From ECR Press Release December 15, 2016
Emmet County’s 2016 Recycler of the Year Award winner began recycling long before they opened for business. “During construction—begun in 2005—one of the requirements the Tribe had was that everything that was recyclable be recycled,” explained Barry Laughlin, Odawa Casino Resort’s Director of Property Operations. Since opening in 2007, the Casino has been steadily growing their recycling, and shows no sign of stopping, earning them the county’s 2016 award.
Kate Mowbray, the Casino’s lead Wastewater Tech, is charged with heading up the recycling programs. According to Mowbray, when the Casino began operations in 2007, they started by just recycling cardboard, but soon added paper and mixed containers (including plastic containers, steel and aluminum cans, foil, glass and paper cartons). In recent years, they have recycled around 56 tons of cardboard and 14 tons of paper and containers annually.
They also regularly recover roughly 1,200 pounds of scrap metal, 300 pounds of batteries, and 1,000 pallets a year, the later largely reused in Casino operations and by employees. Electronics and ink cartridges are recycled too. Fluorescent bulbs were recycled, but are now being replaced with LED lighting to further improve energy efficiency. (Odawa Casino Resort won a First Place Governor’s Award for Energy Excellence in 2016.) When the uniforms for their employees—as many as 535—were last updated, the old were recycled.
Laughlin and Mowbray credit a couple of departments in particular with the success of the recycling programs. The Housekeeping staff, both at the Odawa Casino and the Hotel, is very supportive of recycling. “When they have something new—for example when replacing soap fixtures—they will come to us and ask if it is recyclable,” noted Mowbray. The Casino Maintenance Department is central to the system, hauling recyclables to the Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center.
The Stewards—essentially a specialized cleaning and stocking crew for the restaurants—have really stepped up for the Casino’s latest initiative: diverting food waste from the Waas-No-De buffet for composting. “If we didn’t have the stewarding department, we wouldn’t have recycling in the restaurants,” said Laughlin, adding shout outs to Executive Steward Sally Strauss and Stewarding Supervisor Aaron Figiel (whose nickname around the Casino is “Captain Planet”).
Emmet County has been offering collection and composting of food and floral scraps to a limited number of businesses the past two summers. Odawa signed up this summer and immediately became the program’s largest customer, diverting around 2,000 pounds of food waste a week to composting. Now the county is beginning to pilot winter food waste collection and the Casino is on board, figuring out all the logistics presented by the cold and ice.
Having the buffet’s food waste collected for composting allowed the Casino to reach a great milestone this past summer: they were able to reduce collection of garbage (handled using a waste compactor, as most large institutions do) from once every ten days to once every 20 days, saving the business tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Discussions are underway about a variety of next steps to increase the Casino’s recycling. At peak times of year, the recyclables exceed the system’s capacity to store and haul the materials. A baler on site has made cardboard storage and hauling more efficient and Laughlin and Mowbray are experimenting with baling the containers as well. They definitely plan to add food scraps collection at the Casino’s fine dining restaurant and employee cafeteria next summer.
Lindsey Walker, Emmet County Recycling Economic Development Liason summed up the Casino’s award win, saying, “The Casino stands out for the sheer volume of material they recycle, but also for the support their resource recovery programs receive from a wide range of staff. We appreciate the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa’s commitment to caring for the environment and look forward to working with the Casino/Resort team going forward, to keep them on the cutting edge of reducing, reusing and recycling.”