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Posted on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:01 a.m.

Ann Arbor City Council OKs single-stream recycling

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor residents will find new high-tech carts dropped off at their doorsteps next June as the city launches its first-ever single-stream recycling program.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night on a resolution to move forward with the initiative, which will cost more than $4.6 million to implement.

Single-stream recycling will allow residents and businesses to put all recyclable materials into one cart. City officials say it will make recycling easier on everyone and will expand the numbers and types of materials accepted - for example, almost all plastic bottles and tubs will be able to be recycled.


A worker separates recyclable items at the city's Materials Recovery Facility.

File photo

"This is a smart step forward for us and for our solid waste program," said Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th District. "I feel convinced that we'll see a significant increase in the amount of waste that we're diverting from landfills and therefore the cost that we incur in taking waste to landfills.

"The other exciting part of this is that we'll have an opportunity to generate additional revenue from a greater volume in the recycling stream and to provide additional services to neighboring municipalities and help spread recycling beyond Ann Arbor."

The council approved a contract with FCR LLC, operator of the city's Material Recovery Facility (MRF), for upgrades and processing changes at the MRF.

Of the money being spent by the city, $3.25 million will go specifically to single-stream MRF equipment improvements, $1.25 million for the carts, and $102,950 will pay for consulting services through Resource Recycling Systems. The upgrades will be funded through the approved Solid Waste Capital Budget and Solid Waste Capital Fund Balance. FCR will pay another $550,000 itself for an addition to the MRF.

Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor's environmental systems analyst, said $4.5 million is being taken out of the solid waste fund for the program. He said it represents a significant capital investment, but the city is expecting payback within seven years.

City officials said changes in the recycling program should result in a $30,000 annual savings in recycling Dumpster collection, $450,000 annual savings in curbside recycling and $450,000 annual revenues from merchant MRF users.

McMurtrie said a new RecycleBank rewards program is included as part of the changes. Residents will be rewarded for participating in the program and recycling.

McMurtrie said RecycleBank will work similar to a frequent flier program. Every resident will have a cart containing a radio frequency tag that will record when the resident is participating in the program. Based on that information and the weight information collected in the truck, residents will receive points for recycling.

James Frey, a consultant from Resource Recycling Systems, said he profiled about 25 communities that vary in size but have similarities to Ann Arbor.

"Clearly the projections that we're using for Ann Arbor are at the low end of that scale, which goes from about 700 pounds a household all the way up to about 1,200 pounds a household," he said. "And for reference, right now we're recycling at about 400 pounds per household. Some of those reference communities actually had recycling levels that were higher than ours right now and then doubled them on top of that by putting the RecycleBank program in place."

Though historically a leader in recycling, Frey said Ann Arbor currently lags behind other communities that have implemented RecycleBank.

The new equipment will include specialized metering and material handling conveyors, disc screens, material storage bunkers and separation equipment designed to receive, convey, sort, separate, clean and store single-stream recyclables. The result will be an integrated system designed to separate 25 tons per hour of incoming recyclables.

As part of the contract amendment with FCR, the existing 20-year contract that currently expires in 2015 will be extended another six years.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 2:35 p.m.

It's easy to compare how this program works - just drop in on Allied Waste (current handler of Pittsfield Township's new single stream program) bring a couple A2 City Council members, and report back on how it is sorted & whether it really reduces what goes to landfill.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 1:09 p.m.

this is such a bad idea, i'm aghast. forget about the money (tough, but try) and focus on the social/community/family aspects for a minute. separating recyclables at the point of 'creation' (your home) -teaches- children and -reinforces- adults with the recognition that 'stuff' comes from somewhere and can return to 'somewhere useful'. with single streaming that awareness/teachable moment disappears into one big bag for 'someone else' to do your dirty work. "let george do it," (a fine piece of literature, btw) is not something to reinforce, imnsho. why try to teach children to pick up after themSELVES and then set the OPPOSITE example with recyclables? "mommy, clean up my room." "mommy, do my laundry." "mommy, cook my dinner." "the gummint, separate my recyclables."


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 9:17 a.m.

Thanks for clarifying Ryan. Are there any finance experts who can help with the payback period? My previous post is about half-way up around the "Moose" tracks.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:19 p.m.

