Michigan’s Solid Waste Policy Reviewed


    LANSING — A new solid waste policy that would guide Michigan counties in their waste management is being developed.

    An advisory committee, formed by the Department of Environmental Quality, is updating the current 18-year-old policy. The committee is made up of municipal government entities, recycling organizations, waste industry officials, and business and manufacturing associations.

    A comprehensive policy is needed to give counties guidance and to address ways to increase recycling, committee members say.

    The committee is working to bring it “up to speed with current innovations and technology,” said Steve Sliver, chief of the DEQ storage tank and solid waste section.

    Much has changed since 1988. Now Michigan has abundant landfill capacity, and advances in technology have required a revisiting of waste management strategies and approaches used in the old policy, Sliver said.

    For example, the state used to promote incinerators, but that’s not the case today, he said.

    The aim is to create a policy that helps citizens, governments and businesses make wise decisions when it comes to solid waste management, he said.

    One of the major issues is recycling and diverting waste from landfills. Increasing Michigan’s diversion rate while at the same time promoting reduction and re-use is one of the challenges that needs to be addressed, said Sliver.

    Michigan does not collect recycling data, but estimates indicate the state’s recycling rate is 20 percent — the lowest in the Great Lakes region and one of the lowest in the nation, according to a DEQ report.

    Promoting reduction of waste, re-use and recycling improves and protects Michigan’s environment by saving energy, conserving natural resources, decreasing pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report, which also provides specific recommendations to improve the recycling rate.

    Patty O’Donnell, a committee member and regional planner for the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments based in Traverse City, said that regional solid waste management is a priority for her area. The council’s member counties are Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Wexford and Missaukee.

    “The biggest issue for us in the rural areas is recycling and doing it regionally,” she said. “There is curbside recycling in Traverse City and Petoskey. And some areas only have drop-off and some don’t have anything.

    “The people want to recycle. It’s the access, funding and the processing of the materials that have been collected” that pose challenges, she added.

    Sliver said it’s necessary to balance the roles of interest groups, promote the best solid waste management practices, and look at the tools available such as regulation, education and financial incentive.

    “Obviously, funding is an issue,” said Sliver.

    With the diversity of industries represented on the committee, building a consensus is a challenge, said Don Pyle of Escanaba, who represents the Delta Solid Waste Management Authority and Upper Peninsula Recycling Coalition.

    “Everybody is trying to do the right thing but everyone’s coming at it from a different angle,” Pyle said, adding that he sees everyone wanting to work together to make things happen.

    The committee is now finalizing its visions and goals statements, and will move into action items next, said O’Donnell.

    The committee has forwarded a draft recommendation for the Environmental Advisory Council, said Sliver.

    Dan Batts, president of the Michigan Waste Industries Association, an association of landfill and waste-hauling companies, said that getting manufacturers to design products for recyclability is an important issue.

    For example, Batts said he gets no return on plastics.

    “We accept it, but there’s no value. I don’t get any money from the materials recovery facilities for bringing them the material,” he said, adding that bottle manufacturers need to look at what they’re using for material to make sure it’s reusable.

    Environmental protection, quality of life and economic vitality all need to be taken into consideration in drafting an update to the state’s policy, Sliver said. “What comes out of this policy — who knows?” he added.

    “It could promote change in how we do things. The basic function of the policy is to first set the vision and give people more guidance on how to do that.” 

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