NEWS UPDATE (June 6th, 2017). At last, there's a resolution. And, the results are in– Monday, June 5th, Ann Arbor City Council voted 11-0 to award Recycle Ann Arbor interim operations for the Materials Recovery Facility over Waste Management. This is a step in the right direction toward getting Ann Arbor's recycling program back on track. Recycle Ann Arbor's interim plan will produce less GHG emissions than the alternate plans would have, and Ann Arbor's glass will now be recycled into fiberglass and glass containers instead of landfill cover.
NEWS UPDATE (April 1st, 2017). City Council votes in favor of Recycle Ann Arbor. Next step, the City of Ann Arbor to negotiate a contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to handle the sorting of the city's recyclables. Recyclables will be loose loaded and shipped to a state of the art Rumpke facility to be sorted and recycled. Glass will be sorted and sent to Rumpke's glass benefication facility and used as glass containers or fiberglass.
NEWS UPDATE (March 3, 2017): Ann Arbor City Councilpersons Chip Smith and Jason Frenzel have proposed an interim contract with Recycle Ann Arbor, in partnership with Rumpke Waste and Recycling, to process recyclables for the City, in accordance with the Environmental Commission resolution. City Council will be voting on the resolution Monday night.
On Thursday, February 23, the Ann Arbor Environmental Commission unanimously endorsed the Recycle Ann Arbor / Rumpke proposal to process City recyclables until the City’s materials recovery facility (MRF) is back up and running.
RAA/Rumpke’s price was neck-and-neck with another bidder, Waste Management Inc., and far lower than a third bidder, Emterra. But what distinguished the RAA/Rumpke proposal was its technical and operational excellence. In particular, the RAA/Rumpke proposal flatly rejects the practice– used by Waste Management and embraced by City of Ann Arbor staff– to compact and bale recyclables before shipping them to a distant MRF.
“Baling unsorted recyclables leads to the interlocking of items, making materials much more difficult to segregate at the MRF, which leads to far higher residuals at the end of the sorting lines, and at the end markets,” said Todd Bukowski, a senior packaging consultant who testified before the Commission. “Those materials then end up in landfills. For quality recycling, you want to bale materials after sorting, never before.”
Over the last three months, several recycling experts, including the Executive Director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, have advised the City about the damage done to recyclables by baling before sorting, with some estimates that up to 33% of all recyclables handled that way end up in a landfill. Recycling industry groups recently commissioned a report on the topic that came to the same conclusion.
City staff responded that there were reasonable levels of residue from processing pre-baled recyclables at Waste Management’s Akron MRF, but they’ve offered no response about the additional residue at end markets, which is where recyclers say the real problem lies.
At the outset of the Environmental Commission meeting, Chair Susan Hutton declared the matter was settled– that if the City has to long-distance haul its recyclables, then loose-hauling is far better for recycling and the environment.
In addition to the loose-hauling advantage, Environmental Commissioners pointed to several other advantages to the RAA/Rumpke proposal.
The proposal from homegrown nonprofit Recycle Ann Arbor was provided in conjunction with Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services, the tenth largest solid waste company in the United States. The team of service providers provides outstanding technical and operating capabilities. Rumpke operated eight recycling facilities in the Midwest, processing, and marketing over 400,000 tons of recyclables each year. It runs a state-of-the-art glass processing facility in Dayton, allowing Ann Arbor’s glass to be sold to glass container and fiberglass markets, not landfill cover, as it had been marketed in recent years by the City’s former MRF operator. The trucking contractor, Custom Ecology, has been hauling Ann Arbor’s trash from the City’s transfer station for over a decade. And Recycle Ann Arbor is a nationally recognized community-based recycler that created the first curbside recycling program in Michigan.
The bid encourages “recycling best practices” by hauling recyclables loose, and by actually recycling glass (instead of using it as landfill cover).
