A Michigan grad builds a model recycling system: BTN LiveBIG

A Michigan grad builds a model recycling system: BTN LiveBIG

Once upon a time, recyclable materials in the United States were sorted, loaded onto cargo ships and sailed across the Pacific Ocean to a nation with a seemingly endless appetite for our discarded materials. China happily processed papers good, plastics and scrap metal into their own products for export. And that “once upon a time” is only a few years passed.

Now though, a policy known as “National Sword” has placed strict limitations on what types of waste materials China will accept and who in the country can import such material. It’s a policy that has left the US, and other nations, scrambling for solutions to deal with a rapidly growing inventory of recyclables, due in large part to a lack of recycling infrastructure at home.

It’s a problem that University of Michigan alum Elisa Seltzer is all to familiar with. A graduate of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, Seltzer got her start in waste management as a curbside recycling coordinator. It was a hands-on job that allowed her to work throughout the recycling system, from collection to distribution, and gave her a sense for what works and what doesn’t.

She built upon this experience in her post as the public works director of Emmet County in Northern Michigan. There she created a recycling system that has become a model for municipal programs across the state and country.



Seltzer was able to convince the citizens and businesses of Emmet County that the long-term benefits far outweighed the pains associated with developing a robust recycling program. Today, the recycling and waste facility she constructed takes in 11,000 tons of material annually and provides jobs and a return of up to $1 million a year for the county. 95% of those materials are used by Michigan businesses, further bolstering the downstream economy in the state.

Speaking with the U-M news service, Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce president Carlin Smith elucidated the value added by the facility.

“Petoskey, and Emmet County in general, is just very proud of this recycling center. They’ve created something that’s now replicated all over. They’re providing jobs and creating a commodity that they can sell and then give back to our economy.”

Seltzer left her post with Emmet County in the early part of 2019 and started a new job as a senior consultant for the company Resource Recycling Systems. RRS is a Michigan-based company that provides a number of services, from waste recovery to corporate sustainability solutions. Seltzer’s wealth of municipal waste and recycling management experience position her to help other communities across the country devise systems and practices that fit their unique needs.