Environment Picture

City mulls options for cheaper, safer post-incinerator garbage disposal

MEC, allies help forge new blueprint for recycling, more efficient disposal
A blueprint for a cleaner, healthier, cheaper way of handling Detroit’s waste is being considered by Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. in the wake of the city’s decision to stop burning garbage at the expensive, polluting Detroit incinerator.

The blueprint, called the New Business Model, was authored by a coalition of groups that included the Michigan Environmental Council. It was adopted by the Detroit City Council in May. It incorporates recycling, green jobs, and reuse of materials, and an environmental justice resolution is now sitting in the office of Detroit Public Works (DPW).

The Detroit City Council has allocated funds to implement a pilot recycling program in the early part of 2009. The coalition is now conducting recycling educational forums across the city to inform the residents of how recycling works. This is being done while the coalition waits on a meeting with the director of the city’s Department of Public Works and Mayor Cockrel.

The meeting is to address concerns of the coalition such as:
  • A smooth transition to a waste recovery materials system;
  • A clear, concise plan for implementation of a curbside recycling program;
  • A public relations program to promote recycling;
  • Exploration of economic development related to recycling; and
  • New landfill contract for non-recycled waste.

The coalition is also busy instituting a letter writing campaign of residents to the mayor, showing support for the curbside recycling program. Until the curbside recycling is put into place, the coalition is promoting various recycling drop-off sites throughout the City of Detroit.

It is an exciting turning point for Detroiters, who since 1986 have been saddled with the incinerator.

On May 30, 2008, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sent a letter to Coventa (the management group for the incinerator’s owners) and the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority (the operating entity), stating the City of Detroit would not renew its lease with the Detroit incinerator.

The result is an opportunity for cheaper, safer options for trash disposal, including better recycling programs.

The incinerator burns an estimated 800,000 tons of waste and household material each year, emitting smog-forming nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead and dioxins into neighborhoods already polluted from heavy industrial and manufacturing entities. Such pollution is one of the reasons why childhood asthma rates in Detroit are three times the national average, and other diseases are more prevalent among Detroiters than is typical.

The incinerator’s burden was economic, too. At $170 a ton, Detroiters pay five to seven times more than suburbanites who use regional landfills and aggressive recycling programs to dispose of their trash.

A coalition of environmental activists and groups—including the Michigan Environmental Council and member groups Sierra Club, Ecology Center and East Michigan Environmental Action Council, along with allies, including Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Rosedale Recycles, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and many others—waged a long campaign to close the incinerator.
-Sandra Turner-Handy
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