Stories indexed with the term ‘single-stream recycling’

Recycling, Yes for Now; Public Art, Postponed

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 19, 2011): The council’s agenda contained a raft of significant items, which could have easily pushed the meeting past midnight. But councilmembers maintained a brisk pace, postponing a few key issues that allowed them to wrap up the meeting in around four hours.

Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) before the city council's Sept. 19 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary was dominated by the theme of public art, with several people weighing in against a proposed change to the city ordinance setting aside 1% of all capital improvement projects for public art. One of the changes would exclude the use of funds generated by the street/sidewalk repair tax from inclusion in the public art program. Those taxes are on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The deliberations on the public art ordinance provoked some overt politicking at the table between Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), which concluded with Kunselman challenging his council colleagues to direct the city attorney to write a formal legal opinion justifying the legal basis for the public art program.

The proposed changes to the public art ordinance were motivated in part by a desire to assure voters that their street/sidewalk repair millage would not instead be spent on public art. However, the council postponed the public art ordinance revision until its second meeting in November – after the vote on the millage. That’s also well after the planned dedication ceremony for the Dreiseitl water sculpture on Oct. 4 – a project paid for with public art funds.

At its Monday meeting, the council also postponed a vote on a resolution of intent expressing the council’s plan for spending the sidewalk/millage money.

The council also considered a proposal to cancel a 10-year contract signed last year with RecycleBank, a company that provides a coupon-based incentive program for city residents to participate in the city’s recycling program. The data from the first year of the contract was not convincing to councilmembers that the RecycleBank program was having a positive impact.

However, councilmembers voted instead to direct city staff to negotiate towards a revised contract that RecycleBank had offered, which reduces RecycleBank’s fee by one-third.

The council approved a settlement with its police union, retroactively to 2009. The new contract is similar to those that other city unions have also settled on – including no wage increases, and pension and health care plans that require a greater contribution from employees than in the past. The city still has two unions (firefighters and police command officers) with contracts yet to be settled. Contracts with those unions will now have to conform to the requirements of new state legislation, effective Sept. 15, that limits the amount that the city can contribute to the health care costs of its employees.

Also related to police staffing, the council authorized the use of federal money to hire five police officers, if the city is awarded a grant for which it has applied.

In another employment-related issue, the council gave final approval to a revision to its retirement system, which lengthens the vesting period to 10 years and computes the final average compensation (FAC) based on five years instead of three.

Land use and property rights were a recurring theme throughout the meeting. Those items included: approval of the sale of a strip of city-owned downtown land to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; postponement of a request from a medical marijuana business for rezoning a parcel on South State Street; authorization of city staff to begin with the systematic annexation of township islands located within the city boundaries; and initiation of the process to levy a special assessment of Dexter Avenue property owners to fill in sidewalk gaps.

Items fitting the general category of economic development included a tax abatement for Picometrix, the setting of a tax abatement public hearing for Arbor Networks, and the expression of the council’s intent to establish a property assessed clean energy (PACE) district. The PACE program is a way for the city to offer loans to commercial property owners for the purpose of making energy improvements.

Among other items on the agenda, the council also passed a resolution calling on Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that would eliminate same-sex domestic partner benefits for public employees.  [Full Story]

Plans for Skatepark, Recycling, Mental Health

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (July 7, 2011): Three seemingly disparate projects drew questions and in some cases concerns over the county’s role in them, as commissioners heard presentations this month on the Ann Arbor skatepark, plans for an expanded recycling facility in western Washtenaw, and proposed changes at the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO).

Recycle bin

A recycling bin used in the city of Ann Arbor. Some county commissioners would prefer that the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority partner with Ann Arbor, rather than build its own single-stream recycling facility.

The longest discussion focused on a proposal by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, which is hoping to build a $3.2 million facility to handle single-stream recycling for communities on the county’s west side. The 20-year-old entity would like the county to issue $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit, to be repaid through special assessments on households in participating communities, including the city of Chelsea.

Commissioners wanted more details on the project’s business plan and projected budget before they consider a formal proposal, likely in early September. Several commissioners also questioned why the WWRA wasn’t planning to partner with the Ann Arbor recycling facility. Commissioner Rob Turner, whose district covers much of western Washtenaw and who supports this effort, voiced some frustration that recent bonding for drain projects in Ann Arbor hadn’t received the same level of scrutiny from his fellow commissioners.

