Detroiters Want to Recycle Here

You know it's a drop-off day at Recycle Here! when you drive past their 1330 Holden headquarters and – snowy weather or sunshine – the lot is jam packed.

"It still amazes us that when you wake up, it's cold, it's snowing, it's miserable and you think no one is going to show up and 300 people show up and are completely happy," says Matt Naimi, director of operations for Recycle Here!

The Holden facility, off Trumbull just north of Woodbridge, is just a hunger pang in Detroit's growing appetite for recycling. Recycle Here! has expanded its services to the point it is taking in more materials, expanding what it can take, opening new recycling stations, innovating new efficiencies, growing its staff and attracting more city residents.

And Recycle Here! is doing this while staying within its budget, something recycling agencies across the country are struggling to do these days, thanks to commodity prices in free fall. But the cherry on top is how curbside recycling is about to become an option for tens of thousands of Detroiters.

Curbside convenience

Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. recently announced that the city's fledgling recycling efforts are expanding to include a pilot curbside program by July. Pilot is a bit of an understatement, since it will cover about 30,000 residents on both sides of Woodward.

The new zones will include one in northwest Detroit and another on the far east side. The northwest section includes North Rosedale Park and west of there to the city limits. The eastern zone include East English Village and an extended area beyond it.

"We are prepared, but we are taking a deliberate approach to instituting the pilot program," says Alfred Jordan, director of the city's Department of Public Works who is spearheading the curbside program.

City officials are currently working out the details of the program, such as whether to use 18- or 96-gallon containers. What is known is that it will take all of the usual recyclable materials, such as cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal.

The pilot program is expected to last 1-2 years. City-wide recycling should be here within five years. However, city officials expect to have enough information on how to expand the program to cover the entire city within the first year or two of the pilot program.

"The point of a curbside systems is convenience," Jordan says. "We want to see convenience and education. With that the participation levels should increase significantly."

Education and job creation

The people at Recycle Here! have been educating the public for a few years now. An average of about 325 families recycle at the Holden facility each Wednesday and Saturday. That's up an average of 50 families from a year ago.

Recycle Here! also operates once-a-month mobile facilities in Eastern Market, Corktown, East English Village, Rosedale Park, Palmer Park, Creekside and Clark Park. Anywhere between 50 and 250 families recycle at each of those stations. Recycle Here! is also expanding recycling options into 22 Detroit Public Schools elementary schools to help the students raise money for school projects and events.

That success has led to a growing staff at Recycle Here! It now employs 18 people, including adding another five within the last few months. Naimi, the man in charge at Recycle Here!, expects to hire more to keep up with the city's growing recycling options.

"I do see us adding people, at least one person for the school program," Naimi says. "That's a great job for someone who is in an environmental program and wants to work with kids."

Recycle Here! also expanded its recycling options, so patrons can recycle everything from old electronics to Styrofoam to light bulbs. The glass from the light bulbs shouldn't be just chucked in a landfill, but it can be properly disposed of and the metal base recycled.

The company also has found efficiencies in its business. For example, patrons can throw cardboard and plastics directly into a compactor. That allows Recycle Here! to ship more material on a semi-truck bed, creating significant savings in labor and transportation costs. It's looking at doing the same with glass.

"You can only put so much uncompacted material on a semi," Naimi says.

The amount of that material and the number of people contributing to it has risen dramatically. Recycle Here! took in 729,870 pounds of material from 10,877 trips in 2007. Compare that to 1,281,916 pounds from 18,521 trips from January to November 2008.

That combines for more than 2 million pounds of waste kept out of the incinerator from 29,398 visits in the two years Recycle Here! has been running the city's recycling efforts. Recycling that has taken place thanks to a growing number of dedicated people.

"I think we're all a little bit more sensitive to the environment today," Cockrel says. And at Recycle Here!, it shows.

Jon Zemke is Innovation News Editor for Model D. Send feedback here.


Through out the day, recyclers crowd Recycle Here!'s Holden location

A clipboard with Detroit zip codes keep track of recycling demand

Shopping carts, provided by Recycle Here!, make it convenient to transport your recycling from the parking lot

Local Detroit artist, Carl Oxley, designed the unforgettable Recycle Bee

Labels make it easy to recycle

All photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.

Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.
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