2017-03-30 / Front Page

Where does our junk go?

Leelanau goes over the top to lead in recycling
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


NEW RED recycling bins allow for materials to be picked up and dumped into trucks where the materials are compacted before transport. The bins remain at the recycling site. The “old” way involved hauling heavy bins full of loose materials. NEW RED recycling bins allow for materials to be picked up and dumped into trucks where the materials are compacted before transport. The bins remain at the recycling site. The “old” way involved hauling heavy bins full of loose materials. Leelanau County was a leader in recycling — and remains so today.

It’s one of the reasons that solid waste handled by Glen Landfill has been reduced to one-sixth of the level deposited in 2002 (see related story).

An industry representative on the county’s Solid Waste Council, Mark Bevelhymer, general manager of American Waste based in Traverse City, works with several other Solid Waste Councils in the region and said Leelanau’s program is exceptional.

“Leelanau County was really a pioneer in getting a recycling program going in northwestern lower Michigan and took a lead role in persuading the state to allow a per-household fee to pay for it,” Bevelhymer said.


PAUL VAUGHT has been a driver for American Waste for nine years and loves his job. PAUL VAUGHT has been a driver for American Waste for nine years and loves his job. In fact, recycling seems to be getting more popular each year – to say nothing of getting a little more expensive.

Between 2002 and 2015, the volume of recyclable materials collected annually – glass, tin, plastic and fiber – increased in Leelanau County by nearly 80 percent.

In addition, the total weight of household hazardous waste gathered at special collections held several times a year increased dramatically as the scope of materials that could be collected expanded to include electronic materials.

In 2005, only 5,964 pounds of household hazardous waste and electronics materials were collected. Ten years later, the amount increased nearly 32 times, to 190,432 pounds.

The mainstay of the recycling program, how- ever, involves materials collected in recycling bins located at eight sites around the county and available for drop-off 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 2005, some 1,225 tons of glass, tin, plastic and fiber were recycled. Within a decade, however the number had jumped to 1,883 tons.

All that recycling effort is paid for through a per-household fee that Leelanau County voters approved in 2010. The funding arrangement was written into law for recycling programs statewide after Leelanau County’s own planning director, Trudy Galla, lobbied state legislators to consider alternatives other than millage levies to support recycling programs.

Many in the county felt it was unfair to charge large property owners, such as farmers, a larger property tax than the owners of smaller residential properties for the same service. Once the new funding mechanism was put in place, Leelanau voters overwhelmingly authorized the county to collect up to $29 per household to support household recycling programs.

The law itself allowed a voterapproved fee of up to $50 per household. Although voters authorized a fee of up to $29 per household, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners accepted a recommendation from its Solid Waste Council that only $27 per household be collected – for now.

That changed last year after the household hazardous waste and electronics collections grew more quickly than anyone anticipated. The county last year started to collect the full $29 per household per year to cover the additional expense.

“Getting contractors to come here several times a year to collect and process these materials became more expensive after volumes increased the way they did,” said Kristin Meredith, a senior planner with the county’s Planning and Community Development department, which oversees and provides administrative support to the county’s Solid Waste Council.

“But at $29 per household, the program is still a great deal,” Meredith added. “Just imagine how much it would cost an individual homeowner to dispose of one of those giant old cathode-ray television sets properly and legally. But anybody who resides in Leelanau County can do it for free.”

The per-household fee was approved for up to 10 years. The last year the current collection will be placed on tax bills will be in December 2019 and will cover the Solid Waste Council’s 2020 budget.

It isn’t clear yet whether voters will be asked to renew the fee at the same or another level – or whether an entirely new arrangement will be put into place by then. Officials in Lansing appear ready to unveil a new set of guidelines that could expand the scope of countybased Solid Waste Councils.

So how did Leelanau become known as a recycling leader?

“Leelanau County has some really dedicated volunteers working on its Solid Waste Council,” Bevelhymer said.

He singled out the council’s longtime chairman, Bill Perkins, along with council members Marcia Harris and Eric Lind, as being especially passionate advocates for the environment and local recycling programs.

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