The skatepark presentation was relatively brief, and commissioners generally expressed support for the project. Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. felt the organizers were too Ann Arbor-centric, however. He reminded them that the county parks & recreation commission had committed $400,000 in matching funds for the project, and that organizers should consider fundraising and selling skatepark merchandise in other parts of the county, not just Ann Arbor.

The board also learned some details on a proposed transfer of about a half-dozen employees from the county payroll to the WCHO, as part of a restructuring aimed at limiting the county’s financial liabilities. The WCHO is an entity that receives state and federal funding to provide services for people with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. At this point, WCHO “leases” its employees from the county, and contracts for services through the county’s community support and treatment services (CSTS) department, which employs about 300 people. A CSTS employee spoke during public commentary, complaining that the staff hasn’t been adequately informed about these proposed changes.

And though commissioner Ronnie Peterson, at a June 28 agenda briefing, had advocated strongly for reordering the working session’s agenda in order to give more time to the WCHO discussion, he did not attend the meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Rejects Pay Hike to Recycle Firm

At its July 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted against increasing the payment it makes to Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA) for curbside collection of the city’s single-stream recycling carts – from $3.25 to $3.55 per month per cart. The vote was made without any deliberations and resulted in 5 votes for it and 4 against. Voting against it were Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

The city council had voted on March 15, 2010 to adopt the single-stream recycling program, which began exactly one year ago, on July 5, 2010.

At that time, the city approved a contract with RAA that called for a payment of $3.25 per month per cart that RAA empties, plus a per-ton payment of between $18.74 and $30.00. The amount of revenue RAA has received through these two kinds of revenue was less than projected last year. Specifically, the tonnage payments received by RAA for fiscal year 2011 (which ended June 30) for recyclable material were projected to be $406,332 but in fact only generated $187,560 for RAA – only 46% of what was expected. The shortfall was $218,772.

Also, the city expected to distribute 32,779 carts, but it turned out that only 29,734 carts were deployed, or 9.3% fewer than planned. The staff memo accompanying the resolution explained the reduced number this way: “… many of the smaller multi-family residential units that were previously using the 11-gallon recycling ‘totes’ are able to share recycle carts, resulting in a smaller number of deployed carts.” In terms of revenue, the reduced number of carts meant that RAA received only $1,159,626 compared to the projected $1,278,381 – for a shortfall of $118,755.

Summing the shortfalls in the two kinds of revenue ($118,755 + $218,772), RAA received $337,527 less than it expected for FY 2011. The increase in the monthly per-cart service fee requested (but rejected by the council) – for all five years of the five-year contract – would have worked out to nearly cover the annual shortfall that was due only to the decreased number of carts: $107,042 versus $118,755.

The overly-optimistic projections were made by the city’s recycling consultant Resource Recycling Systems and RecycleBank, a company that administers a coupon-based incentive program to encourage residents to recycle. When the council approved the single-stream recycling contract with RAA last year, it also struck a 10-year deal with RecycleBank, at roughly $200,000 per year, to administer their coupon-based incentive program to help boost recycling rates in conjunction with the single-stream rollout.

At the time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questioned the length of the RecycleBank contract, and established in the course of deliberations that the city’s opt-out clause would be less costly than the cost of the contract. He was concerned that the city had options in the event that RecycleBank’s incentives did not boost recycling tonnage to the levels that were forecast. ["Council Banks on Single-Stream Recycling"]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Ward 4 Council

On Tuesday evening, the Ward 4 Democratic Party hosted a forum at Dicken Elementary School so that residents could pose questions to primary candidates for one of the ward’s two city council seats. Margie Teall, the incumbent who has held the seat since 2002, and Jack Eaton, who has been active in politics on the neighborhood level, answered questions for a bit more than an hour.


Jack Eaton and Margie Teall, candidates for the Ward 4 city council seat, engage in the subtleties of negotiation over who would deliver their opening remarks first. (Photos by the writer.)

