Howard City recycling site to close; county’s recycling future uncertain

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:35 pm on Friday, November 18, 2016

A pile of trash sits in next to a recycling bin in the parking lot of Leppink’s Food Center in Howard City on Friday, even though the Montcalm County recycling site has signage specifically stating “No Trash.” The recycling site will be permanently closed down by Dec. 23 due to repeated issues of trash abuse, as well as funding problems for the county. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

STANTON — Two of Montcalm County’s seven recycling sites will have closed by year’s end, and the future remains uncertain for the remaining five locations.

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Nov. 7 to eliminate Howard City’s recycling site due to an increase in county recycling costs.

An old TV was thrown face down next to a recycling bin in the parking lot of Leppink’s Food Center in Howard City on Friday, even though the Montcalm County recycling site has signage specifically stating what items are and are not recyclables.— Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

The recommendation to close Howard City’s site came from the county’s Solid Waste Management Committee, which previously recommended closing Lakeview’s recycling site, but commissioners shot down that proposal in October over concerns that the Lakeview community hadn’t been properly informed about the possibility of losing the site.

The question of whether the Howard City community had been informed about losing its site was discussed by commissioners Nov. 7.

“My problem with last month when they chose Lakeview out of thin air was we were going to come back and revisit this,” Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr said. “I still feel like without those people at the table when these decisions are made, we find ourselves backing up and changing our mind. I just think we’re going to end up revisiting this issue without all the players agreeing.”

Commissioner Ron Retzloff asked if the Solid Waste committee had done more than just inform Howard City village officials about the site closing. Commissioner Tom Lindeman, who is a member of the Solid Waste committee, said The Daily News published an article about county recycling sites. Retzloff asked if that article mentioned the possibility of Howard City’s site being eliminated (the article didn’t mention Howard City’s site as its elimination wasn’t being discussed at the time).

“I don’t read the newspaper, so …” Lindeman responded with a shrug.

Commissioners received a letter from Mark Higgins of Reynolds Township expressing support for keeping the Howard City site open.

“I find myself frequently using the recycling location … I am not alone in this regard as statistically speaking the Howard City location is the highest usage location in the entire county,” Higgins wrote. “For this reason alone, it seems peculiar that you would choose Howard City as your location to close. If you have to close a location, one would think it would make the most sense to pick a location with lower volume, as it is obviously being used by, and thus will negatively affect, the least amount of county residents.

“Howard City is the only location within the entire Panhandle and should you shut it down, though it might not be too far for residents of Howard City, it gets less and less convenient for other area residents in Pierson and Sand Lake areas,” Higgins wrote. “I would personally drive my recycling to Lakeview, but I cannot speak for everyone in this regard.”

Commissioner Ron Baker said he has mentioned the possibility of Howard City’s site closing several times at Howard City Village Council meetings.

“It’s just not working out,” Baker said. “I think we’re dealing with people from Mecosta, Newaygo and Kent counties in addition to Montcalm County. The Howard City people that I talked with … there were some constituents that didn’t want to see it closed, but the people who are responsible for it are not interested in continuing with the mess.”

Commissioner John Johansen noted the Montcalm Township Board previously voted in July to eliminate the county’s recycling site in that township due to repeated trash abuse.

“I, for one, am not in support of recycling for other counties,” Johansen said. “They can create their own program. I not only think Howard City’s should be closed, I think Lakeview’s should be closed right along with Howard City and we should get on a different track about how we are going to do recycling in this county.

“If you’re unhappy about this decision, why don’t you volunteer to come over to do the work that needs to be done to clean these sites up?” he asked.

After much discussion, commissioners unanimously vote to close Howard City’s site effective Dec. 23.

People bringing recyclables and trash from outside Montcalm County to Howard City’s recycling site, such as this piece of mail from Grand Rapids, is one of the reasons Howard City’s site is being shut down by Montcalm County officials. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

Montcalm County Resource Recovery Coordinator Chloe Morey told The Daily News the recommendation to close Howard City’s site was not an easy decision. The recycling site in the parking lot of Leppink’s Food Center on M-82 is the busiest site in the county and therefore costs the most to maintain. It’s also the most abused site.

“Over the course of the past five months, there have been mattresses, televisions, swimming pools, dirty diapers, scrap metal, broken windshields and bags of general household waste all left at the site,” Morey said. “It is a problem that we have been monitoring for awhile now, and we have found that much of the recyclables and even waste left outside of the bins are from residents that do not reside within Montcalm County.”

Montcalm County needs to cut about $30,000 in expenditures from the recycling program for 2017. The cost to operate Howard City’s site is approximately $30,000. After Howard City’s site is closed, five sites will remain open in Carson City, Crystal Township, Edmore, Lakeview and Stanton.

“Cutting Howard City means that only one site would have to be lost rather than multiple sites, or removing one site and possibly other services like electronic recycling or household hazardous waste collection events,” Morey noted.

Funding for the county’s recycling program comes solely from a small percentage of the per ton disposal fee at the landfill. Morey said the volume of recyclables taken in at county sites and the current low market for recyclable goods has made it “impossible” for the county to support a full program going into next year.

Starting in January, Montcalm County will also be charged a new per ton fee for recyclables at the sorting facility in Kent County.

“This fee reflects the decline in (the) market for recyclables across the state and nation currently,” Morey said. “It is a common misconception that because recyclables are dropped off or donated that recycling is free or cheap. In fact, recycling takes many hours of paid labor to collect and sort material. Equipment used in recycling facilities to sort, bind and prepare materials for sale are often large and expensive. These time and personnel costs are figured into the cost of recyclable materials on the market. When petroleum and sand are inexpensive, it becomes cheaper for companies to use virgin materials rather than recyclables.

“It is unfortunate to see the Howard City recycling site go, and it was a decision that no one wanted to make,” she concluded. “The Solid Waste Management Planning Committee continues to research new approaches to recycling for the county that are affordable and serve as many residents as possible.”

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