BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Findings from a new study support the Kent County Department of Public Works’ plan to open a “sustainable business park,” using new technology to sort through the trash and drastically cut the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill.
Currently, Kent County collects approximately 1 million tons of waste each year, and roughly 90% of it goes into a landfill. Of the 900,000 tons that go to a landfill, more than two-thirds of it is considered municipal solid waste — or trash from homes and businesses.
The DPW has a goal to cut the amount of municipal solid waste by 90% before the year 2030, and department leaders believe a sustainable business park is the solution.
Steve Faber, the marketing manager with the Kent County DPW, tells News 8 that the South Kent Landfill in Byron Center is getting ready to open up the final cell in the landfill. Without changes, that unit will be full in six or seven years, and the county will either be forced to open up a new landfill or pay to have the county’s waste brought somewhere else.
Kent County had already purchased a 250-acre property next to the landfill for expansion. But instead of creating a new landfill, the DPW wants to open a sustainable business park to allow waste companies to come in, sort through the trash and pull out things that can be properly recycled or used for other purposes.
“With this waste characterization study, what it showed was about 75% of that municipal solid waste is what we call processable,” Faber said. “It would be able to be run through a system where we could pull out recyclable material. We could pull out the organics, we could pull out the stuff that could be put into other products or be reused in some way.”
Prior to the study, the Kent County DPW was told that a sustainable business park would need to process at least 400,000 tons of recyclable trash per year to be economically feasible. The waste study, conducted by an outside waste management consulting firm, confirmed that Kent County regularly exceeds that number.
“What the consultant firm did was they basically parked their folks at (our Waste Energy facility) and at the landfills, and when trucks came in that were hauling residential waste or commercial waste, they would pull a sample from that truck and literally put it on a big table,” Faber said. “They go through it and, you know, the diapers go over there, the plastics go over here and glass goes over there.”
The study found that 75% of the waste could be reused or recycled. The largest source is called fiber — things like paper and cardboard. Fiber comprised 23% of the reusable trashed items. Organic material, like food or yard waste, was 19%. Plastics made up 17%, followed by other miscellaneous yet valuable materials.
“There’s a lot of stuff going into the trash today that could relatively easily be recycled and could be processed at our recycling education center. It’s just not making it there, either because people aren’t able to recycle, they are choosing not to or they are doing it wrong,” Faber said.
The sustainable business park is still in the planning stages at this point, but the DPW has already lined up its main tenant: Kent County Bioenergy — a partnership between Texas-based Continuus Materials and Canada-based Anaregia — which will operate a mixed waste processor. That deal was approved by the DPW Board in March.
“Basically, it’s like the recycling education center but on steroids,” Faber said. “It can process your garbage bag. So, your garbage bag comes in there and it rips it open. And it sends it through a series of drums, magnets, optical sorters, you name it. And it takes that trash and it spins it off into the different components.”
The recyclables can be sold off as goods to be reused while the organic material can avoid the landfill and instead be put in an anaerobic digester and turned into natural gas and fertilizer.
With the latest data, Faber estimates the mixed waste processor, in combination with the existing Waste-to-Energy facility and our existing Recycling Education Center, would help Kent County cut its residential waste by approximately 80% — close to the county’s 2030 goal. The hope is that other niche companies could work alongside Kent County Bioenergy and pull out even more materials.
The plan for the sustainable business park has been in the planning stages for years now and is creeping closer to becoming a reality.
“Next spring is when we anticipate coming back with (the final details) to say here’s the project. Here’s what it’s going to take,” Faber said.
The project comes with a large price tag. As of March, construction plans for the sustainable business park came in at around $360 million. Kent County Bioenergy is expected to cover 75% of those costs. The state has already agreed to contribute $4 million, and Kent County is expected to seek bonds to cover its portion.
If and when the deal is finalized, it’s all about convincing the public that the move makes sense.
Faber broke it down into two main selling points. One, the DPW isn’t asking people to substantially change the way they already sort trash and recyclables. Two, an investment in the short term will have a big payoff in the long term.
“Almost everything costs more than putting stuff in a hole in the ground. That’s on the front end. That’s a very cheap solution. Now we know there are long-term costs. Rockford is experiencing a lot of those with PFAS and other contaminants. (The Kent County DPW is) responsible for monitoring three closed landfills. We’ve been doing that for almost 30 years. Those are long-term costs for the landfills that I don’t know that we fully accounted for in what we pay.” Faber said. “But the reality is it does cost more to (convert) waste to energy. It does cost more to run recycling and process that material. … That’s the thing. How much more are people willing to pay to know that we are not building another landfill in our community.”
Faber expects the proposal to go before the Kent County Commission near the end of the first fiscal quarter of 2023. If the project is approved, the facility would take about two years to build and could be up and running in 2026.