Ann Arbor’s Environmental Commission Votes to Put City’s Recycling Program Back on Track

NEWS UPDATE (March 3, 2017): Ann Arbor City Councilpersons Chip Smith and Jason Frenzel have proposed an interim contract with Recycle Ann Arbor, in partnership with Rumpke Waste and Recycling, to process recyclables for the City, in accordance with the Environmental Commission resolution.  City Council will be voting on the resolution Monday night.

On Thursday, February 23, the Ann Arbor Environmental Commission unanimously endorsed the Recycle Ann Arbor / Rumpke proposal to process City recyclables until the City’s materials recovery facility (MRF) is back up and running.

RAA/Rumpke’s price was neck-and-neck with another bidder, Waste Management Inc., and far lower than a third bidder, Emterra.  But what distinguished the RAA/Rumpke proposal was its technical and operational excellence.  In particular, the RAA/Rumpke proposal flatly rejects the practice– used by Waste Management and embraced by City of Ann Arbor staff– to compact and bale recyclables before shipping them to a distant MRF.

“Baling unsorted recyclables leads to the interlocking of items, making materials much more difficult to segregate at the MRF, which leads to far higher residuals at the end of the sorting lines, and at the end markets,” said Todd Bukowski, a senior packaging consultant who testified before the Commission.  “Those materials then end up in landfills.  For quality recycling, you want to bale materials after sorting, never before.”

Over the last three months, several recycling experts, including the Executive Director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, have advised the City about the damage done to recyclables by baling before sorting, with some estimates that up to 33% of all recyclables handled that way end up in a landfill.  Recycling industry groups recently commissioned a report on the topic that came to the same conclusion.

City staff responded that there were reasonable levels of residue from processing pre-baled recyclables at Waste Management’s Akron MRF, but they’ve offered no response about the additional residue at end markets, which is where recyclers say the real problem lies.

At the outset of the Environmental Commission meeting, Chair Susan Hutton declared the matter was settled– that if the City has to long-distance haul its recyclables, then loose-hauling is far better for recycling and the environment.

In addition to the loose-hauling advantage, Environmental Commissioners pointed to several other advantages to the RAA/Rumpke proposal.

1. The RAA/Rumpke proposal brought together an outstanding team of service providers.

The proposal from homegrown nonprofit Recycle Ann Arbor was provided in conjunction with Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services, the tenth largest solid waste company in the United States. The team of service providers provides outstanding technical and operating capabilities. Rumpke operated eight recycling facilities in the Midwest, processing, and marketing over 400,000 tons of recyclables each year.  It runs a state-of-the-art glass processing facility in Dayton, allowing Ann Arbor’s glass to be sold to glass container and fiberglass markets, not landfill cover, as it had been marketed in recent years by the City’s former MRF operator.  The trucking contractor, Custom Ecology, has been hauling Ann Arbor’s trash from the City’s transfer station for over a decade.  And Recycle Ann Arbor is a nationally recognized community-based recycler that created the first curbside recycling program in Michigan.

2. The RAA/Rumpke proposal is best for the environment.  

The bid encourages “recycling best practices” by hauling recyclables loose, and by actually recycling glass (instead of using it as landfill cover).

3. The RAA/Rumpke proposal is best for the workers.  

The proposal would pay the recycling employees above living wage; the employees would be represented by a labor union; and all three key partners (RAA, Rumpke, and the UAW) bring outstanding health and safety practices and resources to the project.

4. The RAA/Rumpke proposal is the local solution.

Recycle Ann Arbor brought in additional regional expertise for the project, but their proposal is the only one from a local company.  For that matter, it’s the only one from a company based in Michigan. It’s the only one based in the Midwest.

5. The RAA/Rumpke proposal is the community-based environmental solution.  

RAA is a nonprofit organization, governed by a community-based volunteer Board of Directors, with the sole mission of environment and community.  In contrast, one of the other bidders, Waste Management, downsized its corporate recycling division three years ago, since it wasn’t generating enough profits for its shareholders.


For nearly 50 years, we’ve been explaining why it’s important to know what happens to your recyclables after you put them in a bin.  Not all recycling is alike.  It matters who runs your MRF.

This coming Monday, March 6th, the Ann Arbor City Council will be voting on the Frenzel/Smith resolution in support of the RAA/Rumpke proposal and the Environmental Commission recommendation. This is the first key step in restoring Ann Arbor’s recycling program. Get involved. Contact Mayor Taylor and your councilmembers, urge them to support the resolution and thank them and City staff for working on behalf of the environment and the community.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting 

7 pm Monday, March 6th, 2017

Larcom City Hall - Third floor

City Council meets in the second floor Council chambers

301 E. Huron St. 

Published on February 27, 2017

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