A picture is worth 1,000 words — or when it comes to the Keweenaw’s first waste reduction drive, make that 18,573 plastic bottle caps, 11,585 plastic bags and 11,444 batteries.
The Sustainability Demonstration House at Michigan Technological University spearheaded the first Keweenaw Waste Reduction Drive on June 27. It won’t be the last, but hopefully future events won’t be such a roller coaster. The logistics finally came together in June, following the original announcement in February and indefinite postponement of the original date (Earth Week kickoff) to figure out a process that would be safe and efficient. More than 150 families participated in the drive-through collection in the parking lot near Michigan Tech’s Gates Tennis Center.
It took two weeks to count the 46,168 items collected, covering five categories of waste that can’t be recycled curbside: plastic bags, batteries, plastic bottle caps and rings, foil-lined wrappers and Styrofoam egg cartons.
There’s no turning back, says house manager Rose Turner, who earned her BS in environmental engineering at Michigan Tech in 2018 and is currently pursuing graduate studies here. The group plans to make the waste reduction drive an annual event. They haven’t decided if the same five recyclables will be featured or if new materials will be collected.
“We’ll have more information in a few months. In the meantime, we hope that everyone will continue to divert these items from the landfill,” said Turner. “Nearly every person who participated in the drive told us that they love what we’re doing and they all asked when the next drive is going to take place. Some asked if we could make this a monthly event!”
Finding ways to recycle what won’t break down naturally in a landfill is a stopgap measure. The real solution, says the group, is to eliminate the use of materials like Styrofoam, which never degrades, and to find biodegradable alternatives. Here's where the materials went (and where folks can continue to recycle on their own):
Bags went to Walmart. Any bag with a recycling mark on it can still go to Walmart or participating grocery/retail stores. (All photos of the collection by Katie Nelson)
Batteries were recycled through Remy Battery in Houghton. The company accepts all kinds, including alkaline and lithium. If you’re not close to Houghton, says Turner, you can search online to find a battery recycling center near you.
Bottle caps are being converted into kitchenware and toothbrushes. If you’re willing to pay postage, you can send yours to Preserve’s Gimme Five program yourself.
The 3,474 foil-lined wrappers collected are off to TerraCycle, which offers a variety of recycling programs — producing items from writing instruments to cosmetic containers and coffee pods.
Egg cartons go to local farmers — so far more than 600 of the 1,092 collected have been donated to those who have booths at the weekly Downtown Houghton Farmers Market. The group recommends making your own farming connection to keep recycling your cartons.
“Three SDH tenants, five graduate students and one [Copper Country Recycling Initiative] community member volunteered during our big sorting/counting day,” said Turner. “I am beyond grateful for the students and community members who volunteered to assist with the Keweenaw's first waste reduction drive.”
"The majority of the volunteers were current graduate students who, like me, are very busy in the summer with full-time research. Yet they found meaning in the effort and sacrificed their free time to help out with an event centered around reducing waste in our community. I am thankful for this amazing network of sustainability-minded students and community members who want to take action!"
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.