‘We need to change’ — Kent Co. officials urge increased recycling effort as landfills fill up

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KENT COUNTY, Mich. – Public works officials in Kent County say we're running out of room in our landfills.

Kent County has over 600,000 residents generating nearly 1.8 million cubic yards of trash each year according to Darwin Baas, Director of the Department of Public Works. It’s a growing rate of garbage he says can’t be sustained for long.

“It’s seasonal, but we usually see a couple hundred trucks a day and the waste is anything from residential food waste, construction debris,” said Baas. “It’s material that we have to do a better job sorting out before it ever comes here.”

The Michigan Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Evaluation Project conducted by the county in 2015 found: between standard recycling and compostable food and yard waste, nearly 75 percent of waste dumped in the Kent County landfill should have been reduced, reused or recycled. These findings estimate the landfill will run out of room for trash in roughly 10 years.

“Instead of it going for scrap or something it’s ending up here and we’re burying it, and we’re never going to go back again and find it,” Baas said

Daniel Schoomaker, Executive Director of West Michigan’s Sustainable Business Forum said there’s not only environmental implications but economical ones as well.

“The damage economically is we’re throwing away nearly $400 million worth of material every year [state wide],” Schoonmaker said.

That’s roughly $52 million thrown into the trash right here in West Michigan, which eliminates nearly 370 jobs, according to the study.

So why aren’t we recycling and what can we do about this problem?

“The easiest answer is inconvenience,” said Schoonmaker. “People as a culture don’t seem to prioritize recycling as much as you think they would. People don’t like to put in extra effort or pay the extra money.”

Schoonmaker says it’s up to residents and business owners to make a commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle. The goal is to eliminate as many materials from the waste stream as possible.

The Kent Country Department of Public Works is now asking residents to partner with them by making a pledge to recycle smarter. The 'Imagine Trash' campaign seeks to reduce waste going into landfills by 20 percent by 2020 and by 90 percent by 2030.

“It’s no longer acceptable to bury 1.3 million tons of waste in landfills every year,” said Baas. “I have conversations with manufacturers and retailers and residents saying, ‘Yes, we want to reduce our waste but we don’t know where to begin.’ There is broad community interest to move the pendulum the other way and, as a community, we’re going to transform the way we manage waste. We need to change.”

For more information on the role you can play, take the pledge at www.imaginetrash.org

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  • Patricia Alexander

    Part of the major problem is that a lot of the big apartment complexes don’t offer recycling for the residents. So they have no choice but to throw out the items that can be recycled. It’s nit just the big complexes either it’s dinner of the small ones too.

  • Linda Webster

    You mean we have outgrown yet another part of our existing infrastructure that people have been clamoring about in commission meetings for decades only to have their warnings ignored in favor of pet projects and glitzy developments?
    Why does that sound familiar? Oh, right…because that is exactly the kind of mismanagement that has been going on in this part of the state since the 1980s.
    Just what does everyone thing is underpinning all these new developments and enormous projects? What will happen when all these people suddenly materialize to fill them all? These people will come with real life needs, in terms of electricity, transportation, garbage disposal, communications, food, and education. And when these new demands break an already overtaxed infrastructure, do you think they will stick around to pay to have it fixed? Not likely. THey will move out just as fast as they moved in.

    Already I see that the GVSU students and faculty are demanding subsidies to ride the proposed bus line out to Allendale. Never mind that they are the only reason it is being built in the first place! Never mind that even at full price the Rapid will lose money on the line just as it is losing money on the Silver Line. What gall they have to beg for a bus line, get one, and then complain because it isn’t free. GVSU has more than enough profit to build and operate its own bus line from GR to Allendale. Let it do so. Far too many of these infrastructure issues are in the hands of inept politicians, and would be far better off in private hands. The power company should be stepping in to make determinations on the condition of the grid and decide when it needs upgrading, not politicians. Waste management industry experts should be making decisions regarding how each municipality should be handling its trash, not politicians. When you rely on politicians, you invariably end up penny wise and pound foolish. Short term career and power gains take precedence over long term municipal viablity. Towns get bled dry, and the people are left holding the bag.

