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The Emmet County Recycler of the Year Award honors individuals and businesses who have made an outstanding contribution khổng lồ Recycling in Emmet County. Lớn nominate someone for the award contact Kate Melby at 231-348-0640 or via email.

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2021 - Our Always-Essential Workers

From Guest Commentary distributed by our Communications Coordinator, Kate Melby

People try lớn 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 & recycling.


Yard signs are not generally recyclable. But rather than send it lớn 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 và 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 virut could spread via surface contact—they geared up & 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 & customers safe and maintain critical operations. Again and again, as new information & 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 và face shields to lớn their usual protective gear, & continued lớn hand sort the recyclables.

Drivers (They primarily collect recyclables from homes, businesses và drop-off sites.)First photo below, left khổng lồ right: Curbside Drivers Lauri Robinson and Grady Smyley, not pictured Jon ZoerhofSecond photo below, left khổng lồ right: Drop-site Drivers Harold Evans and Earl Marshall



At the same time, the gatehouse attendants—with new Plexiglas shields—continued to lớn serve the Drop-off Center’s customers. As the pandemic wore on, they managed a huge surge of transactions as residents isolating at trang chủ decluttered lượt thích never before!


However, the essential nature of these jobs runs much deeper than continuing waste & recycling services during emergencies: Removing garbage from our communities is a critical public health service every day. Recycling is fundamental khổng lồ manufacturing, the local economy, và 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 bộ vi xử lý core of composite decking, and steel cans & aluminum foil items used in everything from new cans khổng lồ 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 và cardboard. That pinch reflected in the market value of used cardboard, which leaped from $40 per ton khổng lồ $150 per ton!

Last but certainly not least, Emmet County’s recycling team is essential khổng lồ protecting the environment. Recycling has huge roles to lớn play in conserving resources; saving energy; reducing pressure khổng lồ 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 và 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.

Everyone Else Andi (Shepherd) Tolzdorf, DirectorWendy Fought, SuperintendentJosh Brubacher, Operations ManagerAshley Bur, Grants và Resources CoordinatorKate Melby, Communications và Education CoordinatorJayna Steffel, Administrative SecretaryLindsey Walker, Market Development and Commercial Accounts

About the Author: Kate Melby, Emmet County Recycling’s, Communications Coordinator, sprung this award on ALL of her coworkers & wouldn’t let any of them deny that they should be included.


When David Meikle và Steve Steffes opened their first restaurant in Petoskey, Tap30, they immediately signed up for Emmet County Recycling’s (ECR) curbside collection service. When ECR piloted collection of food scraps và other compostables from businesses in 2015, Tap30 was one of the inaugural customers. Và they haven’t stopped taking on new sustainability initiatives since! The partners soon added Pour Kitchen và Bar, one door west of Tap30 on Mitchell Street. Then Meikle & his wife Missy built The Back Lot, a bar “with food trucks” right behind Tap30 at 425 Michigan Street. Each step of the way, as their enterprises grew, the partners & their staff took kích hoạt to minimize and recover wastes from the businesses. For this proactive approach khổng lồ reducing, reusing và recycling, the three restaurants & their owners have been named Emmet County Recycling’s 2019 Recycler of the Year Award winners.

As Emmet County Recycling’s commercial food scraps collection pilot proceeded, ECR staff checked in with the businesses about how it was going. In late 2015, ECR Recycling Outreach leader Lindsey Walker contacted Tap30 sous chef Justin Reyes and chef Brian Roberts khổng lồ get their feedback. The two chefs reported that they were very food-waste conscious. Walker noted that they used consumer flow charts & tracked trends lớn be as prepared as possible lớn control ordering và production based on need, projecting out a year-long calendar based on business & events. Collecting the food scraps for composting (separate from the trash), they reported, was helpful not only because the scraps were composted, but because it allowed them to lớn actually see & track their food waste. And then the chefs went on khổng lồ ask if their Handy-Wacks basket-liner papers were compostable! (Answer: no, the wax isn’t compostable.)

Since then Tap30 and Pour have continued khổng lồ carefully analyze their waste & seek alternatives khổng lồ prevent or recover waste. They serve on real dishes & are always on the lookout for better environmental options. “We were just talking about how we are down khổng lồ two ‘waste items’ left: adhesive napkin bands and take-out sauce cups. We are actively looking for better alternatives,” said the group’s marketing lead, Sandra Thomas.

