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‘COVID thing’ stalls county recycling

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena Resource Recovery Facility Manager Stan Mischley examines the address on a box that’s part of a large pile waiting to be recycled. He sends about a dozen letters a week to residents of other counties who have improperly dumped their recycling at the facility, Mischley said.

ALPENA — The cardboard pile reaches to the ceiling at the Alpena Resource Recovery Facility after a year of more recycling coming in than going out.

A year-end report summarizing 2020 activity shows the facility sent out 1.7 million pounds of recycling between October 2019 and September 2020.

That’s down significantly from the 2.3 million pounds shipped out the previous year, according to Stan Mischley, manager of the facility

A facility closure in late March and all of April to prevent the spread of the coronavirus kept Alpena County residents from dropping off recycling for a time, hurting facility staff’s chances of meeting their goal of 2 million pounds recycled each year.

Getting rid of the materials that came in during the year proved to be just as big a challenge “because of the COVID thing,” Mischley said.

Trucking companies and centers that process recycling into usable products, facing shutdowns and slowdowns of their own, weren’t available to help move all of Alpena’s recycling — some of which still sits in the facility yard, waiting for pickup.

Mischley is currently sitting on a half-ton of batteries that need to be shipped, plus a variety of plastics, papers, and other goods.

The pile of cardboard is normal for this time of year, Mischley said — it’s a natural byproduct of gift-opening extravaganzas on Christmas Day. Another recycling facility has agreed to store some of Alpena’s cardboard until trucks are available to move it to its next destination.

Regular pick-ups of electronics and hazardous materials, which used to be conducted twice a week from May to October, were nixed this year because the facility was getting overwhelmed with piles of materials waiting to be picked up, Mischley said.

An electronics collection in September netted 24,000 pounds of electronics, which were shipped off to a Traverse City center that pulls apart the delicate innards of tech devices, separating usable bits of metal and plastic until very little is left as scrap.

The next electronics pickup day will be in June, Mischley said.

Recycling facility employees are considered essential workers and will keep wrangling their piles until a regular rhythm of pick-ups is reestablished. Mischley isn’t sure whether they stand a chance of meeting their 2-million-pound goal this year or not.

“With the COVID thing, I can’t predict what’ll happen,” Mischley said. “We’ll do the best we can with what we have, and see what happens.”

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