Trash, scrap metal seized from home recycling business by Grand Rapids officials

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Grand Rapids police and city workers seized several loads of trash and scrap metal Tuesday morning from a resident who runs a recycling business out of his backyard in violation of city rules.

Bill Peterson, who lives at 639 Cherry St. SE, said city officials arrived at his house and loaded various items – aluminum radiators, buckets of brass and zinc items, copper wire, stainless steel sinks – into a dump truck and two vans.

He said Tuesday’s seizure, the latest in a series of enforcement actions by the city, angered him for disrupting his mission to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill.

“What annoys me is that the planet is overheating, the landfill is overloaded, and all of our systems are polluted,” said Peterson, 71, whose recycling company is called Peterson Trailer Trash.

“Instead of trying to tell someone to do something about it, I’m actually literally doing something about it.”

Peterson says he has been arguing with the city for “at least 20 years” over his garbage recycling business. For his business, he collects rubbish, sorts it in his backyard and then brings it for recycling.

City spokesman Steve Guitar said in an email that city officials have been working since June 2020 to enforce the zone code in Peterson’s house. He said Peterson was breaking the city’s harassment rule.

Peterson received a notification of his zoning violation on June 26, 2020, and later a civil law misdemeanor on November 6, 2020, according to city records.

The city issued a search and seizure warrant Tuesday morning after taking all of the usual enforcement steps, Guitar said. The city did not provide MLive with additional information such as the amount and type of materials seized.

Jim Winter-Troutwine, a neighborhood resident and friend of Peterson’s, said he wished there was some way for Peterson to continue his work without city interference. Peterson should be granted a derogation from the building code, he said.

“He does it because he cares about the environment and does no harm,” said Winter-Troutwine.

While several loads of rubbish were seized, Peterson’s back yard remained full of rubbish ranging from piles of wood and metal to bottle crates and old fire extinguishers.

And despite Tuesday’s raid, Peterson says recycling is his passion and he has no plans to quit his job.

“The river is full of trash, the air is full of dung, the landfill is overloaded,” said Peterson. “Every competent government official we’ve had at all levels over the past few years has said that the people on this planet need to recycle more than they are.”

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