Margaret Weber has been a coordinator of a Detroit local drop-off recycling facility for 18 years. She and other Detroit-area environmentalists and activists, including members of the Sierra Club, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Rosedale Recycles, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, have recently formed the Coalition for a Clean and Green Detroit (which is new enough that no website yet exists) to make sure that Detroit seizes “the once in a generation opportunity we have now,” according to Margaret, “to totally change the way we treat the business of waste in Detroit.”
The Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority (GDRRA) has been incinerating most of Detroit’s trash since 1989. According to this Metro Times article, the city of Detroit currently recycles only 3% of its waste – a paltry amount compared to other cities. The rest is burned at the GDRRA, at a cost to the city of $90 million in 2006-2007 over the incoming revenues.
In addition to the financial cost, there are the health concerns. Some studies link proximity to waste incinerators as significantly tied to increased rates of asthma, mercury and dioxin levels, and lung and other cancers, although the GDRRA claims that its emissions are below “safe levels” of toxins set by the EPA.
Detroit’s debt obligation with the GDRRA is set to run out in June 2009. But the city will be deciding in the next few weeks whether to buy the incinerator, renew its lease, or to change how it treats its trash.
Said Margaret, “I can’t overstate the uniqueness of this opportunity. Moving to a new system that includes curb-side recycling will create jobs and have lasting effects on our health and environment.”
Lee Gaddies, a community activist with the Bagley Community Council (and a candidate for State Rep in the 7th District), believes this is about not just economics and health, but a needed change in the relationship between business and government. He urges, “We have to demand that our politicians muster the courage to do what’s right for all the citizens of Detroit – not just the business owners who financed their campaigns.”
On Monday, April 14, 2008, Detroit’s City Council passed a resolution that states, “Council will only support a budget proposal for waste disposal for FY 2008-09 that includes assurances of the following provisions, [including] A systematic plan adopted by GDRRA to transform Detroit’s solid waste system to one of materials recovery utilizing a materials recovery facility (MRF) with comprehensive curbside recycling, and landfills to supplement this system.”
As with many governmental decisions, the decision to buy, lease, or walk away from the incinerator will be made not through a vote or a public process, but during budget negotiations.
That means, if you’d like to weigh in, you have to act quickly. According to Margaret, citizens who wish to effect the outcome should offer expressions of support for the Council’s recent resolution. You can write a Letter to the Editor, contact Council members, or write a letter to the Mayor. You can also get involved by emailing Margaret at email@example.com.