The proposal would pay the recycling employees above living wage; the employees would be represented by a labor union; and all three key partners (RAA, Rumpke, and the UAW) bring outstanding health and safety practices and resources to the project.
Recycle Ann Arbor brought in additional regional expertise for the project, but their proposal is the only one from a local company. For that matter, it’s the only one from a company based in Michigan. It’s the only one based in the Midwest.
RAA is a nonprofit organization, governed by a community-based volunteer Board of Directors, with the sole mission of environment and community. In contrast, one of the other bidders, Waste Management, downsized its corporate recycling division three years ago, since it wasn’t generating enough profits for its shareholders.
For nearly 50 years, we’ve been explaining why it’s important to know what happens to your recyclables after you put them in a bin. Not all recycling is alike. It matters who runs your MRF.
This coming Monday, March 6th, the Ann Arbor City Council will be voting on the Frenzel/Smith resolution in support of the RAA/Rumpke proposal and the Environmental Commission recommendation. This is the first key step in restoring Ann Arbor’s recycling program. Get involved. Contact Mayor Taylor and your councilmembers, urge them to support the resolution and thank them and City staff for working on behalf of the environment and the community.
7 pm Monday, March 6th, 2017
Larcom City Hall - Third floor
City Council meets in the second floor Council chambers
301 E. Huron St.
Published on February 27, 2017
Where does trash go when we throw it “away”? If you live in Metro Detroit, it’s very likely some or all of your discards go to the world’s largest trash incinerator, located in the heart of Detroit. The incinerator’s smokestack rises up from the cement near the intersection of I-75 and I-94. One might think that such an area, bisected by freeways and host to a large industrial polluter, would be vacant of families and homes. On the contrary, 7,280 people—including 1,544 children—live within just one mile of the incinerator. The area is also home to numerous schools and a new housing development.
The incinerator, constructed in 1986 and now owned and operated by Detroit Renewable Power, has been a bone of contention with resident Detroiters from the very beginning. And with good reason. It has not been a good neighbor. In the last two years alone, DRP’s incinerator has violated the Clean Air Act 379 times. That’s a violation at least every other day!
Community members recently gathered in a local church basement on a 60-degree day in February to learn more about the violations and what could be done. The meeting was hosted by Breathe Free Detroit, a campaign started by the Ecology Center, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and concerned community members.
Attendees learned that even though DRP violated federal air pollution laws 379 times, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has proposed to fine the company for only 6 violations, totaling $149,000. Sixty-four continuous days of emitting excess particulate matter—a known cause and trigger of asthma—were counted as one single violation. Over 300 violations of carbon monoxide (CO) releases were excused because they occurred during start up, shut down, or a malfunction of the facility.
Event speakers acknowledged that while the recent spell of warm weather is lovely, other results of global warming are catastrophic. And carbon monoxide (CO) is a major greenhouse gas, contributing to the problem greatly. Additionally, “…when CO levels are elevated outdoors, they can be of particular concern for people with some types of heart disease [due to reduced oxygen],” according to the U.S. EPA.
Margaret Weber of Zero Waste Detroit notes that according to the analysis by Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments (CA-PHE), emissions from the DRP facility can be linked to premature deaths, hospitalizations, and asthma incidences among children. The total monetized value of the health impacts attributable to the DRP facility alone is $2.6 million each year.
What bothers local community members just as much, however, is the fact that most of the trash burned comes from outside of Detroit. At least 60% comes from Oakland County alone. All of the Grosse Pointes send all of their trash to the incinerator. “This is a classic case of environmental racism as a community of color is burdened with the negative impacts of incinerating the trash from majority white, affluent communities”, according to Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
But, the recent community meeting was not all bad news. Concerned residents were pleased to learn that they have an opportunity to have their voices heard. The MDEQ’s proposed consent decree, detailing the penalties tied to the incinerator’s recent violations, is currently open for public comment.
