By Shawn Personke
The Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) collects, sorts, and distributes tons (literally) of materials. We also get questions about those materials — what we take, what we don’t take, and what do we do with all the paper, plastic, glass, and metal that we accept.
Over the years, we’ve had issues with people leaving furniture and other non-acceptable items at our bin sites. While most of our recycling community knows that mattresses, for example, cannot be recycled at the WWRA, there are a few people that are looking for an “easy” way to get rid of these items…at the expense of the rest of the community who are following the rules.
In response, we’ve compiled a list of resources and organizations that accept the items that we do not handle. Some of those resources provide an opportunity to extend the life of the item. Others are for items that are truly at the end of their useful life. Thank you to our Facebook followers who contributed ideas to that list. You can find that list on our website under the “What Not To Recycle” tab. We’ve provided two Washtenaw County links below, also.
As for the questions about what we do and do not accept, we try to keep a good list on our website. However, with the amount of stuff in the world, the list can’t be as precise as we would like. We encourage community members to just ask — via our Facebook page or website — and we’ll do our best to answer.
What Happens to Our Recyclables
Recently, several of our followers have asked, “What happens to the materials we collect?”
The short answer is that our recyclables are a commodity that we sell to vendors. They, in turn, repurpose the materials to make other items. The WWRA is fortunate to have somewhat local vendors, as opposed to other communities who were impacted negatively when China stopped accepting many recycled materials from the United States in 2018.
“Our vendors are located as close as Kalamazoo and Dundee, while others are located in Chicago, Florida, and Canada,” said Marc Williams, WWRA facility manager.
For example, we ship our paper and cardboard to Graphic Packaging in Kalamazoo where the cardboard is turned into food boxes for Kellogg’s, Barilla, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Kleenex and Meijer.
“Roughly 30% of the boxes that are food-based boxes in your grocery store are made at Graphic Packaging,” said Williams.
“They also produce the wax cardboard at the bottom of your bacon. If you peel back the bottom of a package you will see a Graphic Packaging logo and that will inform you that it was made in their facility in Kalamazoo.”
He adds that Graphic Packaging runs 1,300 tons of recycled material and 65 semi-trailers a day. They own the largest cardboard press in the Western Hemisphere, running three shifts, seven days a week.
Another example: plastics numbered 1 and 2 are shipped to Clean Tech in Dundee.
“It’s washed, shredded and then turned into pellets,” said Williams. “The pellets are used to make new bottles for Absopure and Tide. Some of the plastic is sold to be used by North Face and Patagonia to produce clothing.”
However, Williams said that prices — like other commodities — fluctuate. Currently, plastics 3 to 7 are harder to sell, and the WWRA sometimes has to pay to move them.
“The markets are always fluctuating, depending on supply and demand. Several years ago, we stopped accepting glass because we didn’t have a buyer. Once a buyer was located, we began accepting glass at our bin sites only,” he said.
He’s in the process of looking for new buyers for plastics 3 to 7. He’s also hopeful that efforts at the state level will encourage businesses, such as the soft drink industry, that use and produce these products to invest in the proper disposal of them, such as the “Close The Loop” program.
“We appreciate our recycling community and encourage them to keep recycling everything that we accept and to look for other environment-friendly avenues for those items we do not accept.”
For more information about the WWRA, check out our website and “Like” our Facebook page. We try to keep both of those sites updated and responsive.
Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) is a partnership of five municipalities – Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, Manchester Township — working together to find alternative ways to handle waste, promote recycling, and encourage reducing and reusing. Bin sites are located throughout each community, and curbside service is provided to City of Chelsea residents and commercial services to each of the five municipalities.
Washtenaw County links