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| 3 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

It uses recycled motor oil to heat its facility.

Located on Werkner Road, just outside Chelsea, the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority works with six local municipalities in a partnership that has the mission of working together to find alternative ways to handle waste and promote recycling.

It recycles around 7,000 tons a year as a single stream recycling center.

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And soon it will add an artificial intelligence robot to enhance its sorting team, which includes nine full-time employees and one part-timer.

WWRA shares a location with the city of Chelsea Solid Waste Department at 8025 Werkner Road. It offers curbside recycling to Chelsea residents weekly and provides drop-off bins in Chelsea and throughout the WWRA service area.

The contracted partnership includes providing some form of services to the city Chelsea and the townships of Dexter, Lyndon, Manchester, Bridgewater, and Lima. With the city, there is curbside pick up while the townships have drop-off bin sites.

The Sun Times News recently took a tour of the facility to get a better idea of what the WWRA is.

When asked why the WWRA is important, it’s manager Marc Williams said, “Because we preserve landfill space and provide the highest quality of recycling service to the residents in our local community.” 

After the recycled items are sorted on Werkner Road, they are shipped to Graphic Packaging fibers in Kalamazoo, Clean Tech plastics in Dundee, ReMM plastics and Reflective Strategic glass in Chicago.

The funding for the WWRA comes from a 20 percent tax assessment from contracts and 80 percent through product revenue. Williams said during his time as manager they have not sent any items to China, which was for years a major destination for many recycled items from the U.S. but that changed when the market became more challenging and China stopped collecting items.

The WWRA has a long history since it began in 1991. Some of the recent historical highlights saw the construction of the new facility in 2012 and the introduction of the new single-stream sorting equipment.

Single stream is when all kinds of recyclables such as plastics, paper, and metals are put into a single bin by consumers, and then these are collected and transported to the Werkner facility where they are sorted and processed.

The WWRA takes in paper, plastic, metal, glass, car/truck batteries (not household batteries) and used motor oil-drop off only. For Chelsea residents, the glass is drop off because during the setting out and pick-up process it can get broken and mixed in with the other materials, which means it can’t be separated and sorted into the glass collection area at the facility. The glass the WWRA picks up from the drop off bin sites is already sorted, so it can be transferred directly to the vendor pick up.

There’s a pretty extensive list of what can’t be recycled and its important residents understand this, according to the WWRA.

Items not to send to WWRA include mirrors, window glass, or light bulbs, tires, paints, styrofoam of any kind, bubble wrap, computers, monitors, keyboards and printers, visqueen, pool covers, plastic tarps, and plastic bags.

Williams said to get the robot, which will help sort plastic, they are getting some through a grant. He said they hope to have it in place in May. They are also looking to get in operation a fully automated curbside truck, in which the driver does not have to exit the vehicle because it has an automated arm that comes out from the vehicle, grabs around the outside of the cart, dumps its contents into the truck and then replaces the cart at the curb.

Another view of the WWRA comes from Jason Maciejewski, Washtenaw County Commissioner for Dexter, Chelsea and the townships of Scio, Lima, Dexter, Sylvan, and Lyndon. He helped the WWRA transition the organization through a conversion to the single-stream system.

“I had the pleasure of serving on the WWRA board for 10 years, the final three as chairperson,” Maciejewski said. “Now, as a county commissioner, I am working to further improve and expand recycling countywide.”

For him, the importance of the WWRA begins with its history and what it is.

“The WWRA has been providing recycling services for western Washtenaw County since the early 1990s,” he said. “As a publicly owned authority, the WWRA operates a small, efficient and productive material processing facility that guarantees locally collected recyclable materials make their way into the recycling stream. The more we can recycle the less landfill space is used, natural resources are saved and less energy is used.” 

He also points to things such as its annual spring clean-up day in partnership with the county so people can properly recycle items like tires, electronics, batteries, and oils as another important service it offers. 

He said in getting to the WWRA a good place to start is with its website to see what can and cannot be recycled. 

“The large green drop off bins located around the area are good to utilize for large cardboard items that don’t fit into the curbside recycling bins,” Maciejewski said. “It is important to remember that trash should not be placed into curbside recycling bins or the large green drop off bins. The trash that is pulled out of the recycling stream during sorting goes to a landfill at a total cost of up to $70,000 each year. The biggest thing people could do to help the WWRA, which is taxpayer-owned, is to not put trash into recycling bins, this includes plastic bags.” 

In addition, he said it’s good to remember the entire WWRA operation is run with nine dedicated team members who work hard in a sometimes challenging environment. 

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