The city of East Lansing rolled out its new recycling program in early October, but left behind more than 12,000 residents — including a number of student residents.
Because of a city ordinance which only requires housing complexes built after 2007 to provide on-site recycling, about 12,643 residents are still without on-site recycling centers, according to city data.
Catherine DeShambo, environmental services administrator for the city, said to try and solve this problem, the East Lansing Commission on the Environment has formed a sub-committee called the Waste Reduction Sub-Committee made up of DeShambo and Marcia Horan, Kerrin O’Brien and Elisia Marchman, who are members of the East Lansing Commission on the Environment.
The final member of the sub-committee is Nathan Capper, a political theory and constitutional democracy senior at MSU, who’s passion for sustainability continues to make an impact on the program.
From the beginning
In June of 2015, Capper started a petition to have the city bring recycling to multi-family complexes which were lacking.
Capper said he saw a “huge need” with thousands of students living in on-campus apartments without access to on-site recycling.
“Between the City of East Lansing and the university, who both care very much about sustainability, I figured that we could get this fixed in East Lansing,” Capper said.
Capper started going door-to-door in order to gain support for his petition. About 1,000 signatures were on Capper’s petition when he stopped petitioning and joined efforts with the Waste Reduction Sub-Committee.
Capper said the committee’s goal is to make sure everyone is included in the new recycling practices.
“The way we see it is that everyone in the City of East Lansing is provided with this service, except for a number of us that can’t afford to live in a house or an apartment complex that’s built after 2007,” Capper said.
Patching the holes
DeShambo and Horan said they are currently researching best practices and looking at how other cities collect recycling from large multi-family complexes.
Changing the ordinance is an option, since recycling has changed and evolved since 2007, when the current ordinances were written, DeShambo said.
“I think the goal at this point is to say look, it really needs to happen,” DeShambo said. It needs to be happening and those folks need the opportunity to have those services right there on-site.”
Capper said the sub-committee is working on getting a practical plan in place in the next year or two and options range from dumpsters for recycling outside of buildings to recycling rooms inside the building.
“There’s not one blanket solution for this in East Lansing because all the apartment complex buildings are different,” Capper said. “There are several different possible solution.”
What students think
Capper is currently a second-year resident of The Oaks apartments. He previously lived in Campus Village apartments. Neither complex offers on-site recycling for its residents, so Capper compiles his recycling in his living room until he can find a ride to a drop-off center.
James VanSteel, who graduated this past summer from MSU with a degree in English as well as political theory, signed Capper’s petition.
VanSteel said at the time, he lived in a large apartment complex owned by DTN Management Company which did not provide on-site recycling. He felt it was “too difficult” for him to recycle.
VanSteel and Capper are joined by neuroscience junior Milena Lai, who also views the lack of on-site recycling an issue.
Lai has lived in the Cedar Village apartments at 1050 Waters Edge Drive in East Lansing since August.
Lai is one of 130 residents in this building with no on-site recycling.
Lai said a “large amount, maybe even half” of her garbage is materials that could be recycled.
“Having an on-site recycling bin would help a lot, so would educating people more about recycling,” Lai said. “Accessibility is what people look for when they recycle and an on-site bin would help that a lot.”
VanSteel said he believes providing recycling to those left out would encourage an “ecologically-minded populous and culture around the city.”
“There’s all these family homes, there’s all these apartment complexes and of course student housing where there’s this younger demographic that is starting to realize that we are having an effect on the climate and that we can live more consciously and more environmentally-minded,” VanSteel said.
A step in the right direction
Thanks to a $125,000 grant from the Recycling Partnership and matching funds from the city, residents received a new, 96 gallon recycling cart in late September.
As part of the recycling cart transition, the city of has purchased a new, fully automated hydraulic hybrid recycling truck, which is the first of its kind in Michigan.
The truck is expected to consume 35 to 50 percent less fuel than a standard recycling truck and the city expects to see emissions lowered by as much as 48 tons in one year.
DeShampo said the new program has caused “huge” volumes of increase of recyclable materials being collected by the city.
“On a typical day where we might have had 4,000 pounds of material collected, we are seeing days where we are collecting 11-12,000 pounds,” DeShambo said.
DeShambo said she credits the success of the program to the convenience.
“The ability to put those items in your cart curbside is just so convenient and I think people have really been ready for this,” DeShambo.
While there are still some residents left out of the recycling plan, students and city officials alike are working to make it more inclusive.
It’s going to take more work to fix the program than Capper originally thought, but he said it is important work he is not going to give up any time soon.
“We have been given a responsibility to take care of this Earth and I look around and I see a lot of us doing that, but I also see a lot of us not doing that,” Capper said. “In a place like East Lansing and with the university, it is very important to have a green, sustainable system in place. I saw some of us falling through the cracks and decided that was unacceptable.”
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