Detroit's Waste Incinerator, USA


Description
The Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, renamed Detroit Renewable Power, is the largest solid waste incinerator in the United States. Owned by Atlas Holdings, LLC, it is one of the most iconic environmental and social justice fights in the U.S. today. The incinerator is deeply implicated in Detroit's budget crisis as well. It was sold in 1991 to private investors to pay off city debt, and although the city no longer owned the incinerator citizens were forced to continue paying bonds owed on it. In total Detroit’s residents have paid over $1.2 billion in debt because of the incinerator (zerowastedetroit.org). One of the main problems with this incinerator is how grossly oversized it is. Detroit has to burn trash from other cities to continue burning near capacity. During the last years of the debt obligation (which ended in 2009), private haulers were charged as little as $13 per ton, while Detroit residents have been charged $150 per ton or more (ecologycenter.org). The incinerator is one of the worst polluters in Wayne County for criteria pollutants. Particulate matter emissions contribute to Detroit's high asthma hospitalization rate for children, at three times the state average. In 2010 the incinerator was bought and renamed Detroit Renewable Energy in an effort to "green wash" the facility although it remains a toxic, polluting facility. The Michigan Dept of Environmental Quality (DEQ) states that since Detroit Renewable Power took over ownership of the facility in 2010, complaints of foul odors to MDEQ have increased precipitously. Since it purchased the facility, Detroit Renewable Power has received 13 notices of odor violation and was tasked with making repairs to their facility to eliminate the extreme odor (zerowastedetroit.org). According to the 2010 Census, this zip code (48201) is 70% African American (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Summary Profile. QT-P3), about 20% are unemployed (Source: 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates DP03) and 52% are below poverty level (Source: 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates). While the incinerator does reduce trash burden on landfills by incinerating garbage at temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, this comes at a cost. Foul odor and emissions from the plant, causing many health problems including high asthma rates in children, that result from incineration, as well as extremely high economic costs to residents, have created a disproportionate negative impacts on the surrounding communities. In the fall of 2006, ten community and environmental groups came together in The Coalition for a New Business Model for Detroit Solid Waste: Sierra Club Southeast Michigan Group, Rosedale Recycles, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Sierra Club Environmental Justice, Ann Arbor's Ecology Center, Michigan Environmental Council, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Recycle Detroit. In 2010, the coalition changed its name to Zero Waste Detroit. In 2008, the Coalition began working on the New Business Model for Solid Waste Management to emphasize waste reduction, with an intermediate use of landfills, toward a goal of zero waste. Although the incinerator was built and continues to operate, the City of Detroit recently (in November of 2013) announced that under privatized collection, a citywide curbside recycling program will be available which has the potential to reduce pollution burden of the city and provide more jobs. The next step is to ramp up residential recycling and then commercial recycling, so that the incinerator does not have adequate trash to sustain operations.
Basic Data
NameDetroit's Waste Incinerator, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceMichigan
SiteDetroit
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Incinerators
Specific CommoditiesDomestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
Burns about 800,000 tons of waste per year; generates up to 68 megawatts of electricity for DTE Energy Co.
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Level of Investment (in USD)1,200,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population7000
Start Date1986
Company Names or State EnterprisesDetroit Renewable Energy LLC from United States of America
Atlas Holdings, LLC from United States of America - Owner
Relevant government actorsMichigan Dept of Environmental Quality; City of Detroit
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEvergreen Alliance, Greenpeace, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario and Southeast Michigan; Zero Waste Detroit (ZWD) members: Coalition for Community Change; Detroit Audubon Society; Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance; Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice; East Michigan Environmental Action Council; Ecology Center; Feedom Freedom; Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit; Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; Green Door Initiative; Greenacres Woodward Civic Association; Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Lemieux Consulting & Bright Recycling Services; Michigan Environmental Council; Rosedale Recycles; Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program; Sierra Club Southeast Michigan Group; Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision; Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice;Voices for Earth Justice; We Want Green, Too!; 48217 Community & Environmental Health Organization
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Suburban environmental groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Global warming
OtherOdor
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNegotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of AlternativesIn 2008, the Coalition began working on the New Business Model for Solid Waste Management to emphasize waste reduction, with an intermediate use of landfills, toward a goal of zero waste. The New Business Model shows that while the incinerator employs 160 workers, switching to recycling and landfill would employ 200 to 300, plus create the possibility of 1000 more jobs in recycling businesses. These businesses are predicted to generate $40 million in private investment to the local economy, saving Michigan residents the tax dollars currently being paid to operate the incinerator (ecocenter.org).
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Incinerator was built and continues to operate. However, the City of Detroit recently (in November of 2013) announced that under privatized collection, a citywide curbside recycling program will be available which has the potential to reduce pollution burden of the city and provide more jobs. The movement says that the next step would be to ramp up residential recycling and then commercial recycling, so that the incinerator does not have adequate trash to sustain operations.
Sources and Materials
References

(1) Sierra Club. The State of Detroit's Environment: An Initial Assessment Using the Framework of Environmental Justice. <>
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(2) Halcom, Chad. 'With Privatization, Less City Waste Likely to Head to Incinerator.' Crain's Detroit Business. Crain Communications Inc, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. <>
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(3) 'Trash The Detroit Incinerator.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. Mom's Clean Air Force, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. <>.
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(4) Mom's Clean Air Force. 'Toxic Detroit Incinerator Protested.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. 20 Sept. 2013. Web. <>.
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Information about the Detroit Waste Incinerator from Zero Waste Detroit, a coalition for recycling and an end to waste incineration
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Zero Waste Detroit hails city's move toward curbside recycling, calls for incinerator to be curbed
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Links

With privatization, less city waste likely to head to incinerator
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Town hall meeting to address odors at Detroit waste incinerator
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Building Up Detroit, Bringing Down the Incinerator
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Other Documents

Photo of incinerator As viewed from neighboring homes
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Zero Waste Detroit Celebrates Small Victory Members of Zero Waste Detroit held short rally outside City building to celebrate the City's move towards curbside recycling while also pushing the City to stop sending trash to the incinerator. Photo credit: David Muller
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Incinerator
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Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update13/05/2016
Comments