GreenYes Digest V98 #39

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Fri, 22 Jan 1999 17:33:40 -0500

GreenYes Digest Sun, 15 Feb 98 Volume 98 : Issue 39

Today's Topics:
Michigan's Waste Import Problem
Subsidies that hurt recycling

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Loop-Detect: GreenYes:98/39

Date: Sat, 14 Feb 1998 19:33:53 +0900
From: (Hop)
Subject: Michigan's Waste Import Problem

Dear Jeff,

Having read your account of the waste transfer problems you face in
Michigan, and the unfortunate consequences for recycling & waste
minimisation which result (which I must say you spelt out very clearly), I
encourage you to maintain and further build the community pressure. I'll
also share with you the result of our, similar effort in New South Wales,

After many many years of successfully opposing the establishment of any new
landfills in the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area (population about 4.5
million) through the establishment of and lobbying by a community-based
"Waste Crisis Network" (operating on two main fronts - 'Waste Minimisation'
and 'Disposal Opposal') a Waste Minimisation & Management Act was finally
passed which contained many important and precedent setting features.

The two features which would be of most immediate interest to you are:
1. that privatisation of waste disposal was all-but outlawed (private
companies could only own a landfill if a public authority, such as a
Regional Waste Board - essentially a collection of Local Governments
established by the Act - held a supervisory licence).
2. that Regional Waste Boards had a responsibility to formulate detailed
waste minimisation and management plans which were consistent with the
over-riding objective of the Act (ie. to achieve a 60 percent reduction in
waste disposal). Avoidance of waste transfer between waste management
regions is also a stated objective of the Government in its implementation
of the Act (although the Act didn't make this clear enough so we still have
some concerned regional communities fearing the same situation as you
describe for Michigan).

I've copied a couple of relevent sections of the Act below for your info.
At last check the full Act was available on the web at:

Good luck. I hope this helps.

19 Regional waste plans

(1) A Waste Board is required to prepare and implement a plan
for the waste management region for which it is constituted (a
regional waste plan).

(2) Such a plan must, subject to the regulations, include the
following matters:
(a) population and development profiles for the waste
management region,

(b) an assessment of all significant sources and generators of
waste in the region,

(c) an assessment of the quantities and classes of waste in
the region and the potential for avoidance and reduction,

(d) an assessment of the services, markets and facilities for
each different waste category (ie domestic, commercial and

(e) an assessment of the options for waste reduction,
management and disposal in the region,

(f) proposed strategies and targets for managing and reducing
waste in the region and for the efficient disposal of waste
that cannot be recovered, re-used or recycled,

(g) matters concerning waste education and initiatives for
separating waste at its source,

(h) an implementation program that identifies the required
action, time-frames, resources and responsibilities for
achieving these strategies and targets,

(i) a mechanism for monitoring performance in light of these
targets and strategies,

(j) such other matters as may be authorised by the

(3) The Minister may provide guidelines to assist Waste Boards
in the preparation of regional waste plans. Any such guidelines are to
contain advice about the 1990 disposal rates referred to in section 3
(1) (a), the methods to be used to identify priority waste streams in
the region, and priority waste minimisation and management options.

(4) A Waste Board is required to consult with relevant
business, industry and community groups, and with the local community,
in preparing its regional waste plan.

(5) A draft plan is to be available for public comment for at
least 2 months, and the Waste Board is required to take any
submissions it receives into consideration in preparing the plan.

(6) Once a regional waste plan is prepared, it must be
submitted to the EPA for approval by the Minister. The Minister is to
have regard to the advice of SWAC in deciding whether or not to approve
the plan, and is to have regard to the following matters:

(a) whether the plan establishes a comprehensive scheme for
reducing waste in the waste management region concerned that
is consistent with the government's waste reduction targets,

(b) whether the plan establishes a scheme for the efficient
collection, re-use, treatment, reprocessing, recycling and
disposal of waste generated in the region,

(c) whether the plan has been subject to public consultation,

(d) whether the plan's initiatives are to be efficiently and
adequately funded.

(7) A regional waste plan comes into force when the Minister
approves the plan. A Waste Board is to make its plan available for
inspection or purchase by any person.

(8) A Waste Board may amend its regional waste plan from
time to time after consultation with the constituent councils. Any such
proposed change must be submitted to the Minister for approval before it
has any effect.

48 Putrescible landfill sites--licensing arrangements

(1) This section applies to controlled waste facilities that
are putrescible landfill sites. More than one occupier can be required
to hold a licence in respect of such a waste facility.

(2) A licence in respect of a waste facility to which this
section applies may be granted to a person other than a public
authority only if a public authority holds a separate licence
granted in respect of the waste facility (referred to in this section
as a supervisory licence).

