Amazingly, Ann Arborites are recycling less today than they did at the turn of the millennium--the city's all-time high for collections, 12,011 tons, was set twelve years ago. But don't blame diminished environmental awareness. The biggest factor in the decline appears to be the loss of the city's daily newspaper.
Back in 2000, the Ann Arbor News printed more than 22 million copies a year. Today the biweekly AnnArbor. com prints just 3.5 million. If the average paper weighs a pound, the 2009 transition alone took more than 9,000 tons of newsprint out of the waste stream. City solid waste coordinator Tom McMurtrie believes that if it weren't for the switch to single-stream the following year, Ann Arbor's recycling volume would actually have fallen.
Single-family households still recycle and compost about as much as they send to the landfill--but that 50 percent "diversion rate" is unchanged from ten years ago, when the city adopted its last recycling plan. The previous plan aimed to get the diversion rate to 60 percent by now. Why did it fall short?
"Recycling has gone up," explains McMurtrie in an email, but tonnage at the city's compost center "has gone down with the elimination of the pickup of loose leaves on the street."