Process to Achieve Single Stream Recycling:
In late 2009 and with considerable intensity during 2010, WWRA pursued the concept of all new equipment and a new building to house the equipment. WWRA is formed under Public Act 185, which is for the control and collection of solid waste and applies to governmental units. As such, WWRA is not permitted to borrow money for any purposes whatsoever and may only obtain funding by the sale of bonds. The Washtenaw County Board of Public Works worked with WWRA in 1991 and handled the sale of the bonds used to construct the facility. We needed to convince the BPW that our project was a good concept, well considered and necessary. In order to get their support, WWRA needed to have a building design as well as equipment designs with estimated costs.
In early 2010, the WWRA Board of Directors authorized the design of a new building but the building size and layout needed to reflect the equipment needs for the Single Stream System. Fortunately, one of our long time equipment suppliers volunteered to create the design of the equipment and also obtain estimates for this equipment from the 5 companies that make such equipment. With the preliminary equipment design, the building was then designed and a preliminary construction cost provided. We now had 2 components of our project but still had to do the research to determine potential alternatives such as privatizing the operation, collecting material and then taking it to another recycling facility, staying with Source Separated Recycling and, of course, doing none of the above and continuing on as we were.
In June 2010, a presentation was made to the Washtenaw Board of Public works to obtain preliminary support for the project. Included with the presentation was an extensive report on our research in support of the project with consideration of all other reasonable options. The BPW voted to allow WWRA to proceed with getting support for the project from our member municipalities. The next step was to develop a preliminary budget that allowed us to see what the bond costs would be per household as well as our operational assessment needs. The budget was developed conservatively projecting a 25% increase in product load over the first 2 years and then another 5% increase in years 4 and 5. The use of 5 years was due to the fact that the assessments are completed each 5 years.
In the Fall of 2010, we started meeting with the member municipalities each of which had to pass an initiating resolution in support of the project. At the same time, we rewrote the Articles of Incorporation to permit 2 types of membership, the first being an Investing Member assisting with the bond payments and the second being an Associate Member paying only the operational assessment. All of these initiating resolutions needed to be completed by April 2011 so the BPW had time to set up hearings for the 2 assessments. During this period there were numerous meetings with each municipality and lengthily discussions of the need and rational for the project. Unfortunately, of the original 8 municipalities associated with WWRA, only 5 were willing to be Investing Members.
With the 5 initiating resolutions sign, the BPW started setting the hearings for the Fall of 2011, 2 each in the North side and 2 each in the South end of the WWRA area. These hearing had to be completed before the Investing Members could be asked to pass supporting resolutions for the bond issue as well as the operational assessment. Each of our Investing Member municipalities were initially asked to pass the supporting resolutions in January 2012, which took several more meetings with each municipal board. The resolutions were completed March 2012 and the BPW started the bond sale process.
So after 2.5 grueling years of meetings and research, the bonds were sold in May 2012 and construction of the building started June 2012. The construction of the Single Stream sorting equipment started in June as well. The system was up and running in late November 2012
Off to a Shaky Start
The first 6 months of 2013 were a steep learning curve that could not have been predicted in advance. In March, China banned the import of mixed plastics, which had been the main market for such materials. We ended up paying to have these plastics landfilled until we found some new markets. The new markets started appearing in the summer of 2013 and have gotten stronger. Then the market prices of the products like cardboard, magazines and newspaper never returned to their former levels. The reason, it turns out, is that a majority of the single stream recycling facilities run their equipment at top speed resulting in contamination like broken glass and tin cans plus assorted trash. WWRA has never run our system at high speed and takes care to ensure our product is clean. Slowly we have gained the confidence of various recycling mills but the prices are still low because of their expenses with the non-WWRA product they are buying. WWRA has taken great pride with the fact that our product is consider premium grade material and we intend to keep it that way.
The Success Part of the Story
The initial budget for this new system predicted a 25% increase of the first 2 years of operation. As of July 2014, 1.5 years of operation, we are on target for an increase of approximately 100%. Our previous product sales were at 280 tons per month and we are currently at 550 tons per month. We used to make 18 to 20 bales of product per day and we are now making 45 bales per day and shipping out 34 bales per day resulting in 28 to 30 loads of product per month. As was said earlier, our product is quite clean and as our reputation grows, it is easier to schedule product sales and arrange pickup of our product. Mixed plastic loads are being sold so we are saving landfill costs and space. There will be more to the story in the future.