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Survey: Houghton County residents back recycling

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Residents drop off truckloads at the Houghton County Transfer Station. The county may put out a request for proposals for a private company to buy the station, with the aim of adding more recycling at the facility, Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said. 

HOUGHTON — Recycling has broad support among residents in outlying areas of Houghton County, according to a recent survey. 

About 70.5% of respondents were “very interested” in having a recycling program. The survey, conducted by the Copper County Recycling Initiative (CCRI), gathered 395 responses. It follows last fall’s petition to the county board, for which the CCRI delivered signatures from 300 residents in favor of increasing recycling. 

“That was all very strong sentiment, but we also wanted to provide more detail, we figured if the county was going to try to make a change or consider making a change, they needed data,” CCRI co-chair Carol Ekstrom said. 

Residents of the Houghton and Hancock areas were excluded, as those cities already have curbside recycling. 

“We really felt the need to gain input from those residents outside of the cities because it’s much more complex and diverse as you get into the offline communities,” said Commissioner Tom Tikkanen, also a member of the county’s Solid Waste Committee. “That’s one of the main reasons why I’m so excited about the results of this survey here.”

Ekstrom was pleased, though not surprised, by the results. Many people who live in the Copper Country do so because of the beauty of the location, she said. 

“I think it’s really important for us to try and provide recycling so that it’s easy, it’s efficient, and people can commit to become good stewards of the earth or continue to be good stewards,” she said. 

Even interest levels in the 40s would’ve pleased Tikkanen, he said. But approval levels in the 70s have energized him and others for further action. 

“The county is poised to commit to some pretty dramatic steps regarding our transfer station and we absolutely need to know that this is something that is at least willing to be considered by our overall constituents,” Tikkanen said. 

One step being considered is putting out a request for proposal to sell or lease the facility to a waste collecting company with a strong background in recycling. 

The Solid Waste Committee is recommending the action to the county board, with approval possibly happening as soon as June, Tikkanen said. 

The county would only consider the move if the buyer would turn the transfer station into a full-service recycling center. Ideally, they would also establish a countywide recycling network, Tikkanen said. 

The transfer station could also serve as a regional hub for recycling, Tikkanen said. 

The county would also require the new buyer to let current employees stay on, Tikkanen said. He was pleased by response in the survey showing more thAn 60% of residents felt staff there were helpful and easy to work with. 

Solid Waste Committee members had made several trips to other recycling facilities, as well as heard a guest presentation from the director of the Marquette County Solid Waste Authority. 

“I think what we’ve determined thus far is the community would be better served by in effect turning this over to a private enterprise, one that has the capability and the experience and the history, as opposed to the county government trying to expand its services from the transfer station,” Tikkanen said. “Those companies that know what they’re doing, they’ve been able to pay their bills even in this age of reduced resale prices for recyclable materials.”

Up to 69.2% of county residents were willing to pay for a recycling service, the survey showed. And 76% were willing to pay at least $5 for curbside recycling. 

Asked about driving to a drop-off location, 63.5% of residents said they would be willing to drive at least 10 miles. 

CCRI members got a random sampling of Houghton County residents at several locations in the county. They also enlisted Adam Wellstead, an associate professor of public policy in social sciences at Michigan Technological University, for formulation and analysis of the survey. 

Among people who said they had no interest in recycling, one of the most common reasons were the difficulty of sorting out recycling and a lack of information. Ekstrom said they are trying to get a flyer sent out with tax mailings to let residents know what can be recycled. An educational component would also be included by whatever company offered to buy or lease the transfer station. 

As a committee, Ekstrom said, they have provided a curriculum for K-12 education on recycling in 2015.

“We have done something in the past, and we intend to do more in the future,” she said.

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