The Emmet County Recycler of the Year Award honors individuals and businesses who have made an outstanding contribution to recycling, composting, or--even better--waste reduction or reuse in Emmet County. To nominate someone for the award contact our Communications Coordinator at 231-348-0640 or via email.
Potatoes. 6,000 pounds of potatoes. Who can take a donation of 6,000 pounds of good, free potatoes from a farmer and get them to people in need? Emmet, Charlevoix, and Antrim county residents know: the Manna Food Project.
Now Emmet County Recycling has presented its 2022 Recycler of the Year Award to the Manna Food Project so area residents also know what a great job they do in the realm of reducing, reusing and recycling. As Lindsey Walker, Emmet County Recycling’s commercial accounts coordinator, put it, “The Manna Food Project is an exemplary leader in waste reduction. They really do it all.”
The EPA encourages best-practices in waste management and food recovery by clearly ranking options from best to worst on “hierarchies.” (Think of the food pyramid flipped on its tip, with the best option located at the top.) Manna stands out for taking on the strategies ranked better than ordinary recycling and composting.
The popular phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” captures the ranking of these options on the EPA’s ”Waste Management Hierarchy”: reducing is even better than reusing, which is better than recycling. All of these are far better than landfilling or burning waste.
Like nearly every operation of any size, the Manna Food Project recycles a lot of cardboard: an average of roughly 11 tons of cardboard a year! But before they recycle boxes they use the better option “up the hierarchy” by reusing. Specifically, they reuse banana boxes to pack food bound for the 42 food pantries they serve. “Banana boxes to us are a commodity,” said Bob MacKenzie, Manna’s Rescue Program Manager.
They also supply numerous area schools with backpacks of food that students at risk of hunger can pick up on Fridays to ensure they have enough to eat over the weekend. Manna packs the bags for each school into used boxes which the schools then return for reuse. MacKenzie estimates that each box is used eight to ten times before it wears out.
But where the Manna Food Project really shines is in managing food that might otherwise be landfilled. One of the top options on the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy is using such food to “feed hungry people” and Manna does it on a grand scale. Five days a week, they collect donations of surplus food from local farms, grocery stores, restaurants, and bakeries. (Examples of these food rescue partners are featured on their website). This program rescues more than 400,000 pounds of food each year!
Next down the Food Recovery Hierarchy is feeding farm animals. When Manna has large quantities of food unfit for humans but still good, they try to provide it to farmers to feed animals, typically pigs.
And should some of the food go bad before it can be distributed—as some of the 6,000 pounds of potatoes had—Project volunteers will sort it out from the good and put it in Manna’s compost carts. The carts are provided as part of Emmet County’s commercial food-scraps collection program. The food scraps are picked up by the County once a week for delivery to the Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center. There they are combined with dry leaves and composted. The County reports that the Manna has composted over 30,000 pounds of food in just four years.
Emmet County Recycling asks everyone to join them in thanking the Manna Food Project’s staff, board, and volunteers for going the extra mile to use the best options in waste management and food recovery.
From Guest Commentary distributed by our Communications Coordinator, Kate Melby
People try to recycle the darndest things!
In late 2020, a yard sign showed up on the containers sorting line at the Emmet County recycle-processing facility. Not an election sign; it was one of those signs, common during the early months of COVID, thanking essential workers including those in waste disposal and recycling.
Yard signs are not generally recyclable. But rather than send it to the landfill, someone propped it up in a prominent corner and there is has stayed as a reminder of the community’s gratitude. However, that sign in the corner, while very nice, was clearly not enough; Emmet County Recycling’s employees deserved a more formal show of appreciation. So this year, on December 9, everyone on our team was presented our 2021 Recycler of the Year Award.
Recycling and waste-transfer-station workers have enjoyed the signs (and other as expressions of gratitude) as they have stayed on the job through all kinds of COVID challenges. During the early weeks of the pandemic—when no was sure whether the virus could spread via surface contact—they geared up and kept the recyclables and garbage moving.
The management team—all new in to their positions in 2019—made the hard calls about how to keep staff and customers safe and maintain critical operations. Again and again, as new information and mandates developed, the managers thoughtfully weighed all the factors and moved forward.
On the oddly quiet streets, curbside and drop-site recycling truck drivers picked up bins of potentially coronavirus-laden recyclables. The recycle-processing crew designed their own cardboard workstation dividers, added masks and face shields to their usual protective gear, and continued to hand sort the recyclables.
At the same time, the gatehouse attendants—with new Plexiglas shields—continued to serve the Drop-off Center’s customers. As the pandemic wore on, they managed a huge surge of transactions as residents isolating at home decluttered like never before!
However, the essential nature of these jobs runs much deeper than continuing waste and recycling services during emergencies: Removing garbage from our communities is a critical public health service every day. Recycling is fundamental to manufacturing, the local economy, and environmental protection.
Recyclables show up back in the economy as ordinary products we encounter around us every day. Just a few examples include cardboard recycled into cereal boxes, used glass jars made into new ones, plastic bags mixed with sawdust forming the core of composite decking, and steel cans and aluminum foil items used in everything from new cans to vehicles.
Manufacturers rely on their recycled materials and struggle when supply gets tight or demand surges. For example, in 2020, shipping-box manufacturers were pinched when the sudden increase in online purchases expanded demand for boxes at the same time that suspension of some recycling programs decreased the available supply of used paper and cardboard. That pinch reflected in the market value of used cardboard, which leaped from $40 per ton to $150 per ton!
Last but certainly not least, Emmet County’s recycling team is essential to protecting the environment. Recycling has huge roles to play in conserving resources; saving energy; reducing pressure to compromise wildlife habitat to mine, log, expand cropland, or drill for fossil fuels; and cutting pollution including greenhouse gases.
To reach recycling’s potential takes dynamic management and hardworking, engaged sorters, drivers, equipment operators, and administrative staff, with all working as as customer-service people. Emmet County is fortunate to have this great team.
About the Author: Kate Melby, Emmet County Recycling’s, Communications Coordinator, sprung this award on ALL of her coworkers and wouldn’t let any of them deny that they should be included.
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