Additional Thoughts (Nov 29, 2019) – Material Recovery Facility & Recycle Ann Arbor

Nov 29, 2019 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Nov 29, 2019 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section

Additional thoughts…

The most significant item on this week’s agenda is a contract for the city’s solid waste program. I have received a number of emails on this topic and various community leaders (including former mayor Liz Brater) have offered insights and perspective on the issue. Ann Arbor is in need of a long-term plan for handling recyclable materials — our local material recovery facility (MRF) is no longer functional and our recyclables are currently being shipped to a facility in Cincinnati.

In August, the city generated an RFP (Request for Proposals) to handle the city’s recycling program. That RFP included two contract options:

  • receive recyclables at the local MRF for transloading to an off-site MRF
  • equip and modify the City’s MRF for receipt, processing, and marketing of recyclable materials.

Agenda item CA-7 considers contract proposals received from two entities: Emterra and Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA). Staff recommends that Council approve a five year contract with Emterra.

Emterra (based in Flint) has over sixty municipal contracts throughout Michigan and 43 years experience in collecting, processing, and marketing commodities. They submitted a proposal for only option 1, with plans to transfer Ann Arbor’s recyclables to a single-stream MRF facility in Lansing. Emterra’s MRF in Lansing is expected to open in June 2020, with capacity for 40,000 tons per year.

Recycle Ann Arbor is a local nonprofit with experience collecting recyclables in Ann Arbor since the 1970s; it has contracted with the city since the 1980s. They operate multiple locations in Ann Arbor and Scio township, collecting various debris and materials. RAA submitted proposals for both option 1 and option 2 of the RFP. For option 1, RAA would transfer materials to a MRF located in Southfield, Michigan. For option 2, RAA proposes refurbishment and use of the existing equipment at our local MRF.

The memo that Council received on this agenda item offers some general explanation comparing the Emterra and RAA proposals. You can find that memo, a protest letter from RAA, the City’s response, and other background materials in the attachments to this week’s Consent Agenda item CA-7 (19-2020)

I expect this subject to prompt a lot of Council questions to the agenda. Unfortunately, because of the holiday weekend, instead of receiving the answers to our questions on the Thursday before the Council meeting, we will not receive answers to our questions until Monday at 5 p.m (two hours before the Council meeting begins). There are a couple things on my mind as I consider the memo and its recommendation.

First, I am not happy about this item coming right after a holiday weekend, when we have the least amount of time to review answers to our questions. Council changed the schedule for these questions/responses precisely because we recognized that two hours was not enough time to consider a lot of new and clarifying information. I have a lot of questions. E.g. The fee structure of each proposal is described vaguely, with only brief mention that RAA scored slightly better for cost. According to the memo, the revenue share proposed by RAA does not follow industry standards and other aspects deviate from the RFP (and this brought down their score) but there’s no further explanation of how either is a disadvantage to the City.

Second, I have heard concerns from many members of our community that it would be folly to abandon processing at our local MRF. The recommended contract with Emterra would have our materials transported 60 miles away to Lansing. (I am told that when our local MRF was functioning, we received recyclable materials from surrounding communities nearer to us than that.) I tend to agree with residents who believe that Ann Arbor should continue to lead as a regional center for processing recyclables. We are told that it is unacceptable that the RAA proposes to refurbish (rather than replace) equipment in the MRF. I am interested in a more thorough discussion of what we think is necessary in order to resurrect our local MRF.

I thank everyone who has reached out to me on this topic. I appreciate your feedback and insights and I look forward to a serious discussion on Monday night.