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Kent County tries new approach to reduce waste in trash

40 percent of the material going into West Michigan's landfills is organic and can be recycled.
Courtesy of the Kent County Department of Public Works
40 percent of the material going into West Michigan's landfills is organic and can be recycled.

Our conversation with Darwin Baas

The Next Idea

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – one that’s worth about $56 million. That’s the estimated value of the wasted material sent to landfills every year, reports theWest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum(WMSBF).

Dar Baas is the Kent County Department of Public Works, and shared the department’s goals to help reduce Michigan’s landfill waste withStateside. He said 40% of the material going into landfills is organic material he described as having “nutrient value.”

“Twenty percent of what was going into the Kent County area landfills was paper,” Baas added. “There’s some real low-hanging fruit. There’s opportunity to recycle those things right now if we do it differently.”

By 2020, Baas said the department aims to reduce waste by 20%. That’s just before their next goal of slashing 90% of waste by 2030. But to reach those goals, residents and business need to be more mindful about what they’re throwing away.

Baas noted cardboard, paper, plastics and other “valuable” items are often sent to their landfill.

“They’re not thinking about ‘should I do something differently?’” Baas said. “They’re just so accustomed to putting [it] in the trash.”

In 2015 alone, four counties in West Michigan put out 3.8 million cubic yards – that’s equivalent to over four Michigan Stadiums. That kind of output isn’t sustainable, Baas said.

“We can not continue to generate that [and] use up all this land. So much of this material has value… we need to move that material back into the manufacturing stream.”

And Baas isn’t just talking about paper and dirt. The WMSBF also reports Kent County throws away $1 million in Michigan deposit containers each year.

Baas joined us on Stateside to call for public action on reducing waste with the county’s BPW.


Darwin Baas is the director of the Kent County Department of Public Works.

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Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Daniel Rayzel