March 2006

Imported trash

By Andy Rogers

Adrian, MI— The dramatic increase in trash imports to the Lenawee County’s only landfill in 2005 reported by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality does not tell the whole story, a landfill official says, but local leaders are still searching for a way to halt out-of-state trash shipments to Michigan.

The DEQ released a report on February 3 that shows a 2 percent increase in trash coming to Michigan from other states. In Lenawee County, state Rep. Dudley Spade, D-Tipton, held a news conference before the report’s release condemning a much more dramatic rise in local out-of-state waste disposal. Trash from sources other than Michigan disposed of in the Adrian Landfill jumped 178 percent from 2004 to 2005, Spade reported. But one landfill manager said a significant portion of that waste will actually create more capacity in the Adrian Landfill.

For several months in early 2005, the only out-of-state garbage deposited in the local landfill was a beneficial mixture of shredded automobile components called “shredder fluff,” said Matt Terrill, a Great Lakes Waste Services manager.

“That certainly played into the figures,” he said.

Shredder fluff is used to replace soil as a cover material in landfills. It consists of shredded plastics and other non-metal automobile parts. The fluff can be used as a substitute for soil in landfill covering, a practice required by law.

When the fluff is used to cover waste in place of soil, it compacts and retains water much better than dirt, Terrill said. The compaction adds capacity to the landfill, while the extra water prevents seepage and aids in the combustion of trash. It also helps keep the combusting trash at a good temperature for decomposition.

“It really has a huge benefit to the landfill and the life of the landfill,” Terrill said.

The Adrian Landfill took in tons of the fluff early in 2005, Terrill said. Because it comes from New England, the fluff contributed to the sharp increase in imported trash reported by the DEQ, Terrill explained.

“At that point in time, that was all the waste that was imported,” he said, adding that Adrian Landfill has only accepted imported trash from east coast states since 2004, when a directive to stop accepting waste from neighboring states was handed down.

Statistics from the DEQ show overall dumping in Lenawee County actually decreased in 2005 despite the spike in imported garbage. Spade reported that Lenawee County took in 26,000 tons of trash from Massachusetts, Ohio and Rhode Island, compared to 9,400 tons in 2004, all from Ohio. The DEQ report shows the Adrian Landfill also took in trash from in-state sources in Calhoun, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Monroe and Washtenaw counties, comprising 131,286 cubic yards of the 657,696 disposed of at the landfill last year.

Despite the potential benefits of the shredder fluff to the Adrian Landfill, Spade and other state leaders continue to assert that trash importation is a public health and environmental issue that needs to be addressed immediately. They point to waste spills that have occurred in Michigan communities when waste-hauling trucks have been involved in accidents. They say those trucks cause unnecessary wear and tear on the state’s roads and aren’t responsible for the repair bill.

State legislators have few options in curbing trash importation, however, because interstate solid waste shipments are protected and regulated by the federal government.

What can be done, Spade said, is passage of a Democratic-sponsored package of bills designed to make Michigan a less attractive dumping ground.

The DEQ reported that in 2005, 29 percent of solid waste dumped in Michigan landfills came from outside the state’s borders. The largest source of that waste was Canada, which increased its waste shipments to Michigan by 3 percent from 2004 to 2005.

“It is discouraging to see the amount of waste being brought into Michigan from outside of our borders continue to increase,” DEQ Director Steven E. Chester said through a press release. “This fact must call attention to the need for real action on solid waste issues in the Legislature.”

His agency cites recent successes by other states, including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, in curbing the tide of out-of-state trash to their landfills by raising a state-imposed fee on each ton of trash dumped at a landfill.

A proposal to raise Michigan’s fee from 21 cents per ton to $7.50 has gained widespread support by Democrats in Lansing, but Republicans argue the fee will amount to a tax increase on landfill users from Michigan, too. Under the Democratic plan, the additional revenue raised through the fee increase would fund local recycling initiatives.

Spade supports the fee increase and has advocated putting the issue before voters later this year if Republicans continue to stall the fee hike.

Judith Holcomb, chairman of the Lenawee County Solid Waste Coordinating Committee, said she has not yet formed an opinion on the proposed legislation.

“I still am trying to weigh all the things about it,” she said. She was appointed to the committee as an environmental group representative, and said she has a clear opinion of the general trash importation issue in Michigan.

“I don’t want to see that continue,” she said. “I’d like to see that come to a halt.”

Holcomb said it is especially important to control solid waste in Michigan because of the state’s dependence on, and abundance of, fresh water.

“I’d really like to see us get enough recycling so we don’t need to worry about landfills at all,” Holcomb said. “As a county, there are others that are way ahead of us on that right now.”

Terrill declined to comment on the proposed fee increase, saying Great Lakes Waste Systems policy prohibits him from discussing it.

Lenawee County Republican Party Chairman Ted Dusseau, however, was candid about the Democrats’ push for new trash legislation.

“They only want to tell one side, the one that looks good,” he said.

Dusseau said trash issues are a “two-way street,” and for every bit of solid waste Michigan and Lenawee County takes in, it sends out chemical, medical, petroleum and building wastes.

“None of that is taken care of in Lenawee County,” he said. “It all goes out.

“We’re definitely helping them, but they’re definitely helping us.”

Dusseau said the issue has been used for campaign purposes, and dismissed trash importation from other states as a “false issue.”

The DEQ report was compiled using data submitted by each of the state’s landfills. In addition to the source of waste, it also identified landfill capacity. Overall, the DEQ concluded Michigan has about 17 years of landfill capacity remaining. The Adrian Landfill has about 13 years before it reaches capacity, according to the report.

—Reprinted with permission from The Daily Telegram

 


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