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July 11, 2008

Detroit Decision Makes Way for Greener Garbage


Detroit-area Sierra Club activists cheered on June 30 when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced that the city will not purchase the country's largest waste incinerator, formally known as the Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, and will instead expand city recycling programs and send trash to a landfill.

"Now it's time to shout!" says Rhonda Anderson (below at left), director of the Sierra Club's Detroit Environmental Justice Program. "This announcement by the mayor is a major development and almost a sure indication that the incinerator will close." The battle over the future of the Detroit incinerator, which began operating in 1989, is seen by many industry people as a key to the future of incineration in the United States.


"It's time to retire this dinosaur of a technology that has polluted our city and planet for far too long," Anderson said at a citizen rally in front of the incinerator on June 18. "We are gathering today to say that incineration is a major liability in the context of climate change."

The Sierra Club is part of a coalition of environmental and community groups that worked with the city council's Environmental Justice Task Force to craft a "New Business Model for Garbage." The model includes goals for a future waste system that incorporates monetary incentives for recyclers, green collar jobs, and business and economic development linked to the reuse and sale of recovered materials.

Carol Izant (at right, above), chair of the Sierra Club's Southeast Michigan Group, has been a longtime leader in galvanizing citizen opposition to the incinerator through her involvement with the grassroots group Evergreen Alliance. She is also quick to credit the key roles played by fellow group activists Anna Holden and Ed McArdle (above center).

"Anna hung tough on this issue and cultivated the stakeholders needed to build a broad-based coalition of community activists, environmental experts, and sympathetic elected officials," Izant says. "And Ed's efforts over the years have resulted in the toppling of one incinerator after another."

Holden in turn praises Margaret Weber of Rosedale Recycles, a volunteer neighborhood recycling organization. Weber is coordinator of the New Business Model for Solid Waste coalition and former director of the Ecology Center, highly reputed for its work on incinerators.

The Detroit incinerator was sold to private investors in 1991, but the city, through the fees it pays to burn trash, continues to shoulder the enormous cost of running the facility. By comparison, the city of Ann Arbor, which has the most active recycling program in Michigan, pays $18.75 per ton to landfill its garbage, while Detroit pays $172 a ton to burn its trash and dispose of the ashes. Adding insult to injury, less than half of the trash incinerated at the facility comes from Detroit residents.

Read reporter Curt Guyette's series on the incinerator, The Big Burn, in the Detroit Metro Times.

Incinerator photo by Gyre.


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