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'Feet on the Street': Recycling campaign starts Sept. 21

A local partnership is attempting to improve curbside recycling in the city.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The City of Grand Rapids is teaming with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership to introduce a new community wide project aimed at improving the quality of materials residents recycle in their curbside bins.

With many workers across the country working remotely and commercial recycling near an all-time low due to the COVID-19 pandemic, producers see residential recycling programs as a critical part in the manufacturing supply chain so they can make their products from recycled content instead of new materials.

The campaign -- dubbed "Feet on the Street" -- will start Monday, Sept. 21 with communitywide education and outreach initiatives continuing through mid-November.

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The program is intended to increase the amount of quality recyclables – items that are accepted for recycling that are clean, empty and dry. Achieving that quality standard in recycled materials ensures they can circulate back in the recycling system to become new products or packaging while also reducing the amount of non-recyclables in recycling bins.

“Recycling is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do – and this program furthers our strategic priority of health and environment,” Managing Director of Public Services James Hurt said. “This helps us minimize waste generation and promote waste diversion practices by improving the quality and amount of recycling we collect."

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Feet on the Street includes a comprehensive education and outreach strategy that involves a team of community-based observers – essentially a squad of “recycling detectives” – who will visit each Grand Rapids resident’s cart and provide tailored feedback on how to improve items that make it into the cart.

Placing non-recyclables in the recycling cart means haulers may be forced to redirect loads containing too many non-recyclables to the Kent County Waste to Energy Facility. The Grand Rapids Public Works Department has an enforcement policy that allows it to remove carts from customers who routinely fill their recycling cart with non-recyclables or contaminated materials. This practice, however, has not reduced the amount of contamination in Grand Rapids’ recycling system, Hurt said.

Residents this week can expect to receive a postcard in the mail from the city announcing the campaign’s kickoff. The postcard – in English and Spanish – reads: “Hi, Neighbor! Do You Know What to Throw? We need to recycle the YES things and keep the NO things out.” It informs residents that Feet on the Street representatives – with City of Grand Rapids identification – will visit neighborhoods on scheduled recycling pick-up days over a three-month span. The representatives will open recycling carts, review their content and leave behind a tag with personalized feedback to help residents recycle better.

The postcard also reminds residents to recycle paper and cartons, cardboard, metal items such as cans, plastic bottles, jars and jugs as well as glass bottles and jars. Residents also are urged to not bag their recyclables and not recycle such items as plastic bags or plastic wrap, “tanglers” such as cords, hoses or chains, yard waste, food and liquids. For more on what is and isn’t acceptable recycling material, click here.

Historically, the contamination rate in the recycling stream averaged between 8% and 10%, which was considered acceptable by the Kent County Recycling Center. However, in recent years, the contamination rate has increased by 12% to 15%, Hurt said.

Credit: WZZM
More than half of Holland residents use the yellow bags to recycle, a recent audit found.

This new effort by the city will improve the quality of recycling in single-stream curbside recycling bins by providing Grand Rapids’ roughly 55,000 households with personalized and real-time curbside recycling education and feedback. The city is providing a $15,000 matching grant to support the campaign.

The Recycling Partnership has implemented the Feet on the Street program in 70 communities across the country, resulting in average 27% increases in the overall capture of quality recyclables with some communities seeing as much as a 57% decrease of non-recyclables in their recycling stream. The city is providing a $15,000 matching grant to support the campaign.

Find more information on Grand Rapids’ Feet on the Street effort on the city's website. Residents with questions about the program may call 616-456-3961 or email publicworks@grcity.us.

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