You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 9:03 a.m.

Ann Arbor City Council to consider single-stream recycling system

By Tina Reed

A proposal to convert Ann Arbor’s recycling facility so residents wouldn't have to sort their recycled papers from their plastics is being sent over to the City Council next week.

The specifics of the proposal won’t be available until council members get their first look at the Oct. 12 work session. The proposal could be considered at a council meeting as soon as Nov. 5.

Ann Arbor’s current two-sort system requires residents and businesses to sort all paper materials from plastic and glass into curbside containers.


Aaron Smith separates items for recycling in the bottle and can sort line at the Materials Recovery Facility in Ann Arbor earlier this year.

File photo

Proposals for a single-stream system allow recycled materials to be mixed together, then sorted at a Materials Recovery Facility retrofitted with improved sorting technology.

Typically, retrofits also allow an increase in the number of materials that can be collected for recycling by municipalities.

“The proposal is being evaluated at this point because the technology has improved significantly in the last few years,” said Tom McMurtrie, recycling coordinator. “It is timely in terms of our move to expand commercial recycling and with the needs of the residential population. We have carts out there with multi-family population that are almost 20 years old.”

The city looked to other municipalities that have converted to single-stream recycling like Westland and Saline as models for the proposal.

In April, Saline announced new recycling guidelines after renegotiating its recycling contract with Waste Management, said Saline Public Works Director George Danneffel.

The move resulted in a 0.5-percent decrease in the residential service rate, less sorting for residents who are recycling and an increase in the kind of plastics - like salad dressing and laundry detergent bottles — that residents can recycle, Danneffel said.

List: The Top 6 materials being recycled in Ann Arbor

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at or call her at 734-623-2535.


sandy schopbach

Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 4:21 a.m.

Sorting paper from plastics is neither time-consuming nor does it require an engineer's degree. Spoon-feeding people can go too far. As to taking more types of plastics, I'm all for it. There's far too much waste. But Dan Rubenstein has a good point: I just got back from Germany and they have more separate containers for waste than you can shake a stick at. As they're a logical nation, they must have a reason. And of course there's whether the waste IS really being recycled. And whether elsewhere gives a better price. I hear that the downturn in the economy has made it unprofitable for goods to be recycled, which defeats the whole point of doing it in the first place. Jobs are another important point; when we've done away with all the jobs, especially entry-level, low-qualification ones, what are people supposed to do to earn a living? All these are valid points that need to be looked into, instead of just jumping on the bandwagon of the Latest Thing, or the product that is being marketed the most convincingly.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

Back in the early 90s my friend and neighbor moved to Ann Arbor. He had landed a job at a local landfill that was starting a brand new recycling facility. He was told by the company that They we're completely committed to recycling in a way such as Michigan had never seen before! He was given a generous salary, budget, and a freehand to do as he saw-fit. About a year after he had gotten things going he asked me if I would like to tour the facility. I accepted and upon my arrival, we backed a garbage truck up to facility and dumped it on ground. all the employees had left for the day, but the smell of trash and productivity lingered in the nights air. Being the kind of guy he was, he rolled his sleeves up and began sorting, shirt, tie, dress shoes and all. He showed me how to sort metal, glass, plastic, paper, batteries, you name it. He explained to me how recycling worked and told me what the difference was between Ann Arbor's recycling program and a real M.R.F. (Materials Recycling Facility). There was no need to rinse bottles, sort containers or separate items. Just throw it in the trash he told me! His employees loved him, he paid them well and he had little overhead. No Secretary s, No foreman, No supervises, No dead weight. All employee issues were handled as a group, as much as law allows and the employees liked it that way. But the real key to his success was his ability to watch the commodity s market and sell his recycled goods when the price was right. He also found new market for goods not recycled before. This went on for several year, when to his surprised he started having roadblocks thrown in the way by upper management at the landfill. They told him he need to hire more supervision and support staff even though he didn't need it. They took away storage space for no reason. Management really like him and told to him to just play ball. They just didn't get it. He was a man of pride and integrity unlike many of his peers. It seems that the landfill only wanted him to look like he was recycling, not actually do it! He became even more disappointed when he learned it was all rouse to pacify the state of Michigan. He tried negotiating with Ann Arbor Recycle to keep his family in town. But Ann Arbor wasn't ready to pay for someone of his skills caliber. So my friend moved south of all places. It seems the south has been doing what doing what Michigan can only dream of doing. Now Ann Arbor wants a single recycling stream? Maybe they should rethink their definition of (single). For those who don't get it, recycling is just a green byline. As for Ann Arbor, I haven't recycled a thing since my friend left, and I love my blue trash cans. As for Michigan, there is money in recycling, but there is even bigger money in backing those in power to keep Michigan's dumps open and the tax payer footing the bill. Newsboy~

