What’s next for Recycle Here! and recycling in Detroit

Recent news that the city of Detroit is moving forward with privatized curbside recycling has generated much enthusiasm in light of the fact that Detroit has been the largest US city without curbside recycling for decades.

For many, though, the excitement has been tempered by the fact that a curbside program leaves the future of Recycle Here!, Detroit’s one-of-a-kind community recycling center (and, until now, the city’s primary official recycling program), somewhat in doubt.

Matthew Naimi, Recycle Here!’s founder and director of operations and a longtime friend of the Green Garage, stopped by the GG during community lunch last Friday to give a brief history of Recycle Here! and outline the future of the center, which has become, over the years, much more than just a place to drop off your recycling.

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Recent history

Recycle Here! got started, Matt reminded us, in what is currently the Green Garage’s parking lot! (How’s that for kismet? At the time, the building was being used as a warehouse.) That’s where, in 2005, he and some friends and neighbors set up a dumpster and hung a sign that said “Recycle Here!” Recycle Midtown, as it came to be known, set up shop every second Saturday for the next year, until its success motivated the city of Detroit to call and ask Naimi to work on getting an official city recycling program off the ground.

Flash forward to January 6, 2007: that’s when Recycle Here! as we know it officially opened in its massive Holden Street warehouse, with the expectation that it would develop into a curbside program in 10 years. Around 100 families showed up to recyle that first day.

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Holden St. dropoff site. Photo courtesy Recycle Here!

To date, Matt reported, the center has provided recycling services to 275,000 Detroit residents and been responsible for recycling 13 million pounds of materials. Money from salable recyclables, meanwhile, has gone to support Green Living Science, Recyle Here’s nonprofit educational organization that works with young Detroit students  to turn them into “little green agents of change,” as Matt put it. And the warehouse and its grounds have become sites of both environmentally conscious art making and installation as well as places where Detroiters come together every week to advance the common good in a festive, welcoming environment.

The future

So what’s next? During his presentation, Matt took a minute to express what a milestone the new curbside program is for Detroit. The curbside rollout hasn’t happened exactly as he hoped or envisioned, but, as he put it, “Curbside is a sign of a successful city.”

He then went on to outline some particulars of the new curbside program, expected to launch this summer, including the following:

  • The city is partnering with two different companies to provide curbside service, Rizzo Environmental Services and  Advanced Disposal, who will divide the city’s residences between them.
  • Residents will have to opt in to the every-other-week service by purchasing a 58 gallon container for $25.
  • The service does not cover apartment buildings or businesses, which will need to establish their own contracts with private waste companies if they wish to implement a recycling program.

How does Recycle Here! fit into this new world? Matt sees the dropoff & community center remaining an integral component of a robust recycling system in the city for the foreseeable future. And the city seems to think so too, having just extended Recycle Here!’s contract for 14 months.

In addition to continuing to provide dropoff service to businesses and apartment dwellers who may not end up with curbside service, as well as homeowners who opt out of the curbside program, Recycle Here! will continue to function as a place to recycle styrofoam, plastic bags, and computers & other electronics, which are typically not accepted in curbside pickup. Additionally, the Holden St. warehouse will remain the best place in the city for people to visit to ask questions about what can or can’t be recycled, as well as get help figuring out how to reuse materials. And as the reach of curbside service expands through Detroit’s neighborhoods, satellite dropoff sites will be closed, allowing the Holden St. center to remain open more days per week. (Currently, it’s open only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.)

The long and short of it? Recyle Here! is not going anywhere anytime soon. Great news for all of us who love to recycle with our neighbors and who have watched these true green pioneers grow from a single dumpster in a vacant lot to a thriving, vital community service.

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