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Recycling Gets a New Foothold in Motown
“As Mayor, I understand that for you and your children to have pride in your city, it must be clean. … It will take you and all the people you know, pulling together and actually cleaning up our neighborhoods to get us there. Then we have to change our behaviors in order to keep our city clean.” —Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick
The city of Detroit needs a great deal more than just some sprucing-up. Many residents have recognized that the city needs to change its behavior in how it handles trash in order to make Detroit cleaner, healthier and safer. The Detroit incinerator is a major source of air pollution and the city has the third highest rate of asthma in the country. The incinerator also generates some 200,000 tons of toxic ash each year that ends up in a landfill in Sumpter Township.
In late 1989 as the trash incinerator was coming on-line, Bob Holland, then president of the Rosedale Park Improvement Association, asked in his monthly column: “Who would like to do something about recycling in Detroit?” Residents responded and created the all-volunteer Rosedale Recycles in April 1990. Rosedale Recycles has collected recyclables in the parking lot of the Christ the King church on Grand River Avenue every third Saturday of the month since then. Ecology Center President Margaret Weber has long been a leader of the group.
In addition to overseeing the operations of the Detroit trash incinerator, the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority (GDRRA) is responsible for the proper disposal of household hazardous waste and for the operation of the only recycling facility run by the city, the Chene-Ferry Market drop-off station. Given the financial pressures to deliver trash to the incinerator many residents have questioned whether their recyclables end-up going to the incinerator anyway.
Rosedale Recycles sends collected materials to Taylor Recycling. GDRRA claims to send the materials collected at the Chene-Ferry Market to the same vendor. Both primarily collect paper, plastic and glass. According to Taylor Recycling invoices and published reports, GDRRA collects less than three times the amount of these materials as Rosedale Recycles for more than 80 times the cost. The metal collected by GDRRA is almost entirely iron pulled out of the trash at the incinerator and not from the Chene-Ferry Market. The Chene-Ferry Market has an official budget of about $300,000 per year where Rosedale Recycles has an annual budget of about $3,500.
Most major cities in the United States have recognized the value of genuine waste reduction through recycling and composting. The October 2002 edition of Waste News, published in Detroit, included a recycling survey of eighteen major cities in the United States. At an official recycling rate of 7.2% of trash collected in 1998, Detroit ranked next to last, only surpassed by Dallas.
Is the problem that Detroit is a large city? No, the city with the highest rate of waste reduction was Los Angeles, CA (3.7 million residents) with a recycling rate of 55.5%. In the fiscal year ending June 2001, Los Angeles recycled more than 5.3 million tons of what otherwise would have become trash. Los Angeles recycles more than eight times the amount of trash that the Detroit Department of Public Works collects each year.
The real reason why Detroit does not have an effective waste reduction plan is because the city is home to the country’s largest trash incinerator. The contract between the incinerator’s operator, Michigan Waste Energy, and the city assesses financial penalties against the city if less than 850,000 tons of trash is delivered to the incinerator each year. GDRRA has never been able to find enough trash to avoid the financial penalties. GDRRA has tried to seek out trash from private haulers to reach the 850,000 ton mark. Recently about 40% of the roughly 720,000 tons of trash burned at the incinerator has been from private haulers from across southeast Michigan and a couple from outside the state. In the current fiscal year, Detroit residents will pay at least $130 per ton to have their trash burned at the incinerator while private haulers are charged $20 per ton for the same type of trash.
A new project in Detroit is taking the concept of Rosedale Recycles even further. Corktown Recycles will begin collecting recyclables the third Saturday of every month in December 2002. The project is housed within the Greater Corktown Development Corporation and has an initial grant of $100,000 from the Detroit Empowerment Zone. The grant states “Corktown proposes a neighborhood-based recycling system that will enhance our area, build community amongst our residents, recycle basic household materials, provide attractive recycle trash containers in key areas, and provide recycling education to residents, businesses, churches, and non-profit organizations.”
The project is the brainchild of Barbara Stevenson, whose vision includes making Corktown Recycles a pilot project to be expanded to other neighborhoods based out of churches or block-club associations. Stevenson’s ultimate vision is to see the recyclables as a basis for economic development in Detroit by establishing an ecologically friendly business incubator park that makes use of the materials recovered. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance estimates that, on average, 25 manufacturing-based jobs are created for every 10,000 tons of materials recovered. If Detroit achieved a 50% recycling rate that would create 750 new jobs. If you include reusing materials from abandoned buildings and Detroit’s industrial history, the materials available are even higher so the number of new jobs could be more than 1,500.
I asked Margaret Weber of Rosedale Recycles if she had any comments for the City of Detroit. She replied, “The long-term goal of Rosedale Recycles is for curbside recycling throughout Detroit, because we know that making recycling convenient will increase the recovery rate of waste materials. Recycling is about a different vision, about conserving important resources, about reducing greenhouse gases, about generating a second life for materials. Don’t trash Detroit. Recycle!”
Brad van Guilder is the Ecology Center’s Wayne County Community Organizer. He’s been working with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and Detroit community activists to promote cleaner and safer waste disposal in Detroit. For more information about the Detroit trash incinerator and recycling alternatives see the Ecology Center’s web site at http://www.ecocenter.org.
Barbara Stevenson, Director
Tim McKay, Organizer
3rd Saturday each month 10am-2pm
Greater Corktown Development Corporation
Scott Martin, Executive Director
Michigan Ave and 14th Street
3rd Saturday each month 10am-2pm
Christ the King parking lot
Grand River Ave and Burt
313-272-5820 or 313-837-7275
|Material Collected (tons)||GDRRA (1998)||Rosedale Recycles (2000)|