    Without infrastructure to support all of this growth we have been seeing, it will all inevitably collapse. That is a very basic concept that is taught in every first year municipal management course. It is a concept that has been ignored for 40 years in West Michigan, and now the fruits of that foolishness will be reaped.

    • Marci

      My dad was a civil engineer for Milwaukee, and he says the exact same thing. “You can’t grow beyond the limitations of the infrastructure.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say that to people. Usually followed up with “You should have listened to me ten years ago when I told you that, I can’t help you now.”

  • Bill

    Epic fail. More lies. Ask Darwin Baas why the DPW owns well over 200 acres in allegan county? They still are trying to move a electrical contractor off his property at the end of 108th st and US131. I have been to the dump for 5 years in a row every day minus weekends. At the current rate they will not fill up for another 15 years. This does not take into account the well over 200 acres in Allegan county that they own for new cells. Get educated
    Before listening to this crap

    • Andrew

      I don’t know how to break this to you Bill, so I am just going to come right out and say it. This article is about Kent County, not Allegan.

    • Marci

      “At the current rate they will not fill up for another 15 years”
      First of all, 15 years is not a very long time to get a new landfill site approved and ready to accept trash.
      Secondly, your assumption that the current rate is the rate that is going to exist over the next 15 years does not take into account the increased number of people and businesses moving into Kent County. With the projected growth factored in, that 15 years is actually more like 6 years if nothing changes with regard to sorting.
      The epic lack of education fail is yours, sir.

    • Dar Baas

      Hi Bill, thank you for your comments. The South Kent Landfill has about 10 years of disposal capacity left at current fill rates. Kent County DPW has been very forward thinking and planning for additional disposal capacity when needed so we have been acquiring additional property. We have approached property owners within the master plan area about selling and offer fair market value as the properties come up for sale. Presently most of the property is used by local farmers to grow crops. TV17 did a great job covering the issue but not everything we’re visioning could be captured in a single story. In an emerging circular economy and with a sustainable materials management model we are looking to divert most of this “end of life” material into alternative processes including composting, recycling, anaerobic digestion, reuse and remanufacturing. We are visioning a resource innovation campus to accommodate this activity instead of burying aluminum, steel, timber, plastic and other materials previously mined, harvested or drilled fir that that have millions of dollars in value. This business park that process material would be developed instead of using yet another 200 acres for landfilling. Please feel free to contact me at darwin.baas@kentcountymi.gov and I’d be happy to set time aside to share the larger master plan ideas with you.

  • Bill

    OK ……seems like there are a lot of professional sanitation experts here. If your looking to recycle let’s start with the WTE station. After recycling all the trash there instead of incinerating it maybe we could do some good. Most people have no idea about the amount of electricity produced through methane gas. However to get right to the point how many of you have seen the new cell? Just as big as the last one. By the way some one said this was just a story about Kent County. I wonder does that person take into consideration the trash hauled from the north Kent transfer station. I am sure that there is Montcalm county trash dumped at NKTS. I have seen republic trucks come from Barry county Also. Where does Allegan county trash go? Ottowa county? Ball is in your court all you super smart sanition engineers. I seen the first cell go in. More than likely will see the last filled there.

  • vkhanson

    in Muskegon county. We asked our waste company about recycling. Allied Waste/Republic told us they recycle for free. HOWEVER…they make it difficult. They give us tiny recycle bins and come around only once a month! Our trash could be in reverse with mostly recyclable and a little trash for the heap. But we run out of room early in the month. It is all backwards. If we could have weekly recycle runs, the trash amount would reduce immensely.

  • Michael

    I do my part. When I’m home, I fill my #EverKept 90-gallon recycling container every two weeks. To fill my 90-gallon trash can would take months.

  • bluegoosepropertyservices

    Check out Blue Goose Property Services LLC. They take construction materials that would usually go into a landfill. Also if you are doing a renovation they take old sinks, vanities, cupboards, the stuff that can be reused but is usually tossed in a landfill. They have a website and are also on facebook.