Also on this day, MDEQ will host a public hearing at the International Institute in Detroit to receive verbal comments. Many community members are planning to attend. Any Michigan resident can submit a comment. Here’s how:
Comment by mail:
Jason Wolf, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division,
P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, MI 48909
Comment by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment in person: Public Hearing WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8, 2017
International Institute, 111 East Kirby Street, Detroit, MI 48202
6:00pm—Public Informational Session
Published on February 27, 2017
On Saturday, January 21st the Ecology Center family marched for the environment and for justice. We were marching across the nation in Washington DC, Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Dallas Texas, Oakland California, Portland Oregon, Montpelier Vermont, just to name a few.
We are not strangers to conflict, to fighting hard battles for justice. We see that the health of the environment is intimately connected to the health of our children and our communities. We see that in order to fight for environmental justice we must be accomplices to our friends and partners fighting for racial and gender justice, for LGBTQIA+ rights, immigrant rights, and disability rights.
We are women, we are black, we are Jewish, we are Native American, we are gay, we have disabilities. Our children are mixed race, transgender, and the children of recent immigrants. We serve our Arab American and Muslim neighbors through our recycling education program in Dearborn, the Latino community in SW Detroit via Fresh Prescription, and the children of Flint and across Michigan in our work to end lead poisoning. Our families, our identities and our fight for justice are intersectional.
We will continue to march for you and with you.
Published on January 30, 2017
How many times a day do doctors wash their hands? Dozens, perhaps. And they encourage us to follow effective hand-washing techniques as well.
“But, the conversation shouldn’t end there”, according to Dr. Paula Kim, MD with Beaumont Health System, clinical professor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, and associate professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She says, “The next questions are: What type of soap is used at home? Is it an antibacterial? Or is it plain soap and water?”
The Centers for Disease Control, American Medical Association, Food and Drug Administration and others overwhelmingly encourage people to use non-antibacterial (plain) soap, warm water and to rub hands together for a minimum of 20 - 30 seconds.
Why plain soap? Isn’t an antibacterial product more effective? In 2013 the FDA challenged manufacturers of antibacterial hand and body soaps (which are Over the Counter drugs) to prove that their products are more effective at killing germs than plain soap and water. And they couldn’t do it.
“There’s no data demonstrating that these drugs provide additional protection from diseases and infections. Using these products might give people a false sense of security,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products.
In fact, this past September the FDA issued a rule banning manufacturers from using nineteen different antibacterial active ingredients, including the widely-used triclosan. The agency cited health risks, including bacterial resistance, as a main concern. Manufacturers of hand and body soaps (soaps intended to be used with water) have until September 2017 to switch their formulations. The new rule affects the majority of liquid hand soaps and bar soaps currently on the market. It does not affect hand sanitizers or hand wipes.
According to the FDA, “...laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Some data shows this resistance may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments, such as antibiotics.” The FDA has also expressed concern over triclosan’s potential hormonal effects. According to the FDA, “...recent studies have demonstrated that triclosan showed effects on the thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone systems in several animal species, including mammals, the implications of which on human health, especially for children, are still not well understood.”
A 2014 report, Chemicals in Consumer Products Are Draining Trouble into the Great Lakes Ecosystem, published by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), found--in addition to concerns about endocrine activity--triclosan carries moderate risks for reproductive toxicity, developmental neurotoxicity, neurotoxicity (a single dose), and human systemic toxicity (repeated dosage).
Triclosan is the most commonly used active ingredient in antibacterial products, of which there are thousands. It is added to household cleaners, cosmetics (including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and mouthwash), clothing, furniture, lunchboxes, backpacks, food packaging, kitchen utensils, children’s toys, and more. But, it doesn’t stay in those products. Researchers have detected triclosan in household dust, in streams and other waterways, in wildlife, in human plasma and breast milk, and in drinking water. Indeed the multitude of exposure paths was a driving factor behind the FDA’s original request for safety and efficacy data from manufacturers. According to a September 2016 FDA Consumer Update fact sheet, Antibacterials? You Can Skip It--Use Plain Soap and Water, “...people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.”