(3) In granting a supervisory licence, the EPA is to impose
conditions on the licence with respect to the following matters:

(a) the types and volume of waste received at the waste

(b) the design of the waste facility (being a waste facility
established after the commencement of this section),

(c) the separation, re-use, reprocessing and recycling of
waste received at the facility.

(4) In granting a licence to an occupier of a waste facility
to which this section applies who is not a public authority, the EPA
is to impose a condition on the licence requiring the occupier to
charge for the disposal of putrescible waste at the waste facility
in accordance with the directions of the public authority holding the
supervisory licence.

(5) An application by a public authority for a supervisory
licence must specify the arrangements under which the public
authority has the capacity to exercise control over the waste
facility with respect to the matters referred to in subsection

>Date: Thu, 29 Jan 1998 23:58:04 -0500
>From: "Jeff Surfus" <>
>Subject: Michigan's Waste Import Problem
>My name is Jeff Surfus and I am relatively new to the list. I didn't know
>if I was in the right place until I read Bill Sheehan's interesting post
>about their activist struggles to get a bottle bill in Georgia. Sorry for
>the length of this posting.
>We already have a bottle bill in Michigan, but we have a different problem,
>and it's getting bigger all the time.
>Over the past few years, Michigan has become a garbage disposal target for
>many states as well as Ontario, Canada. Due to the relaxing of landfill
>siting standards, Michigan has an overabundance of landfill space at this
>time. Because of this, waste management companies that operate these
>landfills (BFI, WMX, and some smaller outfits) charge much less per unit for
>disposal than similar landfills in surrounding states and provinces. The
>waste management companies, if they have their way, will continue to press
>for more landfills here through the weakening of our regulations.
>Currently, the Michigan legislature is considering legislation that would
>make it even easier to site more landfills. The legislation would cast
>aside the program of each county putting together a solid waste management
>plan, which must be approved by the state, which considers current and
>future local landfill requirements, surrounding area needs, and other
>important considerations when siting a landfill. In the place of this
>well-thought-out solid waste management planning process will be
>host-community agreements. Essentially, these are nothing more than an
>agreement between a landfill operator and a host community (be it a town,
>township, county, or whatever). Adjacent communities who could be impacted
>would have no say over these agreements. If this legislation passes, I
>envision the wealthy waste management companies will descend on cash-starved
>townships in Michigan with offers that these communities will be unable to
>say no to. Thus creating even more of a glut of landfill space in Michigan
>and allowing more and more out of state waste to enter.
>...One other little detail, the key legislator behind the bill has received
>huge amounts of campaign contributions from the waste management PACs in
>this state.
>A very small group of concerned folks in Ann Arbor decided to try and do
>something about this. What got our attention was the fact that the local
>landfill, operated by BFI, last year signed a five year contract to receive
>all of the City of Toronto, Ontario's municipal garbage. That's up to
>500,000 cubic yards per year (or 40 semi-truckloads per day--365 days per
>year) of Canadian garbage disposed in a landfill just outside of Ann Arbor,
>Michigan! BFI stands to make anywhere from $65 to $100 million on this deal
>alone. One of the reasons why BFI was able to market out so much landfill
>space here in Ann Arbor is because Ann Arbor is a model recycling city. Our
>recycling rate last year was an amazing 52%! So instead of saving landfill
>space for the future and theoretically lessening the need for future
>landfills, we are rewarded for our fastidious recycling by receiving all of
>Toronto's garbage!
>As many of you may be aware, no state can enact regulations to stop waste
>importation. In a landmark Supreme Court case a few years back, the
>justices, in their infinite wisdom, ruled that solid waste was a commodity
>and therefore could not be stopped from crossing state lines, per the
>Interstate Commerce Commission. Federal legislation must be passed allowing
>states some type of flow control before we can stop the importing of solid
>waste. It does not appear that there is the political will to do this
>anytime soon in the House or Senate. Previous attempts to enact this
>legislation have died in committees.
>We've done what we can, given how the cards are stacked against us. Over
>last spring and summer we gathered over 4,000 letters to Canadian officials
>from irate Michigan residents, urging them to reconsider sending their waste
>to Michigan. Last October, in the heat of the Toronto mayoral race, we
>personally delivered these letters to the mayoral candidates, using some
>clever (if I may say so) street theater. We brought along an Elvis
>impersonator who sang a reworked version of "Return to Sender." (Return to
>sender, address unknown, don't want your trash here, so keep it at home).
>We drew a lot of media attention, but the candidates weathered the storm and
>alas, nothing came of our efforts. This month the trucks started rolling.
>We are attempting to get our legislature to enact a bill that would allow
>Michigan to stop imports from states that do not have disposal standards as
>strict as Michigan. For example, we currently receive garbage from
>Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, states that do not prohibit waste oil in their
>municipal solid waste. We do prohibit it here. There is a chance that this
>legislation will pass, but there is uncertainty as to whether it will
>withstand a constitutional challenge, which it will surely receive. The
>waste management lobbyists are very busy in Lansing trying to stonewall this
>We continually try to get media attention to this issue, with some success.
>People on the street seem to think its crazy that we are such a target.
>The bottom line is, from a recycling standpoint, this is a terrible
>situation. Here in Ann Arbor, people are going to start thinking "Why
>should I recycle if the landfill space I am saving is being sold by BFI at
>tremendous profit?" In Toronto, people will start thinking "Why should we
>recycle when there is such a cheap disposal option down the road in
>My question is, is this happening elsewhere as well? Are there any success
>stories anyone has to share? Any suggestions on what we can do to stop
>this? Any words of encouragement?
>Again, sorry for the long post!
>Jeff Surfus


