Michigan’s recycling rate is one of the lowest in the country. Last year Governor Rick Snyder announced a statewide initiative to raise the state’s 15 percent rate closer to the national average of 35 percent.
In cities with curbside service, it’s fairly easy for homeowners to set up recycling. But if you live in an apartment, that decision likely falls to your landlord.
Mallory has lived in Candlewyck Apartments for four years. Since the complex canceled its recycling service in July, she’s been coming to Republic Service’s drop-off site on Gembrit Circle. Mallory asked that we not use her last name.
Though she still likes living at Candlewyck, she says the complex’s decision to take away recycling has been a huge inconvenience.
“I mean, it’s something I can do because I support recycling, but it requires people going extra out of their way to take care of it. And so I think the likelihood that people are even going to bother recycling is greatly reduced because of it,” she said.
About 60 percent of all large apartment complexes in Kalamazoo do not offer recycling. This isn’t too surprising given Michigan’s low recycling rate. What is surprising is that they’re still paying for it.
Every year property owners in Kalamazoo pay into a solid waste millage. It covers trash, recycling, leaf removal, and other things like taking down trees near power lines. Its 1.55 mills—which means the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $155 a year.
Wendy Burlingham works for Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Services. She says apartment complexes, often worth more than a million dollars, pay much more.
“So you know they’re covering that service. So it is something that they are paying for and really should be taking advantage of,” she said.
So why aren’t they? Some apartments, like Candlewyck, say it’s because tenants throw regular trash into the recycle bins. That results in an $80 fee and often means a whole truck of recyclables gets sent to the landfill instead.
In the past three years, Republic Services says it sent out more than $4,000 worth of fines for contaminated recycling. The city’s invoices show no record of any contamination at Candlewyck.
But Madeira Apartments, owned by Edward Rose & Sons, racked up about $560 in contamination fees. Tom Gilger is a property manager for Edward Rose. He says if you want to recycle at Madeira now, you have to have a key.
“We’re finding that it’s offsite people who are driving through our particular property and then they just don’t care which container they throw their stuff in. And unfortunately it goes into our recycling container," said Gilger.
"We have stopped that by having to install that lock. It’s a little inconvenient for our residents, but the ones that care and want to recycle—they put up with it.”
Bronco Apartments has also dealt with vandalism. General Manager Kevin Campbell says they had recycling—until people started setting the bins on fire at their student apartments. Unfortunately, this still happens to their trash bins.
But why doesn't Bronco Apartments have recycling now?
“It’s never been pushed to us,"Campbell said. "If it would’ve been, maybe we would have been doing it. I mean, I’ve got 2,000 families that live under my management between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.”
Campbell says his tenants haven’t requested recycling and the city never sent him any information about recycling until he asked for it.
If you don’t sign up through the city, you can’t get recycling through the millage. In fact, some apartments that we called for this story didn’t even know that that was an option.
That’s a problem because Republic Services’ General Manager Jim Porter says when it comes to getting people to recycle, it’s all about education and convenience.
“The more it’s out in front of people, the more they’re going to do it. If it’s not a priority with be it a school, a business, a landlord—then it doesn’t happen,” said Porter.