Kent County's upgrades to its recycling center will allow people to recycle paper cartons and improve efficiency, according to officials.

"This has been, I think, a three to four year process that we've been going to try to get this to happen, and now it's finally taking place," said Nic VanderVinne, recycling manager for Kent County.

The Kent Recycling and Education Center in Grand Rapids will close on Tuesday, Nov. 28, and reopen on Dec. 20 while renovations take place. In all, the project cost $1.5 million.

"Periodic upgrades and equipment modifications like these ensure our recycling facility is up-to-date with the changing recycling needs of our community," said Kristen Wieland, communication and marketing manager for the Kent County Department of Public Works.

Kent County does not currently accept paper cartons for recycling because the technology doesn't sort the mixed material, VanderVinne said.

"They're actually lined with a plastic and a foil, some of them are," he said. "So you can't just take it, pulp it and shred it down and turn it back into new paper. It actually has to be processed significantly different than regular paper is."

The center is installing additional optical sorting equipment, which will allow for paper cartons to be recycled.

"The optical sorter can read the grade of the material and tell if its's a carton, if it's plastic, if it's paper, cardboard...and it actually fires and automatically sorts that material itself," VanderVinne said.

The addition of paper cartons to the county's recycling process will make sustainability more consumer-friendly, said Daryn Kuipers, CEO of Boxed Water in Grand Rapids.

"The ability to have this in Kent County is wonderful for our customers to be able to fully take it from the truly sustainable product we have from the trees all the way to the recycling product," Kuipers said.

The recycling center is also getting a corrugated cardboard screen, which will bolster efficiency with the influx of boxes used in online shopping, VanderVinne said.

"Currently it's all sorted by hand right now," he said. And we have six to eight people pulling that cardboard off the line. This machine will automatically sort it."

Kent County handles recycling for around 10 surrounding counties. The changes will bring a major uptick in recycling for West Michigan, said Darwin Baas, director of Kent County Public Works.

"We're processing about 40,000 tons per year," Baas said. "We'd like to see that go up to 60,000 tons per year, and [the upgrade] will help do that."

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