Recycling in Detroit: You made it happen


In 2006, The City of Detroit was the largest City in the United States without a municipal recycling program. The Detroit Public Schools, the largest school district in Michigan, did not recycle. By 2013, this has all changed…

Now, each Saturday, Recycle Here! is packed with over 1,100 recyclers, greeted by art and music. There is curbside recycling in three neighborhoods: Rosedale Park, East English Village, and Palmer Woods/University District, servicing nearly 50,000 households. The Detroit Public Schools are in the process of launching a district-wide recycling program.

How did this happen? You, the residents of Detroit, made it happen. At Recycle Here!, we set up the boxes and we open the door. You take the time to separate material. You put it in your car. You drive it over to Holden Street. You take it out of your trunk, put it in a cart and place it in the sorting boxes. You bring us paper and cardboard. In return this material is sold to Michigan mills to help fund Green Living Science, a nonprofit that teaches students in Detroit Elementary Schools how to live more sustainable lives.

How did this happen? The City of Detroit made it happen. Recycle Here is funded by the City of Detroit through the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority (GDRRA) and the Department of Public Works. City officials like Al Jordan and Ron Brundidge from the DPW and John Prymack and Angela Ireland from GDRRA have supported our unique, yet effective, marketing and outreach strategies.

During a time period where city services have been on the decline, recycling options have grown in Detroit. They have done this by engaging community groups and stakeholders during the process, and truly listened to the recommendations. The Detroit Public Schools made it happen. In 2007, Recycle Here! connected with Alycia Meriweather from the DPS Office of Science, and together have been working every year to expand environmental education in the schools.

How did this happen? There is no magic formula to making the City of Detroit a better place. It takes commitment, cooperation, coordination, and communication. It takes support from local government, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, environmental groups, teachers, students and the general public all working together towards a common goal.

Recycle Here! is proud to have been a part of an incredible collaboration that launched the curbside service in Detroit. The City convened a working group of department heads, environmental groups, social justice organizations and the Detroit Public Schools to develop and implement a comprehensive launch strategy. Every voice at the table mattered and worked together to develop the program.

The City of Detroit provided recycling service to the elementary schools located in curbside zones, so the students could practice the habits all day and take that knowledge into the home. Green Living Science taught in-depth lessons in the classroom on how to recycle. Environmental groups, led by Margaret Weber from Zero Waste Detroit, walked each neighborhood, going door to door to provide information and answer questions. Was it easy? No. Did it work? Yes. The results speak for themselves. 

The City of Detroit, as many Cities nationwide, is struggling to provide efficient service amid dwindling resources. Most often, the municipality looks solely at equipment, routing, and labor to maximize efficiency. What rarely gets discussed, probably because it is the most difficult, is working with citizens to better utilize the service being provided.

There is no owner’s manual for city services. What we have seen with the growth of recycling in Detroit was a commitment to analyze every facet of the program, from equipment and trucks to education and outreach. The result is a sustainable program that will deliver a necessary service that is utilized properly by an educated and participating populace.

Recycle Here! is proud of what ha
s been accomplished so far, but there is plenty of work still to do. We believe one day we will have city-wide curbside recycling. This may not happen tomorrow or next year, but rest assured that when it happens it will be done the right way. The groups and organizations that came together to launch curbside recycling have created a great working relationship.

This group, along with many others, has been working to develop a Detroit Environmental Agenda, which includes local environmental conditions, an overview of current initiatives and opportunities, and policy recommendations. The hope is that the Detroit Environmental Agenda will be a useful tool for you and other Detroiters, to elect leaders committed to a cleaner, safer, healthier Detroit.

The success and growth of Recycle Here! is your success. Since 2007, we have recycled over 10 million pounds of material, been visited by over 200,000 people, provided environmental education to over 50,000 students. All of this has been achieved through your commitment and the best result of all – is community. The face to face interactions between neighbors, your smiling faces, connecting with your community, making a difference, changing your world. Bee Green.

Matthew Naimi is founder and director of operations at Recycle Here

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