Date: Sat, 14 Feb 1998 16:56:37 EST
Subject: Subsidies that hurt recycling

Stephen (and other interested Greenyes readers),

In response to your request for information on federal subsidies that hurt

1. Under oil/gas in the intangible drilling costs section the exemption from
federal hazardous waste regs for oil/gas drilling sludges is very significant
although not quantified in $ as far as I know. There was a report on CBS
several months ago about the impacts of disposal of these sludges by Exxon and
others in an open pit near a small Louisiana town. I've been meaning to
follow up and get the transcript from the show, because during one of the Task
Force meetings for WA state's Future of Recycling study in 1996, the
representative from Exxon went ballistic over my inclusion of the fed. haz.
waste exemption in a list of subsidies. His remarks were something like:
they're non-hazardous and so aren't being subsidized by being exempted from
haz waste tesing and disposal regs. This CBS program shows that the folks who
have to live around the disposal site for these supposedly non-haz sludges are
having health and other problems that belie the claim that they're not

2. In general, it's important to note that what virgin materials and fuels
users don't have to pay for is, in my opinion, very likely to be several
magnitudes more important than the direct subsidies they get from the Feds by
using virgin rather than recycled feedstocks. Examples: (i) No (or very
low)-cost, on-site storage of industrial and radioactive wastes at nuclear
power plants and manufacturing facilities, followed at some indefinite future
time by their eventual clean up and disposal at a subsidized cost (One
estimate for Washinton state places on-site managed industrial solid waste at
ten times the amount of municipal solid waste - See Synergic Resources
Corporation, GBB, and Booz-Allen Hamilton, Inc., Industrial Solid Waste
Survey, Task 2: Industrial Wastes of Concern in Washington, Feb. 25, 1993);
(ii) Ecosystem impairments/damage caused by use of virgin materials and fuels
(See Costanza, et al, "The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural
capital," Nature, Vol. 387, May 15, 1997, which places the value of services
from ecological systems and their capital stocks used by the world's
production systems at almost twice the value of global gross national
product.); (iii) Less than 1,000 of the more than 70,000 chemical substances
used in commerce have their releases tracked through the Toxics Release
Inventory and/or are regulated under Clean Air, Clean Water or other
regulations. Less than 10% have been tested for neurotoxicity, and only a
handful evaluated thoroughly (See National Research Council, Environmental
Neurotoxicity, National Academy Press, 1992.) Note also that the Tellus
Insitute's Packaging Study on releases of air and water pollutants for virgin-
versus recycled-content packaging materials excluded industrial solid wastes
due to a lack of info and only covered releases for under 200 chemical
substances, excluding even important materials such as friable asbestos.)

3. Recycled material prices are bounded/limited by prices for the competing
virgin material, i.e., the virgin price essentially determines the recycled
material's price. In addition, it's important to also note that prices for
virgin materials and fuels are now set on international markets. That means
that US subsidies are only one government's policies that impact recycling
prices. Since virgin materials and fuels in many cases come from places with
essentially zero environmental controls, the impact on virgin material prices
of a complete removal of direct subsidies from the US federal government may
be very low.

4. The above is not intended to disparage in any way the attempt to rigorously
quantify the impacts of federal US subsidies on recycling. It's just to say
that it's critical to make sure that readers of the study understand what
subsidies are being quantified and what other ones are not. And to also make
sure that readers understand that removal of US subsidies is very likely just
the tip of the iceberg of subsidies and slack environmental practices that
keep virgin materials and fuels users from having to pay prices that reflect
the full, long-run costs (on our health and welfare today, on the health and
welfare of future generations, and on all those, including non-human species,
on the planet that don' t get or have a significant money vote) of those fuels
and materials.

Good luck on your study and please let me know when a draft report is
You may want to read my forthcoming report for MASSPIRG on the economic and
environmental benefits of beverage container recycling. It's a document that
supports the proposal to expand the scope of MA's current Bottle Bill, and it
deals with many of these issues that I outlined above.

Jeffrey Morris
Sound Resource Management
Seattle, WA


End of GreenYes Digest V98 #39