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Environment & Climate Change

Ann Arbor's materials recovery facility will begin sorting recyclables again within a year


Ann Arbor City Council members have voted unanimously to award the non-profit Recycle Ann Arbor a 10-year contract to run the city’s materials recovery facility.

The facility hasn’t sorted recyclables since 2016, when it was shut down for unsafe working conditions. 


Recycle Ann Arbor will raise and invest more than $5 million to upgrade the facility with high-tech machines like optic sorters and ballistic separators, says Bryan Ukena, the company’s CEO. 


It will recover the costs of its investment by charging a per-ton fee to the municipalities and businesses that send bottles, cans, and paper products to the MRF. The MRF will be open to the region.


Ukena says Recycle Ann Arbor will also hire 20 unionized workers to help with the sorting. 


“It’s really important that people rinse those peanut butter containers out,” he said. “Because people are touching those things. It’s not a magic black box.”


That construction should be complete by July 2021. In the meantime, starting August 3, the MRF will collect materials, but send them to a site in Southfield for processing. 


Currently, many of Ann Arbor’s recyclables get sorted in Cincinnati, Ohio. 


Ann Arbor City Council member Ali Ramlawi (D-5th Ward) says they chose Recycle Ann Arbor over the Flint-based, Canadian-owned Emterra, a waste management company that would have shipped the materials to Lansing for sorting.


“That’s what they eat and breathe, is recycling,” Ramlawi said. “And we felt an organization that does that would give us a better chance of achieving our goals.”


Those include supporting Ann Arbor’s target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030. Ramlawi says he believes having a local recycling facility will reduce carbon emissions from shipping the materials.

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