Michigan landfill fees lowest in Great Lakes; state lawmakers propose hike to boost recycling
By Hyonhee Shin
Nov. 7, 2009
LANSING – Some Michigan lawmakers are seeking an increase in solid waste disposal fees to help reduce landfills and incineration. The current fee is 21 cents per ton. Most other Great Lakes states charge more – 50 cents in Indiana, $2.22 in Illinois, $4.75 in Ohio, $7.25 in Pennsylvania and $13 in Wisconsin, the highest in the nation.
A proposal by state Rep. Daniel Scripps, D-Leland, would establish a $7.50 per ton state tipping fee on solid waste dumped at Michigan landfills and municipal incinerators. Under the proposal, the new surcharge initially would generate about $145 million annually. The amount could decrease over time if the program succeeds in reducing the volume of waste.
The money would be dedicated to residential recycling programs, solid waste program administration and assistance to local governments. Kerrin O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, says higher disposal charges could reduce trash imports from other states and Canada.
“The recycling industry has been waiting for the state to provide leadership,” she says. “The proposal would develop funding mechanisms for recycling programs.”
Michigan’s current tipping fee, the cost of solid waste disposal, is low, O’Brien says. “Many other states have higher tipping fees. Ours is comparatively low so it’s been an attraction for other states to bring waste into state. With this new policy, we’ll be able to reduce out-of-state waste.”
According to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), waste imported into Michigan landfills has increased significantly over the past decade. In 2008, imports rose to 17.2 million cubic yards, of which 10.7 million came from Canada, the largest source. More than 30 percent of solid waste dumped in Michigan landfills is from out of state. That figure is up by 50,000 cubic yards compared to 2007 and 11.5 millions compared to 1998.
However, some businesses consider the proposed surcharge another money grab and tax hike. Randall Gross, environmental and regulatory policy director for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, says his organization opposes the proposal.
“We see this as a $140 million tax increase,” says Gross. “The largest recyclers are manufacturers. An average-sized manufacturer would end up paying an additional $10,000 per year in waste disposal because of this tax.”
He says the Legislature should find other ways to fund residential recycling programs.
“We just don’t feel that we should be responsible for funding them when we already administer our own programs,” Gross says. “Any increased cost placed upon landfills will be directly passed on to its customers, which include not only manufacturers but also commercial businesses and residential customers.”
Delta Solid Waste Management Authority Manager Don Pyle dislikes the legislation too.
“The tax would be $428,000 to us here in Delta County,” says Pyle. “We are opposed because we have recycling here and already cover the associated cost. So why tax us for something we already do?”
He says the trash tax would hurt residents and businesses.
“At a time when the state is in such terrible financial shape, do not put another financial burden on the people. They are the ones who will pay this tax,” says Pyle.
Matt Flechter, DEQ’s recycling coordinator, says the 21-cents tipping fee is too low to fully fund recycling programs.
“The tipping fee is a choice manufacturers make on waste disposal,” says Flechter. “Landfill is an inefficient process. If they utilize recycling, they don’t have to pay all the fees. Many manufacturers that have a zero waste policy don’t pay that money for waste disposal.”
Clinton County Waste Management Coordinator Cara Clore says her agency hasn’t taken a formal position on the surcharge legislation but thinks Michigan needs to do more to generate revenues to improve solid waste management.
“Michigan’s solid waste program is in jeopardy,” says Clore, and local waste disposal and recycling programs are also struggling.
“The economic downturn caused a massive devaluation of recycled commodities,” she says. “The cost to operate recycling programs increased significantly, and some programs have been or are being eliminated.
“This results in losing opportunities to save energy, conserve natural resources and generate economic benefits,” says Clore.
A higher surcharge is a viable option to fund the state program and direct resources to the local level, she adds.
However, she’s not sure whether $7.50 is the right figure.
“Commercial businesses and institutions must see tangible benefits,” says Clore. “Surcharge revenues should go towards creating incentives and support to advance waste utilization practices. This might include low-interest loans, grant programs, support for market development and the research and transfer of technology rights to processes which increase beneficial use.”
Co-sponsors include Reps. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores; Deb Kennedy, D-Brownstown; Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens; Jennifer Haase, D-Richmond; Harold Haugh, D-Roseville; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids; Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak; and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga.
Hyonhee Shin reports for Capital News Service
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.