Flow of trash into Michigan landfills persists
Michigan’s original ban on imports was ruled
unconstitutional; another is in progress
Importing garbage continues to
be a controversial issue and the situation in the State of Michigan
sheds light on a problem that covers solid waste imported from
other states and from Canada.
According to a Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality report entitled Report of Solid Waste
Landfilled in Michigan, trash imports into the state increased
by 2 percent in 2005.
In 2005 63,927,564 cubic yards
of solid waste was deposited in various landfill sites. Of this
total, 10.3 percent was sent from other states and another 18.1
percent was shipped from the Canadian province of Ontario –
the majority from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
While imports from other states
rose from 7.2 percent in 1996 to their current level, it took
5 years for imports from Canada to rise from 6.3 percent (1996)
to account for 9.8 percent (2001) of the total. From 2002 to 2005,
imports increased dramatically to account for an additional 8.8
percent of the total.
“It is discouraging to
see the amount of waste being brought into Michigan from outside
of our borders continue to increase,” said DEQ director
Steven E. Chester in a press release. “This fact must call
attention to the need for real action on solid waste issues in
While garbage hauling trucks
from other states enter Michigan via interstates, the majority
of imports from Canada cross over via the Port Huron Bridge, one
of two major bridges linking the two nations. But wherever the
trucks originate from, state residents are concerned with the
increasing number of trucks that are spilling loads on their way
to landfills and their return trips cause wear and tear on the
According to the DEQ, the state’s
existing landfills will reach their maximum capacity in 17 years.
While some landfills have room for expansion, new landfills would
be needed to meet future demands based on current levels. The
state’s moratorium on the creation of new landfills expired
on February 1, but thus far no company has submitted an application
to expand or create a new landfill.
“It certainly seems like
a matter of time before we do receive them,” said Robert
McCann, the press secretary for the DEQ.
The transportation and importation
of garbage, while it occurs in individual states and Canadian
provinces, is a federal matter in both nations and local governments
are powerless to prevent import of waste.
The Michigan State House had
previously passed a resolution to ban solid waste imports into
the state, but that was ruled unconstitutional because the states
do not have any authority to limit the provisions of federal commerce
In response, state legislators
passed legislation on March 1 that would ban imports of waste
from Canada and other states after 60 days should federal legislators
give states’ the authority to control the movement of this
commodity. The governor has just signed the bill.
“The problem is that we
have no sense from the federal government that they are willing
to give us the authority to do that,” said McCann. “The
problem is that a lot of states export a good part of their waste;
so they certainly do not want to let other states like Michigan
stop them from doing that.”
Currently the state charges a
21 cent tipping fee per ton of waste that is deposited in landfill,
a fee that is recognized by other jurisdictions as being extremely
inexpensive and the lowest in the area.
“That is the main reason
why our neighboring states, and especially Canada, are bringing
their trash here,” said McCann.
Democratic legislators have put
forward a proposal, supported by the governor and DEQ, to increase
the tipping fee to $7.50 per ton, a fee to be applied even to
Michigan municipalities. The funds raised from the increase would
be used to establish local recycling programs.
Tipping fees in other states are
considerably higher. Wisconsin and Ohio charge around $4 and Pennsylvania
$7.25. By raising the fee, the DEQ anticipates that imports will
“A recent report from Wisconsin,
which bumped up their tipping fee by $3 in 2001, shows that waste
imports dropped by 17 percent and noted that an increase to $7
which they are considering, would provide a 50 percent reduction
in disposal,” said McCann. “We think that Michigan
would see similar numbers or more because Michigan has historically
been a greater importer of waste than Wisconsin had been. That
would extend our landfills’ life.”
The Republican majority has not
scheduled any hearings for the proposed tipping fee increase.
It also appears that while both parties support the concept of
better recycling programs, there has been no agreement on funding
and nothing has been implemented on a statewide level.
“The DEQ has taken part
in a number of town hall meetings around the state regarding this
issue, said McCann. “It’s something the public is
definitely concerned about.”
On average, every Michigan household
produces 1.17 tons of waste annually. Should the tipping fee increase
be given the green light, the cost per household would be $8.82.
“We are not looking at
a lot of money here,” said McCann. “It is fairly minimal
and what they are going to be getting back is a recycling program
that is ultimately going to cut down the amount of waste they
Michigan residents, especially
those residing adjacent to the landfills accepting Canadian and
out-of-state trash are concerned about the effects of the trash
upon the environment.
While some industrial/commercial
waste from Ontario’s Niagara Valley is sent to the State
of New York, the bulk of Ontario garbage being shipped into the
United States goes to Michigan. The largest source of garbage
is the collective amount that private waste management companies
pick up from the southern Ontario region. In terms of trash collected
by municipalities, the main exporters are from the GTA –
City of Toronto and the regions of York, Peel and Durham.
However, the traffic is not one-way.
Hazardous waste from the United States is shipped to Ontario’s
Clean Harbours facility in Sarnia, which has a landfill and an
incinerator. Clean Harbour, according to Ontario’s ministry
of the environment, receives material from Michigan.
John Steele, a spokesman for
the ministry, noted that Ontario has many municipal and private
landfill sites and that municipal landfills exist primarily for
individual cities and towns. He added that the province has sufficient
Reducing the amount of landfilled
waste is a key policy for the ministry and the basis for the 3R
program – reduce, re-use and recycle. This includes a blue
box program throughout the province and a green bin program to
collect organic materials that has been implemented in Toronto,
the York Region and selected areas.
Currently, the provincial target
for recycling is 50 percent. The province has proposed a target
rate of 60 percent by 2008, but this has not been formalized.
Toronto began exporting garbage,
solid waste, wastewater and bio-solids to Michigan’s Carlton
Farms landfill in 1998/1999.
“We did that in anticipation
of the closure of our Keele Valley landfill and we attempted to
extend its life by shipping materials to Michigan,” said
Geoff Rathbone, Toronto’s director of solid waste planning.
“When the landfill closed in December 2002, all of our waste
then went to Michigan and that is when Michigan began to push
In 2003, Toronto sent 1,218,000
tons (140 trucks per day); it decreased to 1,075,000 tons in 2004
and further decreased in 2005 to 940,000 tons (95 trucks per day).
“You can see with our truck
count numbers dropping from 140 to 95 in three years that it’s
an impressive reduction,” said Rathbone.
“We’re now at 40
percent overall for 2005 and for our single-family homes, we’re
at 53 percent,” said Rathbone. “We’re trying
to get to 60 percent through source separated-based diversion.
Michigan is relatively low cost disposal, but the good thing is
that our recycling programs are less expensive than going to Michigan.”
Including the tipping fees, it
costs Toronto $58 (CAN) to ship a ton of garbage to Michigan and
a further $60 per ton to collect the waste. While Toronto is not
looking for a new landfill in Ontario, it has just started the
process for an environmental assessment for it waste collection,
with the key goal of diverting as much waste from the landfill
The city anticipates it will
have about 400,000 tons of waste annually that it will be unable
to recycle, re-use or compost.
According to Mike Birret, the
Region of York’s manager of program development and planning
for the Waste Management Branch, the Region produces about 314,000
tons of material annually, in which about 136,000 tons is shipped
to Carlton Farms and Onyx landfills. Waste is also shipped to
the Green Lane landfill in South Wold, Ontario.
Prior to the closing of Keele
Valley, York did not ship waste to the United States.
“There is no other alternative
right now,” said Birett. “We have no landfill in our
jurisdiction and we haven’t been successful in getting approval
It currently costs York about
$65 per ton to transport waste to Michigan.