Michigan city reconsiders ‘yellow bag’ recycling system

The yellow bags Holland, Michigan, residents use to dispose of their recyclables are breaking during collection.

February 19, 2020

A recent audit of waste processes in Holland, Michigan, found that the yellow bags residents use to dispose of their recyclables are constantly breaking during collection, WZZM13 reports. The bags are placed in the same carts as trash and sorted by Republic Services. According to the audit, 75 percent of materials collected in yellow bags are lost after becoming contaminated during collection or compaction.

China’s restrictions on imported recyclables have highlighted issues with the yellow bag program, says Keith Van Beek, Holland’s city manager.

“We’ve had this system for about 10 years,” he says. “The system worked reasonably well, but now there is a much higher need for materials that are not contaminated. We don’t want to have a system where 75 percent of the recyclables are not [going to] be able to be recycled.”

The city’s current contract with Republic Services has three years remaining. Leaders plan to renegotiate a switch to have homeowners separate trash and recyclables into two carts picked up by different trucks.

“We’re actually looking at a system that, in some ways, is less efficient,” Van Beek says. “However, efficiency isn’t the most important thing. The effectiveness of the program is obviously very important.”

The audit found that 54 percent of Holland residents recycle using the yellow bags. In 2013, Michigan's average recycling rate was 15 percent, according to the Michigan Recycling Coalition.