Much of the triclosan washed down the drain ultimately finds its way to our local waterways, since wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter out the chemical. CELA’s 2014 report found 90% of surface water sampled in the Great Lakes is contaminated with triclosan. They label triclosan “a chemical to be avoided” due in part to the very high risk of aquatic toxicity and its persistence in the environment. Once triclosan-laced wastewater is discharged into local waterways it reacts with sunlight to form dioxins, which can produce a spectrum of toxic health effects.
Many people use antibacterial soaps without knowing they are using an OTC drug. Shoppers should watch out for the word “antibacterial” or the phrase “kills germs”. Generally, we find these words and phrases reassuring. But, remember that it is not necessary to kill all the germs, but to simply remove them with plain soap and water. Then wash them down the drain. A Drug Facts label on a soap or body wash is a sign a product contains antibacterial ingredients. As Dr. Kim always encourages her patients, “Read the label on anything you buy. Read what’s in it!”
You don’t have to settle for toxic triclosan in your household cleaners either. Dr. Kim suggests her patients to, “Use natural things if possible, such as vinegar and water.” White vinegar is a food-grade antimicrobial which can kill germs on surfaces. Or, look for Clean Well brand soaps and sanitizers, which use thyme oil as the active ingredient to kill germs. Some of the Seventh Generation brand cleaning products include the Clean Well technology also.
Published on January 30, 2017
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is yet another extreme choice in a long list of reprehensible cabinet nominations by President Trump.
Ecology Center has signed on to a letter, along with 172 other environmental organizations, opposing the nomination of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter asks our senators to reject his nomination based on his troublesome track record as Attorney General in regards to protecting human health and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency was created to protect people and the environment from corporate polluters who would pollute our air, our water, and cause great harm to our environment. As Attorney General, Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA numerous times for regulating carbon emissions, improving interstate air pollution, preventing airborne mercury, and for cleaner water standards. In short, Scott Pruitt has opposed every measure taken by the EPA to protect the health of families.
This leads one to question why in the world would Scott Pruitt want to lead an organization that he has such disdain for? The answer to this important question lies in his questionable alliances, his ties to the oil and gas industry. A 2011 letter signed by Pruitt sent to the EPA disputing the EPA’s methane emissions estimates of natural gas was authored by one of Oklahoma’s largest oil/gas companies. In addition to this blatant conflict of interest highlighted by the 2011 letter, his political campaigns have received significant financial contributions from Fossil Fuel industry giants. Pruitt's loyalties lie with industry, not the people.
If questionable alliances and obvious disdain for the EPA were not enough to substantiate that Pruitt is unfit to lead the EPA, there is more. Pruitt denies or minimizes that climate change is a manmade phenomenon. He also believes that the federal government oversteps its bounds and advocates that the power to protect human and environmental health rest in the states. However, this completely ignores that when the power to protect air, water, and the environment was regulated by the states in the 50s and 60s, the states demonstrated incapable of effectively doing so. Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1990 due to state negligence. In fact, the EPA was created due to the state’s inability to regulate air, water, and the environment. And, since the EPA’s creation, air pollutants have dropped by an average of 70%. Regulations by the EPA (many of which Pruitt has aggressively fought against) prevent premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma. It’s worth noting that Michigan’s asthma rate is higher than the national average and we have some of the most polluted areas in the nation. A Pruitt-led EPA will not benefit Michigan. A Pruitt-led EPA will protect industry over the people.
Scott Pruitt is the wrong choice for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Period. Now is the time to act. Congress is scheduled to vote on Mr. Pruitt's appointment on Wednesday. Don't delay, contact your Senator now and tell them to reject Scott Pruitt's nomination.
--Mara Herman, Ecology Center Health Outreach Coordinator
Published on January 30, 2017