December 12, 2022
Dear Governor Whitmer,
We are writing to urge you to veto the solid waste reform package (HB 4454-61, with Senate substitutes) due to the damaging provisions tacked onto the bill in the lame duck session for the burning of plastics through pyrolysis and gasification. Those provisions fling open Michigan’s door to the development of highly toxic and polluting facilities, likely to be located in already heavily impacted communities.
We oppose these bills with some reluctance, since dozens of stakeholders spent years crafting a set of solid proposals that advance recycling, waste reduction, and solid waste management in Michigan, goals that all of us embrace. We greatly appreciate EGLE’s leadership in overseeing the process to strengthen Michigan’s solid waste laws.
However, the last-minute addition of language that statutorily exempts pyrolysis, gasification, and a large number of other untested technologies from state solid waste laws undermines all that good work. We strongly urge you to veto the package on the following grounds:
1. Pyrolysis and gasification technologies are considered incineration under federal laws, and they should be treated as incineration in Michigan.
40 C.F.R. 60.51(b) (defining “Municipal waste combustor, MWC, or municipal waste combustor unit” as “any setting or equipment that combusts solid, liquid, or gasified municipal solid waste including, but not limited to, field-erected incinerators (with or without heat recovery), modular incinerators (starved-air or excess-air), boilers (i.e., steam generating units), furnaces (whether suspension-fired, grate-fired, mass-fired, air curtain incinerators, or fluidized bed-fired), and pyrolysis/combustion units.”
Courts have ruled repeatedly that “any” facility that combusts “any” material are incinerators. Detroit residents fought for years to protect their community from the harmful pollution of an incinerator. Pyrolysis and gasification are incineration processes that release pollutants associated with cancer, asthma, and harm to children’s health. Michigan should not be deregulating those technologies now.
2. The exemptions give special favors to unproven technologies that have failed to live up to their hype, and have instead created unjust burdens on communities that can bear them the least.
A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that most of these facilities “are not recycling any plastic; generate large quantities of hazardous waste; and release hazardous air pollutants." The study goes on to add that pyrolysis and gasification release chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, neurological damage, or other serious health effects like birth defects – and most are cited in communities that are disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income, adding to environmental injustices.
An independent investigation found that the “chemical recycling” industry has struggled with technological difficulties; creates an unnecessary risk to the environment and public health; and poses a financially risky future that is incompatible with a climate safe future and circular economy. That study found that only about 20% of proposed facilities are operational, with the majority shutting down or being canceled despite tens of millions of dollars in funding.
3. The exemptions remove one of the most effective tools for impacted communities to protect themselves from harmful developments. No matter what they’re called, these technologies are not “recycling” materials, and their development should be treated as solid waste facilities. They process waste with high-heat technology, which is why they are considered incinerators under the federal Clean Air Act. Michigan’s solid waste laws give local communities a say in the siting of solid waste facilities, and the bill’s exemption will strip already-impacted communities of one of their most effective methods for having input into proposed future development decisions.
4. The exemptions will increase carbon emissions in Michigan, and are inconsistent with the MI Healthy Climate Plan. Pyrolysis and gasification are carbon-intensive technologies that would increase the level of greenhouse gas emissions in Michigan if they’re encouraged to be developed to handle materials in the solid waste stream. A recent life-cycle assessment of the technologies found that pyrolysis generates nine times the greenhouse gas emissions as mechanical recycling.
5. The exemptions may lead to the burning of PFAS-contaminated wastes in Michigan. As the world makes a transition away from fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry has been encouraging the development of new markets for its product, particularly new plastic packaging, which has led to plastic pollution in the Great Lakes and throughout the world, and to regulations that may restrict the development of unrecyclable plastics. The regulatory threat has led the industry to propose pyrolysis and gasification as its answer to the recyclability question, and to a concerted effort to exempt those technologies from Clean Air Act regulations and state solid waste laws. An NRDC analysis finds that a proposed federal rule to exempt these facilities from CAA regulation, when coupled with state solid waste exemption, could lead to the burning of PFAS-contaminated wastes in pyrolysis facilities. The implications for disposal of PFAS waste needs to be fully looked at and understood before any new last-minute changes are made.
6. The legislation will further confuse the public about the benefits of recycling, and will create a barrier to better systemic solutions. There already exists confusion and cynicism about the benefits of recycling, and the use of the term “chemical recycling” to refer to technologies that the Clean Air Act regulates as incineration is the ultimate greenwashing. Recycling industry experts not only object to this use of language; they also object to the technology itself. In this report, the Alliance of Mission Based Recyclers explains that the use of pyrolysis and gasification to manage plastic waste creates a barrier to better systemic solutions.
Thank you for considering our objections. Please veto the solid waste package, and let’s work together in 2023 to pass clean solid waste reform.
- Christy McGillivray, Legislative and Political Director, Sierra Club Michigan
- Michael Garfield, Director, Ecology Center
- Juan Jhong-Chung, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
- Sean McBrearty, Legislative and Policy Director, Clean Water Action
- Abby Clark, Midwest Campaign Manager, Natural Resources Defense Council
- Lynn Hoffman, National Coordinator, Alliance of Mission Based Recyclers
- Bryan Ukena, CEO, Recycle Ann Arbor
- Bridget Saunders Vial, Organizer, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition Action!
- Deborah Stewart Anderson, Zero Waste Detroit
- Rev. Sharon Buttry, Director, Detroit Hamtramck Coalition for Advancing Healthy Environments
- On behalf of the Grassroots Members of the Environmental Justice Caucus,
- Megan Hess, We The People Action Fund
- Nayyirah Shariff, Flint Rising!
- Bridget Vial, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
- Mona Munroe-Younis, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint
- KT Morelli, Breathe Free Detroit
- Robbie Moore, President, East Ferry Warren Neighborhood Association (residing adjacent to the Detroit incinerator)
- KT Morelli, Organizer Breathe Free Detroit
- Tiffany C.Stewart, Founder, Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Solutions Coalition (GLPPSC)
- Gloria J Lowe, President, We Want Green Too
- Karen Hammer Greenacres,Woodward Civic Association,
- Theresa Landrum, Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit
- Andrew Kemp, President, Arboretum Detroit
- Jessica Roff, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
- Alison Waliszewski, Policy Director 5, Gyres Institute
- Frankie Orona, Executive Director, Society of Native Nations
- Judith Enck, Former EPA Regional Administrator, President, Beyond Plastics
- Linda Rodriguez, Oceans Plastics Campaigner, Greenpeace USA
- Arthur Bowman III, PhD, Policy Director Center, Environmental Health
- Karen Wirsig, Plastics Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada
- Tami A Renkoski and Art Hirsch, West Michigan Climate Reality
- Holly Nickerson, Environmental Council of Huron Valley
- Julia Chambers, AFFEW Friends for the Environment
- Rita Mitchell, Co-Founder, Washtenaw350
- Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water (FLOW)
- Emily Jones, Organizing Director, Michigan Student Power Alliance