Living Sustainably: Holland seeks better recycling outcomes

By Aaron Thelenwood, City of Holland

A new five-year agreement between Holland and Republic Services is structured
to drive recycling, increase overall landfill diversion, and ensure city residents are producing the highest
quality recycling materials possible.

The City of Holland has reached a new five-year waste and recycling agreement in the midst of major changes locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. The contract with Allied Waste Services, locally known as Republic Services of Holland, provides recycling, refuse, and yard waste collection for residential users.
Among those changes in the realm of recycling, locally Kent County is bringing online a state-of-the-art recycling campus which will greatly expand its capacity in both number of users and types of materials. The move will likely drive the recycling narrative across West Michigan.
On the state level, Gov. Rick Snyder has set ambitious goals to increase the state’s recycling rate from 15 percent to 45 percent. Also, legislation is being considered that would increase tipping fees to boost recycling infrastructure statewide and decrease landfill use.
This is all occurring in the shadow of international policies limiting the amount of recycled materials accepted by countries and a shrinking international market for recycled materials.

All of which highlights the need to control waste volumes. Motivations for limiting waste go beyond being green. A 2016 West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum study estimates the total potential economic impact of materials put in West Michigan landfills is $56 million.
Michigan is quickly moving to a perspective where waste materials are economic assets that need to be managed responsibly.
The City of Holland entered into this new agreement with all these factors in mind and has structured this new contract to drive recycling, increase overall landfill diversion, and ensure we are producing the highest quality recycling materials possible.
A waste characterization study will be completed within the first year to provide a comprehensive profile of what materials we recycle and dispose of, while identifying opportunities to increase diversion.
This study could be used in assessing the viability of programs like curbside composting. The study also will provide solid data about our recycling contamination rates.

Recycling in the City of Holland is as simple as putting all recyclable materials in yellow bags to be collected with regular trash.

The city uses a “commingled approach” to recycling where all approved recyclables are placed in yellow bags, tied and then placed in the garbage can. Recycling and landfill materials are picked up by the same truck. The yellow bags are then separated at Republic Services’ transfer station.
The city is also working to minimize its own waste stream. For years, the city’s Parks Department has processed into compost materials collected in spring and fall clean-ups. The Community & Neighborhood Services Department recently completed a waste audit and is testing whether more accurately sorting office refuse can drive down landfill waste.
In summary, Holland is continually looking for ways to be innovative, to establish fruitful partnerships, and to ensure we are taking responsibility for the materials we produce and dispose of throughout the community.
 Aaron Thelenwood is the City of Holland’s solid waste/recycling & sustainability coordinator. Go to for more information.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community & Neighborhood: The places we live and the individuals we interact with support the development of our personalities and perspectives on life. Encouraging vital and effective communities is essential.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.