By Saodat Asanova-Taylor
Capital News Service
LANSING — Operators of compost companies and public agencies in Michigan are criticizing legislative bills that might put them out of business.
The bills propose modifying the 17-year-old ban on dumping yard waste in landfills. They would allow some disposal in landfills instead of requiring composting.
Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, one of the sponsors, said the measure is necessary for creating renewable energy resources.
The other sponsor of the legislations is Rep. Kenneth Horn, R-Frankenmuth.
“It will allow collection of yard waste only for those landfills that will use a gas collection system and then create alternative energy from it. The ban will still be in place for all the other landfills,” Opsommer said.
Yard waste combined with other trash can produce 10 percent more methane to generate electricity and heat, he said.
According to Opsommer, the change would be a good opportunity for business groups, unions and energy innovators to produce more alternative energy.
Michigan banned the disposal of yard waste in landfills in 1996, to reduce the need for new dumps and to encourage a greater use of composting to turn waste into nutrient-rich humus, according to the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in Grand Rapids.
Over the years, the ban encouraged a growing industry that created valuable compost for farms, gardens and homes.
Meanwhile, compost business owners say they are concerned they won’t be able to compete with big energy companies to buy yard waste from landfills. Currently, their own trucks collect yard waste or waste is brought in by individuals and private companies.
James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said the bills would cripple family-owned compost businesses.
“We strongly disagree with this proposal,” he said, adding that years ago the state encouraged these businesses and now legislators are “pulling the rug out from under their feet.”
Michigan has 134 compost operations, including 30 to 40 private businesses. The rest are public entities run by counties. The number of employees working at each business is estimated to be between four and 15 people, according to the Michigan Environmental Council.
“These businesses run profitable operations. They produce nutrient-rich soil products and create jobs,” Clift said, “but the legislators would guarantee bankruptcy.”
Tom Turner, owner of Spurt Industries in Zeeland, Mich., said his business would not survive if the legislation passes. The company has other Michigan locations in Ada, Byron Center, Wixom and Lansing.
“The bill will allow garbage trucks to pick up yard waste, which would take away 90 percent of my raw material,” he said. “We will no longer be receiving enough to maintain our business. It will ruin us.”
Michael Nicholson, vice president of WeCare Organics in Ann Arbor, said the legislation is a bad approach, both economically and environmentally.
“Landfill gas escapes uncontrollably and land waste spoils quickly. A representation that it is effective or somehow efficient renewable energy is a complete misrepresentation,” Nicholson said.
Methane produced by decomposition of yard waste in landfills can generate electricity, but 30-50 percent of methane from landfills goes into the atmosphere before capture systems start to burn it, according to the Michigan Environmental Council.
“You will lose more gas than generate energy. The leaks can have a tremendous impact on the environment, polluting the air and water. Composting yard waste is a safer way to promote the government’s idea of ‘Pure Michigan’,” Nicholson said.
Meanwhile, Elisa Seltzer, Emmet County director of the Michigan Department of Public Works, said a shortage of yard waste would affect private and public businesses.
“In Emmet County, we have a strong history of waste management practices. Since 2005, we have built a successful operation that turns yard waste into high-quality compost. Landscapers, gardeners and farmers depend on it,” Seltzer said.
“We are the only business that sells high-quality yard waste for soil-building organic composition. Some people say it’s best stuff,” she said.
According to Seltzer, 10 tons of a yard waste going to a landfill create one job, but 10 tons going to compost create four jobs.
“If we let the yard waste to go to landfills, we will lose jobs. So that will be absolutely crazy if the government chooses to put the waste into landfills,” Seltzer said.
The legislation is pending in the House Committee on Energy and Technology.