City council representatives are elected for two-year terms and each of the city’s five wards has two seats on the council, one of which is elected each year. Also in attendance at Tuesday’s forum was Marcia Higgins, the Ward 4 council representative who won re-election in November 2009, defeating independent challenger Hatim Elhady.

Besides Higgins, other elected officials and candidates for office who were introduced at the forum included: LuAnne Bullington (candidate for the 11th District county board of commissioners seat), Ned Staebler (candidate for the 53rd District state Representative seat), Leah Gunn (county commissioner representing the 9th District of the county and seeking re-election), Patricia Lesko (candidate for Ann Arbor mayor). All the candidates are Democrats.

Eaton’s main theme was a need to focus more on infrastructure – those things we need, not the things that might be nice to have. Eaton was keen to establish that his candidacy was not meant as a personal attack on Teall, saying that he expected his supporters to focus on the issues and to conduct themselves in a civil way. His opening remarks were heavy on thanks and appreciation for Teall’s long service on council, particularly with regard to the creation of Dicken Woods, which is now a city-owned nature area.

In the course of the forum, a pointed question to Teall on her biggest regret while serving on the council elicited an acknowledgment from her that she regretted her contribution to the problem last year with city councilmembers emailing each other during council meetings. Eaton was quick to give Teall credit for publicly apologizing in a timely way for her role in the scandal.

For her part, Teall focused on setting forth accomplishments while serving on the council. Those ranged from the longer-term budgeting strategies that she said had helped ensure that Ann Arbor was weathering the economic crisis better than other Michigan cities, to the budget amendment she introduced and the council passed in May, which proposed using $2 million from the Downtown Development Authority, plus more optimistic estimates for state revenue sharing, to eliminate the need to lay off some police and firefighters.

The candidates exchanged different views on basic infrastructure issues like the Stadium Boulevard bridges and stormwater management, to single-stream recycling and leaf collection, to Georgetown Mall, and the transparency of government. [Full Story]

Column: Recycling Virtues and MORE

The city of Ann Arbor made a recent decision to convert to a single-stream curbside recycling system, plus implement an incentive coupon reward system to encourage people to participate in the program.

apple and orange

Orange (left) and apple (right). The orange is larger than the apple. Its skin is bumpy in contrast to the apple's smooth covering. Also, the apple has a stem. (Photo by the writer.)

The decision came under some criticism for its initial capital costs, the possible reduction in quality of the resulting recycled material, as well as for its emphasis on coupon rewards for recycling more – which some people feared could feed back into a loop causing more consumption.

I think there are fair questions that can be asked about cost and quality.  What I missed, however, was a convincing sales pitch – one that included options within the basic idea of a single-stream system with an incentive program. In this column, I take a look at what I’d have found to be a more convincing sales pitch. [Full Story]

Council Banks on Single-Stream Recycling

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 15, 2010) Part 2: Part 1 of the meeting report handles the range of various topics at the meeting that did not fall into the general category of recycling. Part 2 focuses specifically on the two recycling-related resolutions approved by the council.

Jim Frey and Tom McMurtrie

Tom McMurtrie, left, is the city's solid waste coordinator. Jim Frey, right, is CEO of Resource Recycling Systems, a consultant for the city on recycling.

The two separate resolutions correspond to the two facets of the new recycling system for Ann Arbor, which will be deployed in July 2010.

One resolution revised the contract with Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA) for curbside recycling pickup to reflect the single-stream character of the system. Residents will no longer place paper and containers in separate 11-gallon stackable totes to be hand-emptied by RAA drivers.  Instead, residents will put all their recyclable materials into a single rollable cart with a lid. Drivers will operate a robot arm from inside the truck to lift and tip the single cart’s recyclable contents into the truck.

The other resolution approved by the council authorized a contract with RecycleBank to implement an incentive program for residents, based on their participation in the recycling program and the average amount of materials recycled on their route.

Both the conversion to the new system and its associated incentive program came under criticism  during public commentary. During council deliberations it was the incentive program that was given the most scrutiny by councilmembers – with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) voting against it. The contract with RAA was given unanimous support from the nine councilmembers who were present.

