The Canadian Trash in Michigan workshop, which took place March 6 in East Lansing at Michigan State University, explored the ecologic and legal implications of the hundreds of truckloads of solid waste crossing the border daily into Michigan, and what is being done on the Canadian side to reduce those amounts. Michael Unsworth, assistant director of the Canadian Studies Centre, opened the session with his goals for the event, and threw out a challenge to participants, hoping they will “contribute so people in Ontario and Michigan will stop arguing and work together.”
Shelley Carroll, a Toronto city councilor who oversaw the introduction of the Green Bin program in one part of the city and who has worked on improving relations between Toronto and the Michigan and American governments, presented Toronto’s efforts in reducing its solid waste and the challenges in finding an alternative to sending that waste to Michigan. A pie chart gave a perspective to the amounts of trash coming into Michigan landfills: 72 per cent from Michigan, 10 per cent from other U.S. states, 18 per cent from Canada. Councilor Carroll focused on the city’s recycling efforts.
“We think in terms of how much we are diverting from landfill,” she said. “Toronto is committed to waste reduction. Now up to 53 per cent of all waste is diverted; we are aiming for 100 per cent.”
Bradley van Guilder, who currently works as a community organizer for the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor-based non-profit environmental advocacy organization, feels that out-of-state trash is the most visible symptom that Michigan’s present policy is failing its residents. Michigan’s Solid Waste Policy was adopted in 1988 and has never been updated. Dr. van Guilder presented a list of jurisdictions from which trash is coming to Michigan: “All the way from Florida and Maine; the fastest growing area is the northeast United States.”
Other symptoms of an inadequate policy in Michigan: millions spent on failed incinerators; Detroit is the only municipality with no plans for a blue box program; fee structures — Michigan is the only Great Lakes state not to have a tipping fee surcharge.
Rod Muir, founder of Waste Diversion Toronto and a waste diversion campaigner for the Sierra Club, has spent years studying the problem of residential municipal solid waste. “I love waste; it’s so simple!” he said. “There is no waste crisis. What we have is a diversion crisis.” Muir presented his and the Sierra Club’s answers to the diversion of all residential solid waste.
Congressman Mike Rogers dropped in to give a short talk and answer questions. Many of his information points contradicted information presented by other speakers. Congressman Rogers is Michigan’s point man on Canadian solid waste imports in the House of Representatives. He is a co-sponsor and advocate of H.R. 2491, the International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act, which would authorize states to restrict receipt of foreign municipal solid waste.
“We’re finding things in Canadian trash that we don’t accept in our landfills,” he said, calling Canada’s behavior “unneighborly.” Referring to the truckloads of Canadian waste coming into Michigan, he said, “We can see it, we can touch it, we have to deal with it.”
Robert Cook, executive director of the Ontario Waste Management Association, a non-profit industry group representing the private sector of the waste management industry, i.e., industry, commercial, and institutional (IC&I) waste, spoke at the event.
“Waste has been coming to Michigan for about 20 years,” he said, “primarily IC&I, because of geographic convenience.” The problem now is that Ontario is 100 per cent above capacity. “There is nowhere else in Ontario to take it,” Cook said. Ontario has only two days of capacity if Michigan were to close its border. The solution? “The Province must act to reduce the ‘heat’ in the U.S., convince Michigan of a realistic plan to develop domestic capacity, and avoid a border closure. Ontario must have a policy declaration for self-sufficiency by 2010 in waste disposal capacity.”
Julia Qin, assistant professor at Wayne State University Law School, closed the workshop with her suggestion of using international trade law to stop Canadian waste from crossing the border. As summarized in her article published 3 January 2006 in the Detroit Free Press (co-authored by law student Katherine Razdolsky), “Tariffs: One Way to Stop Trash,” Professor Qin suggested Michigan could apply a market-based solution and impose a “garbage tariff.”
Written for Solid Waste & Recycling magazine by Renka Gesing of Gesing Consultants Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org