Temporary closure of Kent County recycling plant leads to sustainability conversations


GVL / Aida Dennis

Jack Blake, Staff Writer

Kent County’s Recycling and Education Center is the primary location for recyclables and recovery of materials for most of West Michigan. 

On March 20, a wall in the building collapsed, making it impossible to carry on with normal recycling as scheduled. The facility closed for three days and sent items to an incinerator. The center reopened on March 24 and since has returned to normal operation.

In a press release, the Department of Public Works said the damage to the building occurred “when bales of cardboard recycling built up and pushed through the building’s sidewall, damaging the exterior wall and a roof support beam.” No one was injured in the incident. 

In 2017, the Recycling and Education Center managed 58 million pounds of recyclables and is central for much of the recycling in the surrounding area. 

While Grand Valley State University’s Office of Sustainability Practices is responsible for all recycling, efficiency and resource-related operations on campus, the waste that comes from the campus is ultimately sent to the Kent County facility.

GVSU promotes sustainability as one of the university’s core values. They aim to use resources in “a manner that allows us to thrive without infringing on the ability of future generations to do the same” and “promote economic vitality, environmental conservation and social equality.”

“Of course it’s disappointing to see recycling facilities affected in this way, but I appreciate that they worked so diligently to get things back up and running, and that they did their best to keep the recycling out of the landfill,” said Dan Hylen, a facilities manager at GVSU. 

Hylen said after the announcement that the facility was closing, a meeting within the Office of Sustainability was scheduled to create a plan going forward. 

Recycling is a major part of the facilities services offered at GVSU. Hylen said certain plastics, certain types of glass, cans (excluding aerosol), batteries, cardboard and paper are all recyclable. 

Office of Sustainability’s website lists guidelines to understand how to sort different types of waste so that it is it taken care of properly during the recycling or disposal process. Waste at GVSU is sorted into three categories: compost, recycling and landfill.

Compost consists largely of any time of organic material such as plant material or egg shells. The benefit of composting is primarily to improve soil structure which can help with water retention and aeration.Waste such as wrappers, bags and rubber cannot be recycled and are sent to landfills.

Recycling bins are located throughout almost every building on the GVSU campus and can be utilized as long as the waste fits one of the available categories.