past. But this will soon change. 

In 2019, the city of Detroit received a grant from the Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment (EGLE), that will allow them to offer recycling to multi-family unit buildings such as apartment complexes and condominiums.  

“We are just getting ready to roll out our city wide recycling program,” Doug Collins, head of the city’s solid waste division within the Department of Public Works, told Planet Detroit. 

Collins estimates we will see this program fully implemented by August or September this year. Currently, they are waiting for carts and containers to come in, and just bought new recycling trucks.

Here’s a little background. 

All recycling services in the city of Detroit are opt in. If an apartment building currently uses city services for trash services, then they can opt in to recycle. 

Twenty years ago, the city handled all of the trash for individual homes, multi-family units, and commercial buildings. Then they opened it up to private contractors, so if the apartment building doesn’t use city waste management services they’ll need to go through a private vendor for recycling services, which many apartment buildings choose not to do. 

Neighboring cities like Ann Arbor have been recycling for decades. Detroit, however, started curbside recycling as recently as 2015. So that might help explain why their recycling program isn’t as robust as you’d like to see, says Natalie Jakub, executive director with Green Living Science. 

When Detroit started its recycling program in 2015, they had 11 percent, or 13,000 residents recycling.Today, they have around 31 percent, or almost 65,000 residents, Collins tells Planet Detroit. 

Jakub is also the head of the Detroit City Council Green Task Force Recycling and Waste Reduction Committee. The committee is currently working on creating an ordinance to make it mandatory for commercial and multi-family buildings to recycle. But this may be unnecessary with the new grant from EGLE, Jakub says. 

Why do single family homes have to opt-in?

When Detroit began recycling in 2015, the city started with a pilot program where they gave out 30,000 containers. But, Collins says, “That didn’t work well because there was no education.” He adds,“It was kind of just like a secondary trash container for most of the people.” 

The opt-in program ensures that those getting the recycling containers care about recycling and will do their part to reduce contamination. 

Single family homes have three options for getting a bin. They can pay $25, contact one of the city’s two recycling contractors: Zero Waste Detroit or Green Living Science to do a neighborhood or education event, or participate in an online education training to receive a voucher. 

“Doing the opt-in wasn’t meant to be a barrier for people to participate, it was meant to be an opportunity for us to have conversation with people to really provide the education,” Jakub says.

The cost to the city to recycle is based on market value and contamination rates. Collins says that after implementing educational programs to ensure proper recycling, the contamination rate has gone down, and this ensures that the products don’t ultimately end up in the landfill after trying and failing to be processed as recyclables. 

So until the new program starts, what do I do?

You have a few options. Focus on the “reduce” and “reuse” part of the recycling triangle — these are the most important steps anyways, because it takes a lot of energy to recycle materials. Choose metals first, then glass, and then plastics, says Jakub. Also, everytime you go to a grocery store, choose a paper bag over a plastic one if you forgot your reusable ones. 

As far as recycling goes, you can take your recycling to Recycle Here, a free drop-off recycling facility. They are currently closed until July 15th, but when they reopen you can drop off your recyclables every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

For hazardous materials, you can utilize the Household Hazardous Waste Center, open every Thursday and every fourth Saturday to drop off items like your prescription medications, TVs, and chemicals, so that they don’t end up in a landfill. This facility is located at 2000 E. Ferry Street. 

Another option is to reach out to the Bee Green Business program that Green Living Science offers. They’ll help your apartment building get set up with a recycling vendor and provide education to tenants and staff. 

Lastly, Jakub recommends reaching out to your apartment management company and asking about it. “Sometimes they just want to know more people want it,” she says. 

If you have environment and health questions you need answered in your community, ask us by texting Planet313 to 73224.