Hm mm... if you followed this at the working session the city needs the new trucks anyway, they were already in the budget. Ms Sidney always seems to use the numbers well but leaves a critical bit of information out on purpose. She is a professional critic of anything the city does. The city spent a lot or effort analyzing this, the need for new trucks was another reason this was a good time to go forward. It builds on the successful trash cart program, no more cans and bags for raccoons to get into, no more trash blowing around, the city looks a lot better on trash days. And, nobody has to lift tons of garbage everyday.

Karen Sidney

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 5:11 p.m.

Ryan I doubt FCR is giving the city a $550,000 gift. FCR may be fronting the money to expand the MRF to add more storage, but I'm sure they will get their money back when the contract is renegotiated. In addition to the 3,250,000 for the equipment upgrade, the 102,950 for the consultant, the 550,000 to expand the MRF and the 1,281,600 for carts, there are at least 4 new trucks (probably 200,000 to 250,000 each). Many cities also pay a per household fee to RecycleBank so there may be additional costs there. Because more sorting is required, the amount the city pays to FCR for each ton processed may also go up.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 4:44 p.m.

Sorry, the solid waste millage can be used to pay workers and their benefits but not for police/fire, etc.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 4:42 p.m.

So often the confusion on this site has to do with not understanding that municipal budgets have all of the funds in "buckets." For instance, the funding for this program comes from the Solid Waste Millage. This is a special millage that can only be used in the trash/composting/recycling budget. It can be used to pay for rent or bond payments for office or garage space, trucks, equipment like the recycling facility, etc. It is against the law to use it for other things like police or fire, etc., and to pay workers. This is a perfectly legitimate use of these funds and increasing the amount of materials recycled will pay off big for the city especially as land fill tipping fees go up when the economy recovers. As someone who watches the meetings, I can tell you the city has been studying this for two years and they have looked closely at 25 other cities.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 3:40 p.m.

OK, just got clarification that the $550,000 will be paid by FCR, not the city, and have noted that in the story. So, the total capital costs that the city will be paying are $4.5 million, plus an other $102,950 for consulting services.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 3:29 p.m.

I am trying to clarify why the city is pulling $4.5 million from that fund when the expenses outlined last night total $3.9 million. But basically here's what I have been told so far this afternoon by Tom McMurtrie: The MRF upgrades will cost the City $3.25 million. The carts will cost another $1.25 million, although the city is still finalizing that number. Add those together and you get $4.5 million. But then my next question, which I am still clarifying, is if you add the extra $550,000 and $102,950 costs mentioned in the story, you get a total overall cost of implementing this system of beyond $5 million. I have asked McMurtrie to clarify that and will report back.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 3:27 p.m.

"I can just see the fist fights among neighbors when one of them goes out in the middle of the night and empties his neighbors' carts into his own" I was kind of thinking of doing the opposite -- keeping the old, small bins and then dumping my recycling into a neighbor's new RFID wheelie cart on recycling day (I really don't have room for another one of those things).

John Galt

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 3:20 p.m.

Is this another "feel good" expenditure than actually costs more money than it is worth? What about the crumbling roads, dam, and bridges? Schools? Police? Fire? The more critical stuff....?


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 2:11 p.m.

"And even the most enthusiastic recycler would have a hard time filling a cart with recycling every week." Indeed this is my situation. So why the big expensive RFID outfitted recycle containers that gets points if you put it out every week even if it isn't full? Brush the snow and ice off the top, drag it across the frozen yard to the curb every week so you can get your points! Except for the need to reduce what we send to the landfill and reuse some of what used to go there, the only reason I see the bureaucracy pushing this is another way to generate revenue for the city to waste. And do not forget that consultants have vested financial interests in selling their goods and services whether they're necessary or not.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 1:54 p.m.

But if I don't put out my cart with a 30 lb lead brick Gorilla glued to the bottom every week I won't get my points! I want my points!

Steve Borgsdorf

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 1:53 p.m.

Carsten Hohnke is from the Fifth Ward, not "district." We have wards,, not districts.

Kevin Bolon

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 1:48 p.m.

To prevent the need for extra carts, how about this idea: Pickup recycling on a different day from trash. Use the same cart for both. This wouldn't necessarily cause our streets to be a clutter of carts for an extra day. If the city adopts food waste composting, as currently being considered, and if recycling rates increase as much as they hope, some residents will not need to put out trash every week. And even the most enthusiastic recycler would have a hard time filling a cart with recycling every week.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 1:24 p.m.

I'm running out of room to keep the three big containers that the city will now require for trash, yard waste and recycling.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:45 p.m.

