Cardboard recycling center opens on QT

ATLANTIC MINE – The Houghton County Cardboard Recycling Center quietly started accepting cardboard Monday, and bundling it for shipment to paper mills. There, instead of being landfilled and taking up space indefinitely, it’ll be recycled into new boxes or paper bags.

“It’s really great that it’s finally going,” said David Hall, a member of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative, which has spearheaded the project alongside the county. “I’m excited it’s happening. Hopefully it’ll be well used and successful.”

The recycling center is located at the Houghton County Solid Waste Transfer Station, on Erickson Drive in Atlantic Mine. Residents can drop cardboard off free, and business users are asked to stop by the station office to pay a few dollars.

On Monday afternoon at the recycling center, both the garage door and the main door of the new building were closed, but the door was unlocked, and a look around showed flattened cardboard boxes in a few carts but a building that was mostly still empty.

Hall said the building is designed to be self-serve and will be unstaffed at least half the time. The two-year, $92,000 grant that paid for the recycling center includes funds to pay a 20-hour employee expected to handle all duties at the facility, and recycling revenues will hopefully pay for the position later.

Recycling center operations are up to the county, said Hall, but the initiative does have ongoing education and publicity duties spelled out in the grant. That will hopefully include adding some more inviting signs to the center, he said.

“We’re hoping the word goes out to the county and the people that use the facility,” Hall said. “We would like to get some good signage and distribute literature to tell people about the program.”

He said the county has asked them to hold off on a major publicity blitz, however, to give it a chance to start slow and build the program.

Transfer center operator Terrie Bray acknowledged the recycling center was open but would not comment on any specifics, referring all questions to Controller Eric Forsberg. His office said he was unavailable until later this week.

The initiative won’t be waiting too long, though. They’ve scheduled a recycling launch and celebration for 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Portage Lake District Library. The celebration will include hands-on activities for children, and volunteers will be collecting cardboard there to truck up to the recycling center.

Recycling initiative members are pretty proud of the new white building, Hall said. While owned by the county, it never would have been built without initiative members writing the grant proposal and working with the county to make sure the plan was sustainable beyond the life of the grant.

“Some of the commissioners were a little slow to get on board, and some maybe still aren’t,” Hall acknowledged. “But I think they’ll like it, as a service and something that’s self-sustaining.”

Hall said the grant came from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as part of a program championed by Governor Rick Snyder to bring Michigan’s recycling rates up to par with other states’. Houghton County’s rate is even lower – about 5 percent of its waste is recycled – which made the area a priority, he said.

“The governor had a real big red dot on us,” Hall said. “When we submitted, we were one of the largest grantees in the state, because we’re so underserved.”

The recycling initiative doesn’t plan to quit with the recycling center, either. In an email, initiative member Susan Burack said the group also hoped the county would set up cardboard collection sites elsewhere in Houghton County.

The transfer station and recycling center are open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.