The arrangements with RAA for collection and with RecycleBank for the incentive program are separate contracts with separate entities – the single-stream system could be implemented without the incentive system. But it became apparent during council deliberations that the idea that the city council might opt for a single-stream system without the incentive program was not something city staff had planned for: The single-stream carts are already molded with labels “Earn rewards for recycling.” [Clarification: The authorization for the in-molded cart labels had not been made before the council approved the incentive contract.] [Full Story]

Mixed Bag: Phones, Fiber, Fire

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 15, 2010) Part 1: In its main business of the evening, the city council took the last in a series of steps towards converting the city’s twin-tote curbside recycling program to a single-stream system.

Dominick Lanza fire chief Ann Arbor

Dominick Lanza is sworn in as the city of Ann Arbor’s new fire chief. (Photos by the writer.)

Part 1 of this report will not include single-stream recycling. Part 2 of the meeting report will focus on that issue, and will be somewhat delayed, in order to increase the possibility that an information request from the city for relevant data can be included in that article. [In this, we thus take a dual-stream approach.]

Aside from the single-stream recycling issue, the council addressed a range of other disparate topics.

The council undertook a wholesale replacement of the housing commission board, a move that will see the return to city service of recently-departed community services area administrator, Jayne Miller. She’s one of the new appointees to the housing commission board.

The council also approved a resolution urging Google to select Ann Arbor as a site for a fiber optic network. Accompanying that resolution was a public hearing during which seven people – two from Ypsilanti – spoke in support of the city’s bid, which also enjoys the support of the University of Michigan.

The city’s new fire chief, Dominick Lanza, was sworn in, though his start date comes a few days in the future – March 22, 2010. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Cell Phone Ban Possibly Delayed

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (March 14, 2010): On the Ann Arbor city council agenda for Monday is the final vote on a proposed city ordinance banning cell phone use while driving. At a sparsely attended Sunday night caucus, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and mayor John Hieftje indicated that a vote on the proposed cell phone ban would likely be postponed.

Other agenda items receiving some discussion were the public hearing scheduled on the Google Fiber initiative, plus a contract revision for Recycle Ann Arbor to perform single-stream curbside recycling using automated carts. [Full Story]

Environmental Indicators: Resource Use

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series written by Ann Arbor city staff on the environmental indicators used by the city of Ann Arbor in its State of Our Environment Report.

Trash and Recycling in Ann Arbor

Recycling totes and a trash cart await collection in Ann Arbor. The totes will be replaced with bins similar to the blue trash cart in mid-2010. (Photo by The Chronicle.)

Although Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, is listed as the author of this piece, he received “a boxload of help” from Adrienne Marino, Tom McMurtrie, and Nancy Stone.

The SOE report is developed by the city’s environmental commission and designed as a citizen’s reference tool on environmental issues and as an atlas of the management strategies underway that are intended to conserve and protect our environment. The newest version of the report is organized around 10 environmental goals developed by the environmental commission and adopted by the city council in 2007. This installment focuses on responsible resource use.

All installments of the series are available here: Environmental Indicator Series.

With the closing of the 2009 holiday season, and many of us surrounded by lots of new “stuff” – including the associated boxes and packaging – and even a few of us with New Year’s resolutions to “simplify” our life in the coming new year, it seems like a good time to talk about all of the stuff we buy, use, reuse, recycle, and then throw out in Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Column: Pedaling and the Price of Recycling

Styrofoam baler

Styrofoam baler with gates open, and the masher in the "down position." In this position, the operator can slide wires through slots in the top and the bottom to wrap the bale securely, before releasing the pressure on the masher. (Photos by the writer.)

About once a month, I load up my bicycle cargo trailer with an assortment of gallon jugs – plastic and glass – plus a mountain of rigid Styrofoam, then pedal off to Recycle Ann Arbor’s drop off station at the corner of Platt and Ellsworth.

When I drop my load of recyclables there, I’m not wearing my Ann Arbor Chronicle editor’s hat. Rather, I’m working as the sole-proprietor of a (very) small bicycle-based business called HD Hauling and Delivery.

I bring this up mostly to establish some sort of credibility as a friend of the environment.

That way when I reveal what I’ve been thinking about recently, there might be a brief hesitation before readers reach into their recycling totes, retrieve a well-rinsed artisanally-crafted mayonnaise jar, and chuck it at my noggin. Not that it will do those readers any good – I generally wear my bicycle helmet, even when I’m just typing.

