To prevent the nearly 180 truckloads of Canadian waste from
entering Michigan each day, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) has
issued a web-based petition drive protesting the trash’s
“People were letting me know that they are concerned about
losing landfill capacity and about the negative impact of these
shipments on the environment and our state’s recycling effort,”
Stabenow said in a written statement yesterday. “They are also
concerned about traffic hazards and noise, and about the potential
threat to homeland security posed by 180 huge difficult-to-inspect
truckloads of trash coming across the border each day.”
Michigan is the third largest trash importer in the nation,
ranking behind Virginia and Pennsylvania. While the majority of
imported trash comes from Canada, Michigan also receives waste from
all neighboring states and as far as New York.
Michigan has become “the dumping ground of the Midwest,”
according to Mike Garfield, director of the Ecology Center, a
grassroots environmental organization serving southeast Michigan.
He said Michigan earned this title in response to its landfill
surplus and inexpensive dumping charges – Michigan charges $10 per
ton of trash, whereas states like New York charge as much as
Garfield said the landfills pose an inherent environmental
threat, adding that the state’s greatest challenge is reducing the
number of landfills in Michigan.
“The core issue is landfill space and finding alternative (waste
management) methods,” he said. “This is not a U.S. versus Canada
National Resource and Environment senior Kelly Katzmann said she
agreed that it is not a problem between the two countries.
“The Toronto versus Michigan spin is masking the real issue,
which is that Michigan has a problem with its waste management,”
Katzmann referred to the debate as “a political hotspot,” saying
that it is becoming too politicized and the underlying issues are
Stabenow said she intends to deliver the petition to Utah Gov.
Mike Leavitt – President Bush’s nominee to head the Environmental
Protection Agency – in hopes that the EPA will begin enforcing the
1986 Agreement Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous
Waste. The treaty could potentially halt waste shipments from
Canada though it has yet to be enforced.
“I think the message the people of Michigan have sent is loud
and clear: ‘Enough is enough – Stop those Canadian trucks!'”
Stabenow said. At press time, the petition had gathered over
Critics of Stabenow’s plan say such restrictions are impossible
under NAFTA’s free trade rules.
Matt Neely, area president of Republic Services, part of the
Michigan Waste Industries Association, said that the press created
around this issue does not reflect the reality of the situation. He
said that in the 1980s, there were 10,000 to 12,000 landfills in
the nation, but now the number has dropped to about 2,000 to 3,000
due to stricter regulations. Neely insists that there is no harm
from importing Canadian trash.
With respect to recycling, Canada’s “mindset is two to three
generations from where we are right now,” Neely said. Canadians
recycle many more products than Americans do, such as diapers and
other “wet waste” such as paper towels, he added.
Toronto is the largest Canadian city that imports trash to
Michigan, currently importing 70 percent of its waste. With new
recycling technologies developing, they hope to reduce this to 60
percent by 2006 and completely halt importation by 2010. Stabenow
hopes that with the EPA’s help, this deadline can be expedited.