Four Michigan tribes receive funding to support recycling initiatives

Four Michigan tribes receive funding to support recycling initiatives
December 11, 2023 Interlochen Public Radio

By Izzy Ross, Interlochen Public Radio

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with IPR and Grist, a nonprofit independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

Four tribes in Michigan will receive funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for recycling and waste management initiatives.

Last month, the EPA awarded over $11 million to tribes and organizations across the Great Lakes as part of a national recycling grant program that kicked off this fall.

The Bay Mills Indian Community will get $970,000 to help train staff, buy equipment and supplies, and build a new waste transfer station.

“It’ll be much more efficient, so we’ll be able to collect more, with the ultimate goal of trying to reduce as much waste going to landfill as possible,” said Bay Mills environmental coordinator Jennifer Satchell, adding that one of the reasons for doing so is to cut down greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

The logistics of rural waste management can be challenging, and Satchell said the current setup isn’t ideal for people who want to recycle.

“We live up in a very snowy, windy, rainy place,” she said. “That’s why we strategized to try to build a facility, so that the community feels it’s more accessible to them, it’s easier for them to get to, it’ll be much more efficient for unloading.”

Along with recyclables like paper and glass, the tribe collects e-waste, hazardous household waste, tires and light bulbs. Once the recycling is sorted, much of it goes to a materials management facility in Sault Ste. Marie, which can then work to sell it.

E-waste collected by the Bay Mills Indian Community during an event on Sept. 18, 2021. (Photo credit: Jennifer Satchell/Bay Mills Indian Community)

E-waste collected by the Bay Mills Indian Community during an event on Sept. 18, 2021. (Photo credit: Jennifer Satchell/Bay Mills Indian Community)

Satchell said the tribe has conducted studies where they collected and categorized waste, both in the

community and at the casino and resort. While their recycling rates are improving, she said the planned facility will be easier to access and better for the staff who work there.

An EPA spokesperson said in an email that confusion about what can be recycled and outdated infrastructure are among the challenges facing local governments. These grants are meant to help address that.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians will get $240,000 to reduce waste, support community recycling, and develop composting and recycling educational materials.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians were each awarded more than $1 million for their own programs.

The Michigan Recycling Coalition will receive more than $1.8 million to develop an education and outreach program for recycling professionals and work with disadvantaged and rural communities on recycling efforts, among other things.

Tribes and organizations in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin won grants as well.

In last month’s funding announcement, the EPA stressed the importance of improving recycling in the Great Lakes region. Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore said in the news release that 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes annually — a statistic that comes from a 2016 Rochester Institute of Technology study.

“Thanks to the historic recycling infrastructure investments being announced today, Great Lakes Tribal and local partners will be supported in improving their recycling infrastructure and enhancing public education so that we can better protect all of our natural resources,” Shore said.

Researchers have found that local recycling can be an effective tool to reduce a community’s carbon emissions, although recent studies also determined that recycling plastics can produce tons of microplastics.

So far, the national program and the EPA have provided over $195 million in recycling and waste funding to states, communitiestribes, and education and outreach programs. That money comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the agency’s annual appropriations.

The EPA said it’s the largest investment in recycling in 30 years and will “help lower greenhouse gas emissions as more efficient waste management systems are key to reducing energy consumption and the need for raw materials.”

Catch more news at Great Lakes Now: 

Documentary explores climate resilience in northern Michigan

As Great Lakes warm, collaboration and Indigenous self-determination are keys to adapting

Featured image: E-waste is stacked in front of a mural at the Bay Mills Indian Community farmer’s market pavilion during a collection event for communities on Sept. 18, 2021. (Photo credit: Steve Noble/EGLE)


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