State encourages counties to convert trash into treasure

Michigan is encouraging counties to consider giving their trash a new life, offering up to $12,000 in grants to those interested in treating it as a resource.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy recently announced the grants for counties interested in converting outdated solid waste management plans into materials management plans that treat waste as a resource.

Solid waste management plans make sure you have a place to throw your trash. But the future materials management plans look at how you manage materials as a whole, said Christina Miller, a solid waste planning specialist for the department’s Materials Management Division.

“Can you recycle that material? Can you maybe send it through an anaerobic digester or a compost facility? What’s the best way to utilize that material at its highest, best use?” Miller said.

State policy over the last three decades was directed toward ensuring landfills had the disposal capacity for waste, said Darwin Baas, the director of the Kent County Department of Public Works.

Materials management is a community decision that says everything you place in a dumpster or trash cart has value, Baas said. 

There’s value left in materials from a variety of viewpoints, including land use and economic development, Baas said. We can do better than discarding those materials and burying them in the ground where we lose all value, he said.

Michigan’s county waste standards have not been updated since the late 1990s. Because these plans haven’t been updated in so long, counties throughout the state have lost staff with the institutional knowledge to understand solid waste planning, Miller said. 

In the past, counties had to have solid waste management committees to prepare and implement waste management plans. While some counties still have active committees, there are many that lack those officials, Miller said.

This grant requires counties to consider collaborating, she said. Those that do will receive $12,000 each. Counties that work alone receive $10,000. 

The state wants counties to look at challenges and opportunities to grow materials management, Miller said. They can also consider creating programs to feed into existing or new infrastructure. 

“Hopefully it will help engage those discussions and make them start thinking about ‘Well, I have yard clippings in my township but nowhere to really send it. Where do we send that material?’ Is that an issue that we have regionally and maybe it makes sense to create a compost facility that (counties) can utilize together,” Miller said.

Even communities without the infrastructure for materials management can provide a jumping off point, Miller said.

The department hopes to prepare for the transition if a pending package of waste management standards is enacted by the Legislature, Miller said.

Some counties have already begun adopting materials management strategies. The Kent County Department of Public Works resolved to divert 90% of its landfill waste by 2030. The county and  neighboring Allegan County say they hope to build a sustainable business park on land that was purchased for use as a landfill.

When you build a landfill you have lost the opportunity to use that land for agriculture, manufacturing or other types of developments, Baas said.

The county plans a mixed waste processing facility with a system to turn organic waste into natural gas and fertilizer.

“You are now creating a renewable natural gas, putting that into the grid, generating a fertilizer. Why wouldn’t you?” Baas said. 

Another plan is to make roofing boards from plastic film and waste paper that otherwise has virtually no value, Baas said. 

“This is going to be a new way of thinking where people go ‘Really, you can manufacture a product from this material?’ 

“Yeah, you can.” 

“Every 1,000 square feet of roof cover board that’s manufactured, 2,000 pounds of material is diverted from the landfill,” he said. 
Information on grant applications and requirements can be found at Michigan.gov/EGLEM3.