GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan continues to make strides toward its recycling goals. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy announced Monday that more than 620,000 tons of material were recycled in the 2022 fiscal year, the most ever for the state. It broke the record set the previous year by more than 66,000 tons.

“We can all be proud that Michiganders are recycling now more than ever before. This equates to every person in Michigan recycling 124 pounds each year,” EGLE Environmental Justice Public Advocate Regina Strong said during a press conference.

The recycling rate in Michigan has risen steadily over the last few years. According to EGLE, approximately 14.25% of waste was recycled prior to 2019. Last year, the rate was 19.3% and the latest analysis puts Michigan around 21%.

Expanded partnerships have also extended recycling capabilities to even more communities. Since 2021, EGLE and The Recycling Partnership have rolled out more than 48,000 new curbside recycling carts in communities statewide.

“This tremendous accomplishment in our recycling activities and infrastructure investments represent a bipartisan effort in a historic partnership with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature in combination with the nonprofit sector and business community that Michigan has never seen before,” Strong said.

Officials with EGLE also announced nearly $16 million in recycling infrastructure grants that will be awarded to communities, nonprofits and businesses across Michigan. No community received more aid than Kent County. The Kent County Department of Public Works will receive $4 million toward infrastructure improvements as part of its Sustainable Business Park in Byron Township. That money will be used for utility, road and stormwater upgrades around the new facility.

The Sustainable Business Park is projected to replace the final segment of the South Kent Recycling & Waste Center, bringing in businesses that specialize in converting waste into usable materials.

Currently, Kent County processes more than 1 billion pounds of waste each year. Of that waste, about 75% can be recycled in some way.

“Kent County has a bold goal to reduce our waste going to landfill by 90% by the year 2030,” Kent County DPW Director Darwin Baas said in a press conference. “It will take a tremendous investment in recycling and materials management to be able to meet that goal in the next five to six years. We are grateful to EGLE for the support they have provided in funding in a number of ways.”

An EGLE grant will help the Kent County Department of Public Works purchase a baler for the North Kent Recycling & Waste Center in Rockford. (WOOD TV8 file)

Kent County DPW also will receive separate grants worth $499,999 and $406,000. The first will go toward the purchase of a baler at the Rockford facility. By adding a baler to the site, it will eliminate the need to transport cardboard to other facilities, saving time, money and carbon output from vehicles.

The latter will go to help purchase new robotic sorting equipment at the Recycling & Education Center on Wealthy Street. The grant, partnered with federal funding, will add “state-of-the-art” technology to improve workplace safety, process material more efficiently and address the chronic staffing shortages.

“Like so many companies, we are experiencing the same thing around labor shortages and the increased cost of labor,” Baas said. “So we applied for a grant and EGLE is funding the installation of robotic sorts at our recycling center. The original grant was to be for two robotics orders. But fortunately, with improvements in technology and reducing cost, we are able to actually install three.”

The Kent County DPW projects that new technology will cover the cost of investment within its first year.

Baas expects final approvals and permits to be ready in the coming months and to break ground on the new Sustainable Business Park later this year.