Im confused. The lead paragraph says its a $3.9m project, but farther down, city staff says $4.5m is being taken out of the solid waste fund for the program. Which is it? Im also confused about the payback period. Assuimng the $4.5m and the cost savings/revenue are correct, a 7 year payback would need a cost of capital of 10%. The DDA website says, The interest rate on this bond (for the underground structure) was 3.81%; if a tax-free bond had been issued instead, it was estimated that the rate would likely have been approximately 5%. So the city could borrow money at 5% and charge its recycling program 10%? I hope Im missing something.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:43 p.m.

Geez, if only there was a local daily newspaper that we could use to add to our total weight recycled...

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:09 p.m.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, made the point last night that many have wished they could recycle more plastics, but they've found out the higher number plastics, such as #7, aren't worth much when recycled and it would be better to discourage the creation of those plastics altogether. McMurtrie responded that it is the city's wish to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is generated, but a lot of these plastics will end up in residents' homes and it's the city's wish, at that point, to provide a method of recycling that material and the city will now have that ability with the single-stream system. Frey added to that by pointing out that Styrofoam was a very dominant takeout container in years past and, as people have tried to move to more environmentally friendly takeout containers, they have moved to some of the types of packaging that the city will now be able to recycle for the first time, i.e. the clear clamshells that are PET, polystyrene, etc. Some of the controversy, Frey said, has been that some of that material went to overseas markets in years past. But now, because of the price of oil being so high, plastic buyers, re-grinders, etc., in the U.S. are buying those plastics and reusing them. It's not the most highly valuable plastic, Frey said, but it's worth more than paper on a per-ton basis. MRF operators have said they've found two good U.S.-based markets where they feel they can market the plastics.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:06 p.m.

Hmm, this sounds problematic as: 1. If the bins are bigger, you can't locate them inside which makes recycling a hassle and thus people will do it less. 2. There is a waste stream from the disposal of old bins, not to mention the cost of new ones. 3. Gaming of the system sounds WAY to easy.

Kevin Bolon

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:03 p.m.

I agree with John H., recyling more types of plastic is good. The only problem: that benefit is totally independent of single-stream. We can collect more materials in a two-stream system just as easily. Watch the video at and see how much manual work is still involved in the "automated" sorting process. The consultants have conflated the issue of plastic types in order to promote single stream.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:52 a.m.

Is City Council going to build a bigger garage for me so all these giant bins can fit? I don't need those big bins. I don't have that much trash or recycling because I have worked to consume less packaging.

John Hritz

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:31 a.m.

The investment seems reasonable based on the payback period. Being able to recycle more types of plastic and not having to separate recycleables sounds like a win. The RecycleBank notion with its tagged bins and other trappings sounds ridiculous and subject to gaming, e.g. taping a large weight to the bottom of my cart.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:20 a.m.

"Why couldn't we just keep the old recycle bins and let them just dump everything into "one stream" during pickup?" Because that makes too much sense. The incentive is to do what's right by reducing our ridiculous consumption, getting manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging they use and raising consciousness by educating consumers about how to reduce what they throw away whether it's recyclable or not.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:10 a.m.

I wonder if any of these relevant concerns (gaming the system, really slowing the trash stream by reducing actual consumption and use of unnecessary packaging/trash/recyclable etc) were ever bought up in staff and council discussions. Naahh. Wishful thinking. My bad. If there's a buck to be made, the city will find a way to do it and tell us to bend over while we write the check, all while they say it's the right thing to do.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:09 a.m.

The recyled material is shiopped over to China, reprocessed, and then you got to Walmart, buy it back, and start the whole process over again.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:02 a.m.

This program rewards the production of waste and removes the incentive to reduce and/or re-use. Recycling is great, but it takes a lot more energy than not producing the material in the first place. I can just see the fist fights among neighbors when one of them goes out in the middle of the night and empties his neighbors' carts into his own so he can earn those White Sox tickets. lol


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:01 a.m.

Our stacking recycling bins are found in a tiny little garage corner between the car and the door into the kitchen - very convenient and we faithfully recycle every week. Good thing we have until June before the single-stream recycling carts are delivered - that will give me all winter try to figure out where to keep it. After already making room for the trash and compostable carts, it isn't going to be easy. Does the city council think that we all have 3.5 car garages to hold these monstrosities? Do they think my neighbors want to see it parked in front of my house? Why couldn't we just keep the old recycle bins and let them just dump everything into "one stream" during pickup?


