Monday, October 18, 2010

Canadian waste in Michigan, and Michigan's waste infrastructure

Maybe you have heard that Canada ships a lot of solid waste to Michigan. According to this Congressional Research Service report, the entire city of Toronto ships its waste to Michigan. Here are some excerpts of the report.

Private waste haulers and Canadian cities — including the city of Toronto — ship large quantities of waste to the United States. About four million tons (as many as 400 truckloads a day) have been shipped annually since 2004, according to receiving states. Nearly three-quarters of this waste has gone to two large landfills near Detroit. The influx of waste has been highly controversial, in part because the ability of state and local governments to restrict it is limited. Under court rulings concerning the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, only Congress can authorize restrictions that discriminate against foreign waste.

it appears that more than 90% of the solid waste that Canada ships to the United States has gone to Michigan. The remainder has generally gone to the states of New York and Washington.

While somewhat controversial throughout the 1990s, Canadian waste imports have received much greater attention since late 2002, when the city of Toronto — Canada’s largest city — announced that it would close its last landfill and begin shipping all of its waste to Michigan. Canada’s shipments of waste to Michigan increased 83% between then and fiscal year 2006. In FY2006, Michigan reported that it received 12,084,907 cubic yards (an estimated 4.03 million tons) of nonhazardous waste from Canada. Canada accounted for 19.5% of all the waste disposed in Michigan landfills in that year. Canadian waste imports decreased 9% in FY2007, to 10,982,984 cubic yards (about 3.66 million tons), but still accounted for 18.9% of the waste disposed in Michigan landfills.

As always, there is a trade group, representing some interest, having a vested interest in importing trash and waste generation. It seems to me that the Michigan Waste Industries Association this this state trade/lobbying group. Here is some Q&A from their website.

Q: How many landfills are there in Michigan?
A: There are 53 regional solid waste landfills in the State of Michigan.
Q: How much waste is landfilled each year?
A: Each year, more than 57 million cubic yards of solid waste is added to landfills in Michigan. In 2003, approximately 11.5 million cubic yards, or 20 percent of all solid waste, was imported from other states and Canada.

Q: Why is waste moved in or out of other states or Canada?
A: Different state regulations, varying landfill capacities, and financial considerations often encourage the import and export of different types of solid waste. This practice has been ongoing for decades with no negative environmental or safety impact.

Q: Does Michigan export any waste?
A: The state sends about 106 million pounds (53 thousand tons) of hazardous waste to facilities in Canada. Michigan also ships significant quantities of hazardous, low-level radioactive and medical waste to other states and relies on Canada to process all types of electronic scrap and a large percentage of recycled paper collected in Michigan is sent to Canada for processing and re-use. Solid waste from Michigan is sent to Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin from areas in Michigan that border those states. This raises an important point. If Michigan were to close its borders to Canada’s municipal waste, Canada might retaliate by closing its borders to hazardous waste and, electronic scrap from Michigan. Michigan hazardous waste generators would be forced to find more expensive alternatives, an unintended and undesired consequence during this tough economic period.

If you want to feel good about the trash we produce, check out this video, also from the Michigan Waste Industries Association.


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