“For David và his team, sustainability is not an afterthought,” Walker said. “They were thinking about these issues before they even implemented the businesses.”

The Back Lot, which the Miekle’s built from the ground up offered even more opportunities for such planning. The Back Lot is open year round, but especially features a large beer garden which hosts food trucks in the warmer months. The Lot is a “zero-waste” business, reducing, reusing, recycling or composting over 90% of the waste they generate. The bar uses glassware & offers compostable straws only upon request. From the get go, the food trucks serving at The Back Lot (TBL) have been required to lớn use only compostable serviceware approved by Emmet County Recycling for composting at their Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center. Walker explained, “We have khổng lồ be careful; there are plastic forks, knives and spoons on the market that claim to be compostable, but which won’t break down in our piles. We ask businesses and events that plan to lớn compost waste with us to kiểm tra in before they buy ‘compostable’ service ware to make sure they are getting one of the brands we can process. No one wants plastic in their compost!”

As a result of this pre-planning, TBL customers can simply toss their utensils, boats and plates right in the compost bin with any food scraps leftover from their meal. “I don’t want to lớn misrepresent; there is some waste. But for the most part it is just what customers bring in with them, for example, baby food packaging,” said David Miekle.

In building The Back Lot, the Miekles designed in room for recycling infrastructure—a must on the otherwise tight alley—and put in a cistern khổng lồ store rainwater collected from the roof. The water will be used for their decorative plantings. “And I just got done meeting with a guy to lớn get a quote to bởi vì solar on the roof. In the summer we should be able to lớn generate all the electricity The Back Lot uses,” said David Miekle.

ECR asks everyone lớn help them thank the Tap30, Pour, & Back Lot teams for their sustainability efforts and to congratulate them on their Recycler of the Year Award win.

For more information on Emmet County’s Recycler of the Year Award or to nominate an individual, institution, or business for the award, visit oered.org or gọi Kate Melby, ECR Communications Coordinator at 231-348-0640.


The Grain Train’s Petoskey market’s recycling efforts are evident from the moment customers walk in the door: stacks of xanh crates in the foyer are ready to lớn receive reusable old-fashioned glass milk bottles from Shetler’s Dairy in Kalkaska. Just inside the store proper, reusable fabric produce bags made from recycled pop bottles are for sale above the fresh broccoli & beets. (Though even the produce bags off the rolls are made from recycled material.) toilet paper and paper towel options are 100% recycled content and up to 90% post-consumer recycled.

At the self-serve food bar, waste reduction is encouraged by racks of plates, bowls, và flatware. For those who must use a carry-out container, boxes và cups are ones carefully selected for sustainability and purchased “in bulk” by the National Co-op Grocer’s Association–of which the Grain Train is one of 147 members. As an example, Chelsea Jarvis, Operations Manager, noted, “They just changed the source of the coffee cups because the ink used lớn print the new ones is more sustainable.” The association’s thành viên cooperatives also chia sẻ best practices and data, challenging each other lớn reduce waste & energy use

While many stores và restaurants recycle from their behind-the-scenes operations, the Grain Train stands out for also offering recycling front-of-house, in other words, for its customers. This is difficult because thousands of customers can’t be trained on proper recycling in the way dozens of employees can be. Jarvis noted that putting actual pictures of the recyclable items customers use in the store on the bins has been key to getting the public recycling right. The front-of-house recycling even includes collecting food scraps, napkins and paper towels for composting.

The Grain Train was founded in Petoskey in 1971 and was reducing, reusing, and recycling long before Emmet County took over local recycling services in 1990 & began expanding them. From the get-go the market offered bulk foods—which reduce waste by allowing customers to buy just what they need–and encouraged customers to buy them in reusable jars. According to lớn Dale Scott, who worked at the Grain Train from 1983-1993, customers also brought in their extra paper grocery bags for the store to use and, “We never bought any bags in the 10 years I worked there.” Employees và community members frequently took food scraps from the store home to feed pigs & chickens or lớn compost.

Through the years, employees và farmers have continued khổng lồ reclaim food scraps from the Grain Train to lớn feed livestock or to lớn recycle by composting. Putting food waste lớn the best possible use has been a particular focus recently. With nearly 340,000 customer visits in 2017 the numbers really added up: the stores donated 6,156 pounds of imperfect produce to the Manna Food Project và an even greater volume of packaged groceries; local farmers took roughly 72,800 pounds khổng lồ feed their animals or compost; and, to lớn help keep up with volume, the store recycled another 7,168 pounds of food scraps through Emmet County’s commercial composting service.