Now, when I say I’ve been “thinking about” the idea of turning Huron Hills Golf Course into a landfill, I’m not saying that I advocate creating a landfill there. I’m not even saying that it’s a good idea to research the question. I’m just saying that the idea crossed my mind, okay? Why?

It’s because of a recent decision by Recycle Ann Arbor to charge a $3 entry fee for their drop off station, starting Jan. 2, 2010. How do you whack a rhetorical ball all the way from that $3 fee to a landfill at Huron Hills Golf Course? Believe me, you need a lot of club. Fore! [Full Story]

Budget Crunch Backdrop Drives Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 21, 2009) Part II: In Part I of our report, we handled two meeting topics clearly related to the looming budget shortfall: public art expenditures and parking revenue.

members of firefighters local union

Members of International Association of Firefighters Local 693 waited past midnight until their president finally was able to take his turn at public commentary during unreserved time at the end of the meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Two rows of firefighters from the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 – layoff notices have already been sent to some of them – sat in the audience through the whole meeting, which lasted until midnight.

Like the firefighters, sitting at least in the background of nearly every item on the agenda, were the looming budget issues that the city council faces.

When they came to the foreground, the concerns about the budget managed to connect topics as seemingly disparate as Verizon antennae and parking revenues.

Even a garden-variety contract with a consultant for the greenbelt provoked some brief discussion related to the budget shortfall.

The impetus behind the council’s committee reorganization was again … the budget. What was previously one budget and labor committee was split into two committees: (i) the budget committee, and (ii) the labor committee, which is now combined with the council administration committee. That reorganization was pitched as a way to allow representation from each ward on the five-member budget committee.

Councilmembers and the city administrator also made robust use of the communications section of the agenda to provide status updates on their recent work – much of it related to efforts to identify new revenue streams and ways to cut expenses as part of the effort to meet budget goals.

In other business, the purchase of carts for single-stream recycling was authorized, plus an energy grant totaling over $1 million was accepted. [Full Story]

Council OKs Recycling, Transit, Shelter

people standing in a semi-circle

Left to right: Brian Nord and Caleb Poirier (back to camera), who are both advocates for Camp Take Notice, a self-governed encampment of homeless people. Also Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mayor John Hieftje. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 5, 2009): Meeting on Thursday due to the elections, instead of in its usual Monday slot, Ann Arbor’s city council moved ahead on two major initiatives that will eventually have a significant impact on Ann Arbor residents.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan to move forward on joint development of the Fuller Road Station, which offers the university an alternative to construction of a parking deck on Wall Street. The first phase of the project is anticipated to be completed in mid-June 2012.

Also given a green light was a conversion to single-stream recycling – a single cart will be distributed to residents to replace the twin totes currently used for curbside pickup. The new carts will be rolled out in June 2010.

A more immediate impact will be made by a council decision to allocate a combined $159,500 to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and the Interfaith Hospitality Network – the funds will increase the sheltering capacity by 50 spots for individuals through the winter, starting Dec. 1, and provide housing vouchers for eight families for a year. [Full Story]

Work Session: Trains, Trash and Taxes

slide showing in red highlight the area of Main Street Ann Arbor that would be included in a business improvement zone

The proposed business improvement zone would include Ann Arbor's Main Street from William Street in the south to Huron Street in the north.

Ann Arbor City Council work session (Oct. 12, 2009): It’s a world where you can throw your newspapers, glass bottles and plastic tubs into one single recyclables cart and set it out for morning collection.

It’s a world where you can then board a bus that drops you off at the train station for your morning commute to Detroit.

It’s a world where during the work day you watch a foot of snow fall, but on your return home to Ann Arbor, you see that the snow hasn’t just been plowed on Main Street – it’s been completely removed – along with those handbills you’d noticed plastered on the lightpost.

It’s a world where later at home, you roll your empty recycling cart back to its place. Then you log on to the internet and see you’ve earned $250 worth of points tallied by the weight of the recyclables that the truck has been recording and crediting for the last year.

At its Monday night work session, Ann Arbor’s city council heard presentations on all the discrete elements of that world, which Ann Arbor could start to resemble in a couple of years. [Full Story]