On July 15, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) took 80 people through the Kent County Waste to Energy Facility and City of Grand Rapids Water Resource Recovery Facility. Cosponsored by the Kent County Department of Public Works and Grand Rapids Community College, the event began at the Grand Rapids Community College M-TEC a mile away. The groups shuttled between sites for each hour-long tour.
A regional collaboration of business, government, non-profits, and academia dedicated to the triple bottom line — people, planet, profit — WMSBF hosted the tours to support one of its goals: to create a circular economy that reduces, reuses, and recycles its resources in order to eliminate waste.
“These are two of the most prominent examples that show how our community handles its wastewater and the vast majority of our solid waste,” says Daniel Schoonmaker, executive director, WMSBF. “All solid waste from most surrounding cities is directed to that (county) facility. We are spreading the idea that waste has value.”
For nearly 30 years, The Kent County Waste to Energy facility has been reducing the amount of solid waste going to landfills by converting it to energy. The facility handles waste from Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Walker, Kentwood, Wyoming, and Grandville. According to its website, from 1990 through 2017, the facility has processed 5 million tons of refuse, generating electricity for 11,000 homes (approximately 100,943,000 kWh each year). In addition, it has recovered more than 124,000 tons of scrap steel that would have otherwise not been recycled and preserved 10 years of South Kent Landfill space, extending the life of the landfill.
One highlight of the City of Grand Rapids Water Resource Recovery Facility tour was its new biodigester, which is currently under construction. When waste reaches a biodigester, bacteria and microorganisms break it down, transforming it into biogas that can generate electricity. WMSBF’s director, Daniel Schoonmaker, believes the public/private partnerships moving this project forward are an important example of how the City of Grand Rapids finds success in its greening initiatives.
“Having a biodigester that’s a water resource recovery facility is the emerging trend nationally,” he says. “It is a meaningful and progressive approach into addressing the growing amount of end-users [producing waste].”
The City of Grand Rapids has stated that without the biodigester, the current system's capacity will max out within a few years. While a recent MLive headline stated that the biodigester’s costs are far more than expected, Schoonmaker stands behind its value to the community.
“It’s an investment in the future,” he says. “Honestly, I am never surprised to hear about a municipal or a private initiative having a cost overrun. That’s the nature of development.”
Founders Brewing Co. has made a commitment to be the City’s first biodigester customer. The brewery generates approximately 140,000 gallons of water discharge carrying highly concentrated brewing wastes each day. In all, the Water Resource Recovery Facility treats 40 million gallons of water used daily by City residents before returning it to the watershed via the Grand River.
“I’ve been to both facilities before. This is a small thing that always impresses me when I walk through: the use of rain gardens and live walls. The thing that I’m generally most taken away with is the way that waste is managed. As you come upon the site, there’s not a noticeable odor,” Schoonmaker says. “These facilities show that when sustainability initiatives are done well, we are able to mitigate potential regrets by investing in technology that is truly sustainable.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum