The Michigan Recycling Coalition’s 37th Annual Recycling Conference took place at the Ann Arbor Sheraton from May 14 through 16. The event — sponsored by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy — brought together more than 400 recycling-related professionals to discuss recycling and composting in Michigan.

More than 50 companies and organizations also helped sponsor the event. Over three days, the conference hosted various workshops, speakers and exhibitions put on by attendees.

On the final day, Principal of Circular Matters Susan Bush gave a keynote presentation on recycling market development. In her presentation, Bush defined recycling market development as defined actions to enhance economic vitality of the reuse and recycling industries.

Bush spoke to attendees regarding the need for recycled materials in the marketplace. She said keeping recycled materials in their original country is both beneficial and responsible to the country’s economy.

“We have lots of brands and retailers that are committed to recycled content packaging,” Bush said. “We need to think about the future, and we may really be in a position … where we really are looking for more material.”

She also gave examples of recycling market development throughout the United States. Bush shared an example from a program between North and South Carolina titled ‘Your Bottle Means Jobs.’

“(The program) estimated that if every household in North Carolina and South Carolina recycled just two more plastic bottles a week, that would make 300 jobs across the Carolinas,” Bush said. “When you give that kind of information, that might resonate with people differently than, ‘it’s good for the environment.’

Additionally, she discussed strategies for developing the recycling market, emphasizing the importance of utilizing the resources of local governments, businesses and universities as well as considering the consequences of human action on the earth.

“I think we’re becoming more holistic in our thinking, and understanding that we need to look at other types of impacts as well — greenhouse gas impacts, economic impacts, there might be social impacts,” Bush said. “We need to be able to weigh all of those potentials in our minds.”

In addition to Bush’s presentation, Executive Director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition Kerrin O’Brien presented an award of recycling excellence on behalf of the MRC to Don Pyle, Delta Solid Waste Management Authority manager. Pyle has worked in the recycling industry for the past 35 years and has been a member of the MRC board since 2007.

“Don doesn’t say much, but when Don talks, we listen,” O’Brien said. “He’s the guy who’s able to rise above the fray and give those bits of wisdom when you really need it. We’ve been really lucky to have Don by our side.”

Upon receiving the award, Pyle said he enjoyed meeting people through the MRC and working with the board of directors, and added he has greatly enjoyed his time with the MRC.

MRC Chair Lori Welch presented an additional award to Spectrum Health Distribution in Grand Rapids for excellence in recycling. According to Welch, Spectrum Health Distribution successfully recovered 87 percent of all trash and diverted nearly 535 tons of waste from landfills to recycling.

Through conducting dumpster audits, Spectrum Health Distribution found 73 percent of their waste could have been recycled. The company realized they needed a new sustainability approach and changed their strategy, becoming more intentional about seeing their waste as a resource and implementing policies and partnerships to maintain it.

“They now have seven internal teams that work together on these issues,” Welch said. “They conducted a ‘Race to Less Waste’ campaign and started to engage staff more, and they successfully achieved 100 percent (staff engagement) on the fourth week of this ‘Race to Less Waste’ campaign.”

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