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Detroit Incinerator


While other cities and counties struggle to reduce landfill waste through recycling programs, Detroit still burns its garbage — and the garbage of its neighbors — within blocks of residential neighborhoods. For the last 20 years, the Detroit Incinerator, also know as the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, has cost the city an estimated 1.2 billion dollars, and continues to increase air pollution levels throughout the city. These pollution levels persistently exceed National Ambient Air Quality standards, and consequently contribute to the rising rates of asthma. Detroiters are three times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma compared to Michigan as a whole, and asthma death rates in Detroit are two times that for the state.

As the largest incinerator in the world, it is grossly over sized and imports garbage from nearby towns just so it can operate at design capacity. During the past several years of the City’s bond obligation for the incinerator, private haulers were charged as little as $13 per ton, while Detroit residents effectively paid $150 per ton or more. Since the Facility needed the trash to keep it burning, its served as a disincentive to recycling.

While the financial costs and health burdens remains high, Detroit continues to operate the incinerator and ignore the savings that recycling and recovery programs throughout the city would create.

Some claim the incinerator is an important feature to providing renewable energy to Detroit buildings because the burned municipal waste is converted to steam and sold to the steam loop owned by Detroit Renewable Energy. However, Detroit Thermal can, and has met all the current demands of their customers without the input from the incinerator.

Within the last five years the prospect of closing the incinerator has come close. In 2008 the City Council stated visions to adapt a new business model for Detroit solid waste and provided budget money to begin a curbside recycling program. The City’s financial obligation to the Facility ended in July 2009. In late 2010 new owners, Atlas Holdings/Detroit Renewable Energy, received a contract for burning the City’s municipal trash until 2011, but without any tonnage obligation.

Currently, organizations across Southeast Michigan are asking state legislators to create good policy to protect Detroiters. These policies include incentivizing recycling programs throughout the city and discontinue defining trash burning as a source of renewable energy. The benefits of recycling far outweigh the costs of incineration. Recycling saves natural resources, energy, landfill space and money, creates less air and water pollution, and decreases the risk of asthma related illnesses. Transitioning Detroit toward an intensive recycling program will not only save the city money, but improve the health of Detroiters as well.


Toxic-ash testing clouds incinerator plans


VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail (includes correction)

Published Wednesday, Nov. 07 2012, 6:39 AM EST

The chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District says B.C.’s environment minister Terry Lake is being “cavalier” about the risks of a carcinogenic substance, cadmium, that was recently found in 1,800 tonnes of ash transported to the Cache Creek landfill.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz, whose community is upwind of the Burnaby incinerator that generated that ash, is also challenging her Metro Vancouver neighbours to abandon plans for a second garbage incineration plant, saying the mishandling of toxic ash from the region’s existing facility is scary enough to warrant a different approach to waste management.

“In the Fraser Valley, we already have the highest rates of respiratory illness in the province. We don’t want to breathe these fumes.”

Testing at the landfill revealed the ash, brought from the Burnaby incinerator in July and August, could leach cadmium approaching levels at least twice the province’s acceptable limits.

“The minister says there is no harm to the environment and to the public. Cadmium causes lung cancer. To be cavalier about this issue is a black mark against the minister of environment and Metro Vancouver,” Ms. Gaetz said. “It’s about the risk and uncertainty. We don’t think it’s a green waste management option.”

Mr. Lake, in an interview Tuesday, said his ministry is investigating to find out if the ash from the Burnaby incinerator is hazardous, and if so how it was shipped to Cache Creek in contravention of the rules. As well, investigators will sample ash that has been shipped to the landfill over the past 12 years.

If core samples by the ministry confirm it is hazardous, it will have to be dug out and moved to a facility in Alberta that is set up to handle hazardous waste.

However, Mr. Lake accused Ms. Gaetz of using the issue for political leverage in her fight against Metro Vancouver’s plans for a second incinerator. “The people in the Fraser Valley are obviously concerned about air quality but essentially, the system is working. It is taking the bad stuff out so that it wasn’t in the airshed,” he said.

Metro Vancouver’s “Zero Waste” committee has won approval from Mr. Lake for a solid-waste management plan that proposes a “waste to energy” plant. The final decision will not be made until 2014, and would have to pass an environmental assessment hearing. “I feel strongly the decisions of the environment minister should be based on science, not politics,” Mr. Lake said.

Minutes from one of the committee’s meetings, however, point to concerns that the amount of garbage to feed the new facility is less than originally forecast. Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said that is troubling, because there would be pressure to find more fuel for the proposed facility – instead of a focus on reducing waste.

“It’s all about the feed-the-beast argument,” she said, which goes against the City of Vancouver’s push for greater reduction and recycling of waste. “We will continue to aggressively fight pieces of the plan that would work against greater reduction of waste. In our strong opinion, a new mass burn incinerator serving this region would absolutely make it impossible for us to get to those diversion and reduction targets.”

The chair of Metro Vancouver, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, said it is too early to say if the incident with the Burnaby ash will derail plans for a second incinerator. “We have to go through the process to find out what happened,” he said. “It’s about how we deal with it when we found something was not in compliance with the regulation.”

Mr. Moore said the proposed $450-milllion plant would not lock the region into producing more garbage. Instead, the Burnaby facility would be phased out if garbage levels are reduced over time.

Currently, Metro Vancouver produces about 1.3 million tonnes of garbage a year. Most is either shipped to Cache Creek or handled at the Vancouver landfill in Delta. About 300,000 tonnes are burned in the Burnaby incinerator.

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