Flint water crisis creates new opportunity for Republic’s struggling recycling program

As the people of Flint, MI turn to bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, they’re rapidly signing on to recycling services — a situation that Republic Services calls a “silver lining.”

Flint, MI residents have turned to bottled water in the face of its water crisis, even for cooking and bathing. So far, the state alone has handed out more than 176,000 cases of bottled water and as the bottles pile up, residents are beginning to recycle — a change for the city, whichRepublic Services is happy to see.

The 15% of the 40,000 residents who were already recycling are being joined by hundreds of new sign-ons, according to Republic’s Municipal Services Manager Gary Hicks. The company is taking its newly retrieved waste to a landfill near Flint, compressing it and trucking it to New Boston near the Ohio border. The processed materials are used to make products like more bottles and T-shirts.

Republic’s free curbside recycling, which includes bins delivered to customers’ homes, is being supplemented by a coalition-sponsored drop-off program.

Millions of bottles have been sent to Flint since early January, precipitated by the discovery of hazardous levels of lead in Flint’s water source. And now the city is recycling to unload those accumulating bottles.

“This is a new culture,” said Arnold Brown, the city’s operations supervisor who’s supported the city’s waste removal operations for 20 years. Flint’s recycling program, less than 3 years old, had little momentum before the water crisis.

Hicks anticipates the new momentum to recycle will continue and that Flint will surpass 40% diversion from landfill through recycling in the near future, which if it happens will put a city that just was not into recycling at about 6% above the national rate.

“Republic Services is dedicated to serving the residents of Flint during the ongoing water emergency. Whenever possible, we encourage residents in Flint to recycle their water bottles and other plastic containers,” said Republic spokesperson Jennifer Eldridge, adding that the company will continue to work closely with state and local officials on the coordination of recycling and waste services in the days and weeks ahead.

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