Linda Diane Feldt

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 10:49 a.m.

Recall that when curbside recycling first started in Ann Arbor (about 30 years ago) we had to sort paper - white and colored; as well as glass by color. We don't need the convenience on the consumer end, so I also hope the decision is made entirely because of sorting costs at the MRF and ability to expand what can be accepted curbside.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 10:33 a.m.

I understood that this would lead to use of big carts like the ones we currently have for trash and compostables, and presumably new trucks or refitting the current ones. The city currently contracts with Recycle Ann Arbor for the more hands-on approach. Would this make the service more easily bid out to big trash haulers like Waste Management?

Seasoned Cit

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

About time... I believe some of the commercial disposal companies in the area have been single streaming for several years. Also I thought glass was being recycled into new bottles etc.....but according to the report it looks like it's being crushed and used for roadways. I guess since glass originally comes from sand.. you can say this is getting close to recycling to the source?

Chuck Warpehoski

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

Here's my question: do they only accept a broader range of plastics, or do they actually recycle all those plastics.


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:48 a.m.

Would this also increase the number of city employees, to sort the recycling once it reaches the facility? I have not seen any mention of this.

Dan Rubenstein

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:47 a.m.

Before buying into this, City Council should present its homework. Why do countries who recycle the most not have single stream (Japan, northern Europe)? What is the trend regarding paper mills being willing to buy single stream output, which can contain more glass and low quality paper contamination? Is the cost of low quality output being borne elsewhere in the recycling cycle, by other actors (i.e., what third party costs counterbalance the benefit of diverting trash from our landfill)? My gut suggests labor savings and higher profit drive waste recyclers to push single stream, but in this era of massive unemployment, a little labor inefficiency can be a good thing, especially if the big picture cost-benefit is dubious.

Rob T

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:38 a.m.

I'm far less interested in the convenience than the ability to recycle all plastics; this would save me a lot of waste. By the same mark, if single-stream encourages more people to recycle than it's worth the investment.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:29 a.m.

I'm looking forward to Monday's working session with the City Council. We'll find out more then. For now, the city is posting updates at

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:28 a.m.

For a preview of source-separated, single-stream recycling system, here's a video clip that offers a look at the process. Another short video by the Science Channel of a single-stream MRF: The city is taking comments at


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

I support this if it would mean an increase in the amount of items that can be recycled. ie. All plastics and styrofoam at the curb. I find it frustrating that I have to either pitch plastics or take those that aren't 1-2 to someone who lives outside of a2 to recycle.


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 7:43 a.m.

We just switched to single stream recycling in Pittsfield. The main bonuses I've noticed are that ALL plastics (#1-7) can be recycled and the amount of actual waste/garbage is less per week.


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 7:25 a.m.

Craig, I'm with you on this. It's not a big deal to separate paper from plastic and put in the recycle boxes, but if it saves money, I'm all for it.


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 7:14 a.m.

Carol, on my block they use two different bins which are side-by-side. The recyclables do remain segregated in the vehicle.

Carol Burgener

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 6:36 a.m.

This is a little confusing since for the past several months I have noticed that both my recycle bins get dumped into the same compartment in the truck. I've wondered why I bother separating them.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 6:05 a.m.

If it saves money in the big scheme I'm all for it. If it costs money in exchange for my convenience I don't need the convenience.