Michigan’s state and local governments strongly support recycling efforts, and work to confront structural and engagement challenges

April 27, 2022

Recycling remains popular with local government leaders in Michigan, and the state has established a goal of tripling the state’s current recycling rate. Yet those leaders often encounter difficulties in implementing their programs, tied to costs, improper recycling practices by users, and shifting end markets for their recycled materials. The results appear in the second report on recycling issues based on the Fall 2021 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) conducted by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. 

Costs are a problem for those jurisdictions which have recycling programs (46%) and are also cited by those where recycling services are not available  (55%), particularly in urban jurisdictions, and those in West Central Michigan. Fully 73% of respondents believe additional funding is needed to help them improve or expand their recycling efforts.  

The logistics of recycling programs – infrastructure, staffing, and reaching end markets – concern leaders in areas large and small, with or without programs currently.   

“The results of this survey shows that challenges exist across the board. Besides costs, improper recycling practices by users can create contamination, and a lack of understanding about end markets for recycled materials can cause bottlenecks. These issues may be intertwined in the decision-making process for local governments,” says Debra Horner, senior program manager on the MPPS.

The report states that "more than a quarter of local leaders say that lack of public awareness or participation in recycling efforts (30%) and staffing for recycling services (26%) are local challenges as well.” 

The report, Michigan local leaders’ views on recycling: current challenges and opportunities for improvement, as part of the Michigan Local Recycling Policy Project, also has recommendations for improving the situation. Beyond the additional funding, the local entities are looking for additional local or regional partnerships. The report states, “In order to introduce recycling, these same resources were also the top mentions by those with no recycling available to residents today.” 

Recycling efforts across Michigan have been the focus of significant activity and investment by the state government. In 2018 the Legislature created the Renew Michigan Fund to make resources available to improve recycling in Michigan. Since then, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has partnered with state, local, and national organizations to create programs that upgrade local recycling infrastructure, improve public awareness and participation, and grow recycling end markets.

Local leaders believe the resulting higher revenues from the sale of recycled materials, additional outreach and educational efforts aimed at residents and/or businesses, and technical assistance (such as customized advising on funding, partnerships, contracts, etc.) are more likely than not to help expand or improve current recycling services. 

“Against the backdrop of operational challenges, local leaders have expressed optimism regarding the impact that additional resources could have on the likelihood of expanding or introducing recycling services in their communities. And they say additional technical assistance would have an impact as well,” says Natalie Fitzpatrick, CLOSUP project manager.

The Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) is an ongoing census survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan conducted since 2009 by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP). Respondents for the Fall 2021 wave of the MPPS include county administrators, board chairs, and clerks; city mayors, managers, and clerks; village presidents, managers, and clerks; and township supervisors, managers, and clerks from 1,356 jurisdictions across the state.

The survey was funded in part by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

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