The State of Michigan has had a long and controversial relationship with Canadian trash. Each year about 60,000 trucks carrying 2.25 million tons of trash enter Michigan from the north. Currently, it is estimated that about 17% of the trash in Michigan landfills is from Canada. The state ranks third in out-of-state trash imports.
. It is more economically efficient for Canadians to pay to transport their trash hundreds of miles to Michigan than to dump trash in their own landfills. This is primarily due to the high cost of trash dumping. Michigan offers the lowest per-ton rate in the Great Lakes region, at only 21 cents per metric ton. In comparison, Wisconsin charges $12.99 per ton and Illinois charges $2.00 per ton. Furthermore, the restrictions on Canadian waste management are far more strict than those imposed in the United States, making dumping costs extremely high. Costs in Canada range from about $64-$100 per ton. Michigan has been called a “trash magnet” due to their extremely low dumping charges.
Although Canadian trash is filling Michigan landfills, the relationship is not one-sided. Michigan sends hazardous waste to Canada where there are more advanced treatment facilities. According to HourDetroit.com, Tom Horton, Waste Management’s Vice President of Public Affairs for the Midwest, spoke in reference to this relationship saying, “The benefit that we got from Canada was that they put hundreds of millions of dollars into the early technology of gasification…all of the things that we can see in the next decade are going to be technologically viable…I think it’s a reasonable trade.” In Horton’s opinion, “What we trade in landfill capacity, we are awarded with in new technologies that stem from Canada’s aggressive advancement of landfill diversion techniques.” However, not all Michigan citizens are proponents of this relationship, and the issue has been hotly contested at both the federal and state level.
In 2006 Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin negotiated an agreement with the Ontario Minister of Environment, John Wilkinson. The Stabenow-Levin agreement called for a 20% reduction of waste by the end of 2007, an additional 20% by 2008, and the rest by 2010. As a result, this agreement has halted 40,000 truckloads of municipally managed trash that would have been dumped in Michigan from Ontario and three surrounding municipalities. The total trash influx decreased by about 1.5 million tons of trash. This agreement only deals with Ontario's "municipally-managed" solid waste shipments to Michigan. Municipally managed solid waste is the trash under the control of Ontario and its municipalities. Michigan still receives non-municipally managed waste. Canadians call this type of garbage Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional waste. “IC & C” waste comes from factories, and other commercial entities and is managed under private contracts.
Senator Debbie Stabenow also introduced the Stop Canadian Trash Act in 2011, but the bill did not progress further than the Senate Finance committee. There were also attempts in 2007 to limit Canadian trash importation. These attempts included HR 518, the International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act of 2007. Michigan Congressman John Dingell (15th District) introduced the bill, which passed the House but not the Senate.
The current policy came under fire at the state level during the 2005-2006 legislative session. State Representative Kathleen Law proposed a bill that would increase Michigan’s per-ton dumping fee to $7.50 from the current rate. The bill was unsuccessful. In the same year, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed legislation that would allow Michigan to ban Canadian trash if given the Congressional authority to do so. The bills would take effect 90 days after Congress enacted legislation authorizing the regulations.
For some citizens, hiking up dumping prices and putting more limits on the amounts of trash that can be imported is not enough. They would prefer an end to the trade altogether. However, the business of waste management is protected under the U.S. Commerce Clause and the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to Danny Hakim of the New York Times, “Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the movement of trash across the border is little different from the interstate movement of trash, which courts have ruled is protected by the Constitution's interstate commerce clause.”
The future of waste management changes as technology advances. Jeff Bohm, the Chair of the St. Clair County Board, is a proponent of the current relationship; in fact, he would prefer that the State import more trash. Smiths Creek Sanitary Landfill is a facility in St. Clair that produces energy from the trash it intakes by way of a bioreactor. This technology earns the county about $800,000 per year. This type of technology allows Michigan to benefit from taking Canadian trash, and could foreshadow a prosperous future on the front of waste management. The future of the multifaceted relationship between Michigan and Canada is uncertain, but with advances in technology and recycling it can be maintained while keeping the surrounding environment safe.
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