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:49 a.m.

The reward shouldn't be for simply having a lot of recyclables -- it should be for having a high ratio of recyclables to trash. As it stands, all this does is reward higher consumption. Except even you don't want to even reward the ratio, because somebody who minimized buying extra packaging might end up with little trash but even fewer recyclables. And then it also depends on how many people are living in the home, doesn't it? So maybe we need RFID tags for all the occupants as well?


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:30 a.m.

For those criticizing the 'spending' -- it's an investment. Would you pay more money to insulate your house so that your heating bills go down, even if it took 10 years to pay off? It's the same thing, and it shows some fiscal prudence, not recklessness. Am I the only one troubled by the 'Big Brotherness' of RFID tags in my recycle bin? And does it make sense to do that if you don't have an RFID tag in your trash container, too? The reward shouldn't be for simply having a lot of recyclables -- it should be for having a high ratio of recyclables to trash. As it stands, all this does is reward higher consumption. Now, excuse me while I try to go clear out more room in my garage for *yet another* cart. Ugh.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:25 a.m.

I seem to remember a year or so ago an editorial in the Ann Arbor News explaining why they didn't use the single stream system. At the time, the city said that plastics with numbers other than 1s or 2s, would be sold to companies in China and not recycled properly, and therefore just add to global pollution. How has this issue changed now? Is it just that the city wants a revenue stream, so are not as concerned with the environment?


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:19 a.m.

PEOPLE ARENT GOING TO BUY more stuff just because it can recylced now whomever said that.Most people would have just thrown stuff away but now it can be recycled.Less crap in lanfills can only be good


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:58 a.m.

What if I don't fill my cart every week or put it by the curb because I didn't make enough so called trash to recycle for that week? I won't get counted for a credit? I try to make a point by NOT buying stuff that ends up in the landfill or with as little packaging as possible and reusing as much of my so called trash. THIS is where the effort should be made in reducing the amount of stuff we send to the landfill or reduce/reuse or recycle, NOT making it easier for people to buy more stuff from manufacturers who use too much packaging material! What this does is make everyone think it's ok to buy more containers, bags, and junk. Then, just like so called trash, they throw it away! It removes the need for consumers to be CONSCIOUS of what they buy and how they get rid of it. I'm going to put my recycle cart out at the curb every week... EMPTY.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

Rewarded for recycling? When I lived in Seattle you could get fined for NOT recycling.

Kevin Bolon

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:32 a.m.

From the council's Q&A last night with the consultants, the logic goes like this: 1) We need single stream because that's the only way to use recycle bank, and 2) we need recycle bank, since it's the best way for reducing waste sent to the landfill. Re. #1 When asked why we cannot use recycle bank by using RFID tags in the current two-stream system, the answer was "because it hasn't been done." I'm sure there are plenty of people in A2 who could figure it out. Re.#2 Now that we are stuck with single stream, let's make sure recycle bank works as promised. The material should not be weighed at the end of the route, and averaged over all households. I can just imagine people putting out their carts empty (or almost empty), just so they get credit. Let's invest a little more, and equip the trucks with the reycle bank weighing system. Who knows, then we might even be able to use those trucks for trash pickup too, with a "pay-as-you-throw" system. That's the BEST way to incentivize less material sent to the landfill.

Ann Arbor Resident At Large

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:30 a.m.

I applaud the City of Ann Arbor for updating their recycling plan. Ann Arbor is a great example of a city where the government actually steps in and makes improvements not only for our community but for everyone's community. Personally I can't wait for this program to begin. Great Job AA.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:24 a.m.

This investment has a 7-year payback. But here is an upfront outlay of $4.5 million. They have projections on what they will save. Do they ever report back on what the actual impact was on any of their programs. The next time Ann Arbor puts up a millage for a vote, let's remember this time. We need to stop the spend-spend-spend mentality of Ann Arbor government. If they have $4.5 million for fancier recycling equipment, and money for sidewalks going out to the townships, and some of the other non-necessary things they have been spending on, they don't need any more of our money.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 7:58 a.m.

Rewards for recycling? Where's my new box already!


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 6:18 a.m.

LOL, 3.9 million to replace an existing recycling program with unemployment over 10%, decreasing revenues, politicians raising taxes on everything in sight, budget cuts, depreciating home values, and businesses closing? You guys are funny.