Member News, WMSBF News

Study Finds Recycling Michigan Garbage Potential $399 Million Economic Impact


Food waste and cardboard among top materials sampled from state’s landfills 

  • Study sampled waste from eight sites across Michigan, sorting approximately 10 tons of material
  • Michigan garbage contains an estimated $368 million of recyclable material
  • Capturing this material would have a $399 million economic impact, or an estimated 2,619 jobs
  • West Michigan garbage contains an estimated $52 million of recyclable material
  • In communities with recycling programs, 42% of garbage is “easily recyclable”
  • Food waste accounted for 13.6% of garbage, the largest source of divertible material
  • Corrugated cardboard a “high-volume, high-value opportunity” material at 8.4%, but more prevalent in commercial waste (10.5% commercial to 5.8% residential)

GRAND RAPIDS – April 18, 2016 – A study released today by West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum and Grand Valley State University estimates the total material value of municipal solid waste disposed in Michigan landfills and incinerators at as much as $368 million per year.  If all material of value was recovered and sold to the market it would have an estimated total economic impact of up to $399 million per year, and employment impact of up 2,619 jobs.

The report, Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in Michigan, is the result of the Michigan Municipal Solid Waste Characterization and Valuation Project, an effort launched last year to characterize economic and environmental opportunities available through recycling, composting and other waste diversion strategies.  Commonly known as trash or garbage, municipal solid waste (MSW) consists of the everyday items discarded from homes, schools, hospitals and businesses, excluding waste from industrial uses and construction sites.

A coalition led by WMSBF sampled nearly 10 tons of garbage from eight sites throughout Michigan.  Sample loads were sorted by hand into 22 different categories, with food waste (13.6%) and miscellaneous inorganic material (14.7%) the most prevalent material in the state. Mixed paper (12%), miscellaneous organic material (9%) and corrugated cardboard (8.4%) rounded out the top five materials.  Altogether, organic material accounted for 35% of MSW disposed in the state.

2_1_Michigan Muncipal solid waste_perc by weight_LG-01

“A resident or business in a community with a robust recycling program and commercial composting would find it relatively easy to divert 85% of their garbage from the landfill,” said Daniel Schoonmaker, Executive Director of West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.  “Michigan can achieve its 30 percent recycling rate goal without any extraordinary measures:  We just need citizens and businesses to take advantage of conventional recycling options.”

The project was funded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as part of the Governor’s Recycling Initiative, the Snyder Administration’s goal to double the Michigan recycling rate to 30 percent.  Working with technical consultant Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr, & Huber, Inc., WMSBF has created a waste characterization report for local communities and the state, providing much-needed data to decision makers on the materials sent to Michigan landfills and incinerators.  That information and commodity pricing data provided by WMSBF member companies allowed GVSU to perform an analysis of the potential economic impact to the state.

MI_total value Materials_4_2 _LG -01

Plastic packaging represented the highest potential value to the state, as nearly $75 million of the material was disposed last year, followed by corrugated cardboard at $57.5 million. The later topped the study’s list of recommendations, citing a clear opportunity for the state to improve cardboard recycling, particularly among businesses, as commercial waste contained 10.5% corrugated cardboard, compared to just 5.8% of residential waste.

“That is pretty much the definition of low-hanging fruit,” said Schoonmaker.  “Cardboard is easy to recycle, prevalent and valuable. It is the only material where we have both high volume and high value.”

The study concludes that efforts to increase the recycling rate in Michigan should first focus on the 42% of materials that have market value, which would include all standard recyclable commodities but glass, plus textiles.

To achieve the stated goal of doubling the Michigan recycling rate to 30%, the state must increase the quantity of diverted material by approximately 1.5 million tons per year through a combination of recovery and source reduction, according to the study.  To accomplish this, it offered the following recommendations:

  1. Aggressively promote efforts to increase recovery of corrugated cardboard, prioritizing commercial audiences.
  2. Support efforts to increase availability and usage of conventional recycling programs with a goal to increase recovery of non-corrugated paper products, metal, and high-value plastic resins HDPE and PET.
  3. Through recovery or source reduction, decrease the quantity of electronic waste disposed of in Michigan landfills by half.
  4. Promote source reduction and diversion of food waste.
  5. Promote source reduction of low-value plastic resins.
  6. Initiate efforts to increase recycling channels for textiles and promote availability of textile recycling.
  7. Educate the public on the financial difficulties of recycling and waste diversion.
  8. Pursue opportunities for further study.

The study also highlighted unique findings regarding electronic waste, deposit bottle containers, yard waste and textile recycling.  In addition, the study includes regional reports for West Michigan, Kent County and Muskegon County, which dispose of an estimated $52 million, $27.8 million and $7.2 million worth of recyclable material each year, respectively.

WMSBF partners opening their facilities to the project include Republic Services, Kent County Department of Public Works and Muskegon County. Members that provided commodity information and other support include Rapid Green Group, Padnos, Valley City Electronic Recycling, Organicycle, New Soil and My Green Michigan.

For interviews or more information contact Daniel Schoonmaker at  Graphics and pictures are available for download from the report’s media page at

Learn more about West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum at