Kent Co. asking residents to hold recyclables

Kent County Recycling and Education Center
The Kent County Recycling and Education Center. (Nov. 28, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Recycling and Education Center will be closed for three weeks while upgrades are made for the facility.

Because of the shutdown, any recyclables put on the curb will likely end up in Kent County’s Waste to Energy facility. The changes forcing the shutdown will expand its service.

Recyclables from about 10 West Michigan counties are sorted at the Kent County facility.

Officials said it is not the best time to shut down, but it must be done immediately.

Changes in recycling habits, like a decrease in the amount of newspapers and tin cans being recycled, is forcing the recycling center to improve its technology.

There will be $1.5 million in upgrades over the next three weeks, including optical scanners that separate items by different types of plastic coatings on them. Without the machine, the job requires sorting each item by hand from six workers.

A $400,000 private grant will help pay for one of the new machines, but there is a catch.

“With the grant that we received, we needed to have the equipment installed by the end of the year,” said Kent County Recycling Manager Nic VanderVinne.

The timing of the shutdown has kept many who recycle off guard.

“During the holidays when you’re opening all of those packages and so much plastics being recyclables, (this is) probably the worst time you can imagine to shut that service down,” said Grand Rapids resident Jim Sharp.

Recyclers refer to those kinds of items as the “Amazon effect.”

“You buy something from Amazon and it’s coming in one, two, three, four, maybe five different boxes (that) show up at your house every single day,” said VanderVinne.

Kent County considered taking the 200 tons of recyclables they process on any given day to another center.

However, the closest center capable of taking that large of a load are in Ohio and Illinois. County officials said it makes more logistic and financial sense to send it to the Kent County Waste to Energy facility.

Because there’s too much moisture in large bundles of recyclable materials, it can’t simply be stored until the facility is fully operational again.

“It just basically turns into a sludge over time,” VanderVinne said. “It’s just not possible to store it.”

However, the same thing doesn’t happen when people store their recycling in their garage for a few weeks.

The recycling center is asking residents to collect their recyclables until it is fully operational again in the week of Dec. 19.