New MRF Expands Michigan’s Recycling Capacity, Models Zero Waste Practices
[February 28th, 2022, Ann Arbor, MI]--The nonprofit zero waste recycler, Recycle Ann Arbor [RAA,] is revitalizing recycling in Southeast Michigan with a new zero waste Materials Recovery Facility [MRF] that recycles materials to their highest value and best use within regional markets.
The MRF opened on December 1, 2021 at 4150 Platt Rd. in Ann Arbor, Michigan after 12 months of construction to complete a $7.25M overhaul of the facility, which had been defunct since 2016. Its physical redesign and operating strategy are both driven by a zero waste ethic with the aim of rebuilding a credible, transparent recycling system.
“Recycling needs to be authentic to reap all the potential benefits it can bring,” said RAA CEO Bryan Ukena. “In addition to creating much needed recycling capacity to Southeast Michigan, we want our zero waste MRF to be a model for anchoring effective recycling programs and systems.”
As a regional hub designed to process 34,000 tons annually with a single shift, the MRF provides much needed recycling infrastructure. In addition to serving the City of Ann Arbor under a ten-year contract, RAA is processing materials from the City of Ypsilanti and the surrounding area. These cities had previously shipped recyclables out of state for sorting and/or cut back their municipal recycling programs. The City of Ann Arbor saved $640K annually compared to the previous contract where materials were shipped long distance for processing. The savings from processing materials onsite will continue to grow as the market for recyclables improves.
“A regional MRF is of great value to the City and the surrounding communities, creating local job opportunities and reducing carbon emissions from material transport, both of which help advance the City’s A2Zero Climate Action goals. Recycle Ann Arbor’s commitment to finding local, high end markets for materials results in a cost savings to the City but more importantly promotes a circular economy. This project strengthens our shared community values and I am excited to have a functional MRF back in Ann Arbor. “ Molly Maciejewski, Public Works Manager, City of Ann Arbor.
RAA is now sending all paper, cardboard, metal, and PET (#1), HDPE (#2) and PP (#5) plastics that it processes at the MRF to regional end markets. The furthest end market is just under 200 miles from the facility, demonstrating that local end markets are sustainable and achievable.
Recycle Ann Arbor’s end market agreements further model its zero waste principle of achieving highest value and best use for the materials processed at the facility. That means prioritizing manufacturers that use post-consumer content to produce products that will be recycled over and over again, rather than “downcycled” for limited use.
Current end market partnerships include bottle-to-bottle agreements with Ice River for PET (ex. soda or water bottles) materials and TAB for HDPE, as well as a ten-year agreement with Pratt Paper to process all paper at a tree-free regional mill.
The MRF also allows glass to be recycled locally again, including Ypsilanti’s glass, which stopped accepting glass in its curbside collection in 2019. RAA’s glass meets quality standards that allow it to be accepted for final processing into glass bottles and fiberglass at Rumpke’s gold-level certified glass beneficiation plant in Dayton, OH.
“Mission-based recyclers center human and ecological health, justice, and regeneration, which impacts every facet of their operations, from wages to where and to whom the bales are sold,” said Lynn Hoffman, national coordinator for the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers and co-president of Eureka Recycling. “Ultimately, the community benefits from higher paying jobs, safer workplaces, keeping the benefits of the operations local, and community-held values guiding operations."
Recycle Ann Arbor is committed to serving the social and economic thriving of our community, as well as its environmental wellbeing. The MRF also provides 20 new union jobs, which will be staffed in part through a partnership with Offender Success, a statewide program that helps returning citizens find jobs. A Brighter Way, a local non-profit that provides support, resources, and advocacy for community members returning home from incarceration are involved assisting returning citizens with additional housing and support services. Their partnership with Offender Success and A Brighter Way aligns with RAA’s principle of protecting human health and the health of other living beings.
“Recycling infrastructure grants are a critical component of EGLE’s support for recycling growth in Michigan, particularly projects that expand the capacity to process recyclable materials here in our state” said EGLE Recycling Specialist, Emily Freeman. “We are so excited to be part of a project that will process materials for use in Michigan manufacturing, provide local jobs, expand access to recycling throughout the region, and support a unique non-profit organization.”
Recycle Ann Arbor was awarded an $800,000 grant from the State of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to expand the state’s recycling capacity. In addition to this grant, RAA raised $5.1 Million from Level One Bank and $800,000 from Closed Loop Partners in private funds to finance the MRF overhaul project. A second grant from EGLE announced in December awarded $200,000 more to help RAA sort more #5 Polypropylene plastic by installing new robotics in early 2022.
Most MRFs today operate with the single goal of maximizing near-term profit. RAA calls its MRF a “zero waste MRF” because it runs differently. RAA prioritizes mitigating climate change, protecting the health of living beings, and preserving valuable resources alongside maintaining long-term financial viability.
"As a zero waste social enterprise, RAA is accountable to the community, not corporate shareholders. Increased transparency, reporting and revenue sharing ensure their constituents that recycling efforts deliver quantifiable environmental, social and financial benefits throughout the SE Michigan region." - Alex Danovitch, Principal, Nothing Left to Waste - lead consulting firm working on the MRF project.
Photos and b-roll available
Recycle Ann Arbor [RAA] has been a non-profit community-based zero waste recycler for over 40 years. RAA's curbside recycling program was the first in Michigan, beginning in 1978. Nationally recognized as an established leader in mission-based recycling, Recycle Ann Arbor has been instrumental in reducing waste through education, outreach, reuse programs, and ensuring the items that can be recycled are really recycled. Because of Recycle Ann Arbor's unique approach of providing material collection and processing uniquely driven by a zero-waste goal, it's able to look both upstream and downstream to help create system-wide solutions. RAA understands that recycling alone will not solve the waste crisis. While recycling is part of the solution, we need progressive zero waste policies, like extended producer responsibility (EPR). Recycle Ann Arbor includes four operational divisions: the Material Recovery Facility, the Recovery Yard, the Drop-Off Station, and Curbside Recycling, as well as advocacy and outreach programs.
Alliance of Mission Based Recyclers [AMBR] Recycle Ann Arbor is a founding member of the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers, a coalition founded by the pioneers of mission-driven, community-based recycling in the US. Together they are guiding new recycling policies and infrastructure investments to rebuild credible, transparent recycling systems that serve as a bridge toward a circular economy and just, resilient local communities.
Nothing Left to Waste [NL2W] is the lead consulting firm working on the MRF project. Nothing Left to Waste offers 30 years of expertise rooted in a unique mix of operations, policy, program design and advocacy. NL2W’s bold solutions and implementation strategies are based on real world experience. A creative and collaborative organization that believes in the importance of building internal buy-in and understanding alternative scenarios. Their mission is to reach for nothing left to waste.