Behind the scenes, the stores recycle large amounts of film plastic và cardboard, and support local suppliers’ reuse efforts, for example saving carrot bins for Country Gardens, trays for plants from Bear Creek Organics, & boxes for Providence Farm. “Waste reduction và recycling is what we do. It is how we conduct our business. We don’t see it as separate,” said Jarvis.

Kate Melby, Communications Coordinator for Emmet County Recycling, presented the recycling award lớn the Grain Train at the cooperative’s annual General Membership Meeting, held at North Central Michigan College’s cafeteria. Surveying the dinner, Melby said, “You can see their recycling ethic right here: at a casual, off-site event, most organizations would use disposable plates, cups, & plastic flatware. The Grain Train went with THE best zero-waste option: real linens and dishes. Love it!”


They also regularly recover roughly 1,200 pounds of scrap metal, 300 pounds of batteries, và 1,000 pallets a year, the later largely reused in Casino operations and by employees. Electronics & ink cartridges are recycled too. Fluorescent bulbs were recycled, but are now being replaced with LED lighting khổng lồ 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 & the Hotel, is very supportive of recycling. “When they have something new—for example when replacing soap fixtures—they will come khổng lồ us & ask if it is recyclable,” noted Mowbray. The Casino Maintenance Department is central to the system, hauling recyclables lớn the Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center.

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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 búp phê for composting. “If we didn’t have the stewarding department, we wouldn’t have recycling in the restaurants,” said Laughlin, adding shout outs lớn 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 & floral scraps khổng lồ 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 khổng lồ composting. Now the county is beginning to lớn pilot winter food waste collection and the Casino is on board, figuring out all the logistics presented by the cold & ice.

Having the buffet’s food waste collected for composting allowed the Casino lớn reach a great milestone this past summer: they were able khổng lồ reduce collection of garbage (handled using a waste compactor, as most large institutions do) from once every ten days lớn once every trăng tròn 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 khổng lồ store và haul the materials. A baler on site has made cardboard storage và hauling more efficient và Laughlin & Mowbray are experimenting with baling the containers as well. They definitely plan to địa chỉ cửa hàng food scraps collection at the Casino’s fine dining restaurant & 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 tư vấn their resource recovery programs receive from a wide range of staff. We appreciate the Little Traverse bay Bands of Odawa’s commitment khổng lồ caring for the environment & look forward lớn working with the Casino/Resort team going forward, lớn keep them on the cutting edge of reducing, reusing & recycling.”

The décor at Julienne Tomatoes hangs together so harmoniously that customers might not consciously notice that the reuse goes beyond the coffee mugs. Tom Sheffler, the eponymous “tomato” partner in the venture, recalls that they got the tables và chairs second hand, here & there. “I don’t think we paid over $20 for a chair or over $60 for a table.” The big community table at the front of restaurant was a gift one of the leaders of the Young Americans. And much of the tomato-themed art on the walls also came to the pair as gifts from enthusiastic customers.

The partners’ frugality does not extend lớn the restaurant’s ingredients—they’re impeccably fresh, top-of-the-line and, as much as possible, local. But the reuse continues with the incoming packaging. Produce crates for Coveyou Scenic Farm & clean egg boxes & trays for Cook Family Farm are stacked neatly in the basement waiting khổng lồ be reused. Their maple syrup và honey suppliers—Harwood Heritage in Charlevoix and Indian River Wilderness Honey–bottle their honey syrup in glass jugs which are sterilized & returned for refilling. On the other end, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council uses the restaurant’s 5-gallon pickle buckets for water sampling. Gallon glass jars are given away lớn happy reusers, too.

Recycling is a given at Julienne Tomatoes (JT). Asked if they recycled the first year they were open, before curbside recycling was available, Julie didn’t recall, “I can’t remember when we didn’t recycle,” she said. What is most remarkable about their recycling efforts is the way they take it beyond simply putting milk jugs, steel cans & the like in the bins. Tom put a picture of their small fleet of recycling bins, neatly set out at the curb, on the “We’re Involved” page of their web site. They have made a point of buying paper towels manufactured by Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan which are made from recycled paper cartons–including JT’s half-and-half cartons recycled through Emmet County–and then posted about it on Facebook. Amazed that, “…the kids don’t know,” they teach any new employees who don’t already participate how to lớn recycle. They have repeatedly donated lovely breakfasts for staff meetings at the Emmet County Recycling Center (held at 6:30 a.m. Before all the trucks head out). They even pop out and give their recycling truck driver a soda or coffee!

