By: Tanya Cabala, WMEAC Lakeshore Outreach Coordinator
There was some skepticism last year when West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) announced its intention to work toward improving residential recycling in Muskegon County. And I guess it was justified. There had been good faith efforts in past years, but still, the recycling rate remained only at about 12%, meaning only a small amount of materials in the county was being diverted from landfill disposal.
Dr. Alan Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting Research Professor of GVSU’s Annis Water Resources Institute specifically urged WMEAC to take up this challenge with our new expanded lakeshore emphasis. And fortunately, there were additional supporters of this additional effort who stepped up to help out with financial support –Howmet Aerospace and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.
But now, how to make this effort really successful was the task. We considered carefully and realized we needed “recycling cheerleaders,” people in the county willing to lead the way to make improvements happen so we recruited elected officials from every local jurisdiction, community organizations, businesses, and educators.
We brought all these folks together in a series of virtual meetings to discuss the current status of recycling in the county, perceived obstacles, and potential opportunities for improvement. We hosted information sessions on state funding opportunities, educational grants, and imminent changes to state law that will aid in strengthening recycling programs at the local level. We were glad to find significant enthusiasm from these new partners and then excited to apply at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for funds to build on this work to update our recycling information and identify strategies for improvement. We were even more excited our grant application was approved! Our supporters were excited too!
“We were hopeful for a strong showing of positive progress when we supported WMEAC’s 2021 project to convene a countywide group of elected officials, businesses, community organizations, and teachers to work together to improve residential recycling in Muskegon County,” said Amy Heisser, human resources director for Howmet Aerospace. “That hope has been realized as EGLE has seen this strong community interest and collaboration and awarded WMEAC a grant to assess the current local recycling market, identify improvements, and develop a strategy for collaborative actions!”
Now the task at hand is to ensure that members of the public have opportunities to provide their ideas and input, a definite priority of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. Janelle Mair, the Foundation’s vice president of community investment and Environmental Endowment Fund chair, noted their longstanding interest, as well as the hope they have for community engagement. “We have long recognized the need for improved county-wide recycling infrastructure and have invested in studies and efforts to reach that goal. WMEAC has been leading the most recent conversations around recycling, and we encourage the community to engage in the process – complete surveys, show up to meetings, and make your voice heard!
This interest is also a top priority for Amy Heisser. “One of our most important commitments to the Muskegon community is being a responsible steward of the local environment,” she said. “We continuously look for new and innovative ways to recycle our waste, so it doesn’t end up in the landfill, which is why we are interested in providing feedback for WMEAC’s recycling study – to share our expertise and consider new ideas.”
And success ideally will equate to higher rates of recycling as well, according to Dr. Steinman, “I hope this will lead to greater engagement in recycling at the local, county, and regional levels,” he said.
We are very grateful for the strong support from these Muskegon area leaders and encourage full community participation in our upcoming virtual town halls and surveys to ensure success – improved recycling across Muskegon County! For more information and to participate, please contact Tanya Cabala at email@example.com or (231) 798-5196.