Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Michigan Tech students publish report on waste management, recycling in Houghton, Hancock, Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech Professor Richelle Winkler, third from left, with members of her Fall 2015 Sociology of the Environment class, who worked together to publish the report, "Waste and Recycling Programs in Hancock and Houghton, Michigan, and Michigan Technological University." (Photo © and courtesy David Hall)

HOUGHTON --Graduate students at Michigan Tech have published a report that brings together information from multiple sources about how waste and recycling are handled in Houghton and Hancock so that decision-makers and community members can make informed decisions about managing waste. They presented this information at a forum and community discussion at Portage Library on Dec. 9, 2015. Since then the report and an executive summary have been posted on line.*

The report, "Waste and Recycling Programs in Hancock and Houghton, Michigan, and Michigan Technological University," is the work of Michigan Tech Professor Richelle Winkler's fall semester 2015 Sociology of the Environment class.

"The purpose of this report is to describe and assess waste and recycling programs available to residents of Hancock, Houghton, and at Michigan Technological University," Winkler states in the introduction to the report. 

The report begins with an executive summary that points out the need for reducing waste in the cities of Hancock and Houghton (including Michigan Technological University) and describes the recycling and composting programs now in existence in this area. These include the following:
  • the curbside recycling program in Hancock**
  • the drop-off recycling center at Waste Management in Houghton (now charging $4 per vehicle)
  • a new cardboard recycling program at the Houghton County Transfer Station in Atlantic Mine***
  • a recycling program at Michigan Tech
  • a Michigan Tech composting program (yard waste and some food waste)
  • some yard waste composting in Hancock and Houghton
  • the diversion of special wastes such as e-waste, appliances, tires, batteries, and oil from household trash through a variety of private systems
  • a state-sponsored bottle deposit system that collects and recycles aluminum beverage cans and glass bottles.
Local recycling opportunities "below average"
The executive summary of the report also calls attention to the fact that recycling opportunities in this area are below average. Not only is Hancock the only community in Houghton and Keweenaw counties with curbside recycling, but recycling rates in Houghton and Hancock are below both the Michigan average and the national average.

"Recycling rates in Houghton and Hancock are about 5 percent of the waste stream and Michigan Tech recycles about 14 percent, which is below Michigan’s state average (15 percent) and even more below the US national average (34 percent)," the executive summary states. "Recycling rates are well known to increase dramatically when regular curbside collection programs are in place. Moreover, not all drop-off programs are created equal -- those located in less convenient locations, with less convenient hours of operation, and/or greater fees are less likely to be utilized as much."*

In addition, Houghton County does not provide for convenient disposal of hazardous wastes such as pesticides, solvents, and other chemicals.

Benefits of Recycling

The executive summary notes that local recycling offers several environmental benefits, including "reducing the amount of energy required to extract and process raw materials, reducing pollution associated with landfills (leachate and methane emissions), reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change, conserving resources for future generations, and encouraging the development of systems and technology for using resources efficiently."

The authors of the report mention some economic benefits for the community, such as money saved through lowered garbage tipping fees and fewer plastic garbage bags needed for households, but add that the environmental benefits of recycling motivate people more to recycle and improve recycling opportunities.


They mention several recommendations for that improvement: making recycling easy, simple and cheap with expanded curbside recycling and more convenient drop-off sites and hours; partnering and coordination between Houghton County and municipalities; including businesses and schools in solid waste planning and recycling programs; encouraging composting; informing the public about hazardous and e-waste and offering drop-off sites for these; holding waste reduction and recycling discussions with community and university leaders; encouraging reuse, trading and sharing and removing disposable options; promoting Michigan Tech as a sustainability leader and community partner in helping municipalities meet waste management and recycling goals.


* Click here to access the report. The executive summary begins on p. vii.

** Visit the City of Hancock Web site to learn about their curbside recycling.

*** The cardboard recycling center opened on Jan. 4, 2016. Click here for info.

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