Julienne Tomatoes helps their customers recycle, too. Julie abhors Styrofoam and makes a point of choosing recyclable containers for carry out, even though they cost considerably more. Their trays for carry-out hot entrees are dishwasher safe & reusable, while frozen take-and-bake entrees come in an aluminum pan with a recyclable plastic lid.

Despite their outstanding reuse và recycling efforts, Julie & Tom & their staff are not satisfied to rest on their laurels. The next frontier for them, recycling-wise, is composting their kitchen scraps. A local farmer has approached them about picking up their back-of-house compostables lớn enrich the soil on his farm.

In presenting JT’s Recycler of the Year Award, Emmet County Recycling Director Elisa Seltzer said, “Your recycling—and reuse–is as outstanding as your cooking and that’s saying a lot! Thank you for recycling & for your tư vấn of Emmet County Recycling.” Seltzer encourages everyone to stop by Julienne Tomatoes, buy a sandwich, congratulate them, và give them a stray mug.

Emmet County Recycling’s 2012 Recycler of the Year Award winner has small town roots, but international reach. Travel lớn any city and the company’s goods are likely underfoot: production one day recently included fire hydrants for Chicago, tree grates for Philadelphia, and manhole covers for Bell Canada. In total their products are used in 140 countries and, following numerous acquisitions over the past 25 years, their operations span five continents. The winner is EJ, formerly known in this area as East Jordan Iron Works. Along with its corporate headquarters, one of the company’s two U.S. Foundries is located in East Jordan. EJ also has a water products machining, assembly và manufacturing facility in the area.

While 2012’s is Emmet County’s 11th Recycler of the Year award presentation, the East Jordan Foundry is the first manufacturing facility using recycled materials from the Emmet County Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, or recycle processing facility) khổng lồ win the award. EJ cast iron products average 85% recycled content. This recycled content includes steel (“tin”) cans from the Emmet County MRF: those recycled by residents of Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan and Presque Isle Counties. However these are the only cans used as EJ feedstock because the blocks of cans produced by most MRFs are of a size and consistency that aren’t compatible with handling equipment at the East Jordan foundry. More typical sources include tự động scrap, obsolete scrap appliances & steel from demolition of buildings collected by scrap metal yards, like A&L in Gaylord.

EJ has been buying bricked (compressed into blocks) cans from the ECMRF since 2001. Emmet County Recycling Director Elisa Seltzer remembers developing the system. “When we approached EJ about recycling our tin cans, they informed us we’d need special sorting techniques và equipment to lớn meet their specifications,” she said. “Eager to secure a local market, in 2001 we found a used bricker & had it refurbished. It is still in use today.” The “bricks” are about the kích cỡ of a microwave oven và weigh roughly 90 pounds each. In 2011 EJ bought 104 tons of bricked cans from the ECMRF.

“We’re constantly working to lớn develop uses for our waste streams,” said Tom Teske, EJ Americas Vice President và General Manager. Recycling at EJ is part of the process as well as the product. They recycle all of their paper through a shredding company & collect cardboard, bottles and cans as well. Hazardous materials like fluorescent lamps, aerosol cans, & electronics are recycled, too. Even their office building is reused: a portion of the headquarters structure was at one time a creamery.

Foundry byproducts from melting and molding processes are their biggest out-bound recyclables. Slag—a gritty, tan mineral material produced in the melting process—is spread on area dirt roads in place of sand to lớn improve traction when conditions are icy. The green sand which makes up casting molds is reused in production, then, at the kết thúc of its usable life, a lot of it is used by St. Mary’s Cement in Charlevoix.

From these green beginnings, EJ infrastructure access products go on to lớn green futures. Teske noted that they serve important functions in water, sewer và energy distribution systems. And though the creation & distribution of cast iron products is energy intensive, they are very long lasting. Because of their recycled content, EJ products are often used by architects and engineers to lớn help earn points toward achieving LEED (green building) certification for their construction projects. Their cast iron fixtures are naturally rust resistant và do not require any finish coating. Và finally, at over of their useful life, they can be recycled once again.