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Posted on Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 5:46 a.m.

Ann Arbor City Council considers $3.5 million upgrade to recycling system

By Tina Reed

Ann Arbor residents might not have to sort their recyclables in the future - and they might even get rewarded for recycling - if the City Council ultimately passes a proposal reviewed Monday evening.

In a special work session, council members were presented with a $3.5 million plan that would convert Ann Arbor’s Materials Recovery Facility into what’s referred to as a single-stream operation.

Reduced costs to the city and increased revenue from being able to pick up more materials are among the benefits of upgrading the current recycling system, said Ann Arbor recycling coordinator Tom McMurtrie, who helped present the proposal.

RECYCLE 2-3 AW.jpg

Recycled materials are moved at the city's Materials Recovery Facility.

File photo

The city could expect to see reduced disposal fees for garbage, efficient pickup of recycled materials and higher recycling participation from a single-stream operation, he said.

The projected increase in participation also is part of a city proposal that would partner its recycling efforts with a company called RecycleBank. With technology embedded in curbside carts, the amount of materials being recycled along a single route could be tallied and split into points for individual households. The points could later be used to shop at local and national businesses.

The proposed upgrade would likely allow the city to take in more recycled materials from nearby municipalities. Saline and Westland are two local municipalities using single stream operations and have reported positive results.

The proposal will likely be brought up at the council’s Nov. 5 meeting. It would require the council to renegotiate its contract with Recycle Ann Arbor and FCR Recycling, the company that currently partners with the city to process and market its recycled materials.

If passed, the measure would call for equipment upgrades to be finished by July 2010. An eight-week downtime, likely in May and June, would occur in recycling services to make the conversion, McMurtrie said.

During the work session, council members asked questions about how the project would work, particularly the potential cost-savings, and how RecycleBank points would be tallied and divvied up.

Traditionally, tipping fees for hauling trash have been low in Michigan, but are expected to rise as landfill space becomes scarce in coming years, said Mayor John Hieftje. Finding ways to reduce overall waste disposal fees by diverting more trash would be a benefit, he said.

The proposed upgrade would allow more, but not all, containers to be recycled. For example, plastic clamshell-style takeout containers could be recycled. But the styrofoam ones still could not. 

The new system likely wouldn't allow for recycling household batteries, motor oil and filters. Those will still be picked up for recycling at drop off points, officials said.

Related: What are the Top 6 materials being recycled in Ann Arbor?

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at, call her at 734-623-2535 or find her on Twitter @TreedinAA.


Tina Reed

Wed, Oct 14, 2009 : 6:04 p.m.

The additional recycled materials that would be added would include all plastic bottles, household plastic containers #1,#2 and #4-7, excluding Styrofoam and #3. It would also include bulky HDPE like buckets, crates, toys, trays, and furniture. For more details about it, check out the powerpoint presentation presented to the city council:


Wed, Oct 14, 2009 : 3:28 p.m.

At least in my neighborhood, The Recycle Ann Arbor driver picks up everything in the bins already. Napkins, foamboard, not acceptable plastics, etc. I would say that 1/2 of what's in the bins is picked up but not recyclable. Drivers too lazy to educate city residents. As for switching to an official single stream recycling program, let it be decided on economics thay are thoroughly vetted. Not dreams or wants, but real facts. All the questions brought up by previous commenters can be checked in detail.

Kevin Bolon

Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 4:27 p.m.

I agree with @Whither Detburger's concerns about contamination. I read a report recently which said that paper mills are reluctant to take recycled paper from single stream sources because there may be broken glass mixed in. It's easy to see why makers of tissues and toilet paper with recycled content would not want this. I watched the city council session last night, and like the idea of Recycle Bank, and accepting more types of plastics. But I'm confused about how this is related to single stream. Why can't we do these things, and still keep paper separate from containers? I don't see this trend towards single stream in Europe and Japan. Why is it that in Ann Arbor they think we are too lazy to separate our recyclables?


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 1:08 p.m.

Ya, it is frustrating to see that they are cutting school budget and police funding while they try to improve the sidewalk and the garbage system. I guess the surface of the city is more important then the actual content of the city. They are all important, but come-on, which one is more urgent, more long lasting and un-solvable issue??


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 12:49 p.m.

Sounds like a good investment (unlike other projects being debated by Council). The 8 week downtime to install the new system is not convenient, but worth it in the long run. Hopefully, the city can identify some temporary places where recycling materials can be dropped off.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 11:55 a.m.

The money will come from the budget for those little red stickers they have that basically say, "we are too lazy to take this, you are given a re-o, better luck next week." i am so glad I am now a Waste Management customer, they would take an engine block if it were sitting at the end of my driveway.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 11:44 a.m.

Oops... maybe not so good : (

Jeff S

Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 11:22 a.m.

Any idea on what plastic numbers they will be adding?


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 10:09 a.m.

The city re-cycle program is emulated through out the nation and is effeceint and lowers costs...goverment can work to hold down costs and like any other buisness model needs the occasional capital upgrade to stay cost effective....this in an area that can't be outsourced to cheap labor markets. Not glamorous but effective.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 9:53 a.m.

Would this program ever pay for itself over time? If the taxpayers of A2 invest $3.5MM in capital, do they ever see a positive return on investment? What are the cash flow implications to the City (taxpayers)? Where does this money come from? Is this really a priority at this time? My guess: This very well might be just another one of A2's many "feel good" programs that bleed the taxpayers of their hard earned, limited resources.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 9:37 a.m.

Some sort of income tax recycling machine will surely cost well over $4 million dollars. Thats just too much.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 9:08 a.m.

Nice start, but what will the saving be for Ann Arbor? Maybe we should recycle the Ann Arbor income tax idea first!

Rod Johnson

Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 8:47 a.m.

Yeah, no one should ever invest in capital improvements because some internet commenter might be skeptical.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 8:17 a.m.

Where would the $3.5M come from...hmm I don't know. Oh wait, "Reduced costs to the city and increased revenue from being able to pick up more materials are among the benefits of upgrading the current recycling system...The city could expect to see reduced disposal fees for garbage, efficient pickup of recycled materials" Reduced costs, more efficient and increases revenue. I'm sure that is where the money will come from.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 7:07 a.m.

Why don't you run a conveyer belt through the yard at that prison down off US-23 and make the convicts sort the trash? Or have the non-violent offenders bused in and staged at the Ellsworth Recycle Center to sort items?


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 6:17 a.m.

Sounds good!