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Recycling bills on way for Michigan

Curbside recycling in Marquette is pictured. On June 2, a bipartisan team of lawmakers provided an update to Michigan's solid waste/materials management laws that are scheduled to move quickly. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — In a bipartisan effort, Michigan is one step closer to updating its solid waste and materials management laws that will be tailored to securing more recycling in the state.

The House Natural Resources committee met June 2 and June 9 and are continuing testimonial hearings for major revisions proposed to Michigan’s waste and recycling statutes (House Bills 5812-5817). These bills were introduced by a team of bipartisan lawmakers including Chairman Gary Howell, R-North Branch, and Vice Chairman William Sowerby, D-Fraser.

Howell noted during the June 2 Zoom meeting that these five bills will improve the planning process for citing landfills and increase the availability of recycling. What the state has now is regulated toward just landfills, Howell said, and those 70 landfills in Michigan were established through that existing planning process.

“The good news here for all of us is that the heavy lifting has been done on these bills … It’s pretty amazing that they’ve been able to get this many stakeholders to debate and discuss such a complex issue and (come) to a pretty good consensus as to what is practically feasible and what would benefit the environment,” Howell said. “So I’m really pleased to be the beneficiary of all their hard work and I’m really pleased it’s a bipartisan effort.”

Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition President Horst Schmidt said that the new legislation is important because it goes from a “prescriptive model” to a model that allows governments and companies more leeway but also requires them to take on more responsibility for their actions.

“… The industry is trying to shove the blame off on someone else but they don’t have to take the responsibility for what they’re creating,” Schmidt said.

Recycling is an issue especially in rural neighborhoods, Schmidt said. Copper Country Recycling Initiative has come in and conducted a survey which showed that a majority of people from Houghton County, outside the Houghton/Hancock city area, are willing to support some form of recycling. With this new proposed legislation, Schmidt is hoping that this will be a push for the Houghton County Commission to get a contract with a company to set up an effective recycling facility, he said. There are two options, Eagle Waste & Recycling Inc. in Eagle River, Wisconsin or Marquette Solid Waste Authority — once that facility is completed — in which the area is looking into.

“The bills are actually about landfills; they’re about the county planning; they’re about common materials management, which include not just recycling products but also compost mix as one of the products — where you basically take the organic waste out of the landfill,” Schmidt said. “So we’re moving (toward) a system where there’s less and less going into (the) landfill and … the whole process is we want to recycle because we don’t want to keep on making our planet worse.”

Landfills create more greenhouse gases and have a negative effect on climate change and it’s crucial to revamp the system, Schmidt said. It’s taken five years to get to this point of having this bi-partisan legislation now in the works, noting that much negotiation has been done to get to this moment. But the fact that hearings on this legislation are happening, considering the financial issues the state is faced with currently, is promising that this will soon take effect, Schmidt said.

“These five bills (should) get passed because basically it gets the state out of the landfill operator … Our city, I think, tends to have recycling in their contracts with major companies. It’s the rural areas that don’t have recycling, for the most part,” he said. “We have 83 counties, and probably about 17 of them are urban and the rest of them are counties with maybe populations of 25,000. Those tend to be the counties that are not able to afford to do recycling as it is. In Houghton, for example, 15,000 people live in Houghton and Hancock and we have 21,000 people outside of that. And even though we have a town like Calumet, it doesn’t have recycling at this point.”

Having a market that develops for these recycling products and facilities is a “win-win situation” for everyone, Schmidt said.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.

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