environment: City officials say proposed state landfill changes would waste resources, jobs, money
Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution on March 19 in support of the existing 1990 legislative ban on sending yard wastes to state landfills. This resolution is offered in response to bills passed last week in the state House of Representatives (HB 4265 and HB 4266 ) that would modify the ban on landfilling yard wastes.
According to Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator Matt Naud, "Ann Arbor has created a composting program that is 27 percent less expensive per ton of material than landfilling."
Naud adds, "The production of compost also benefits the city by creating jobs and the sale of compost generates new funds to help support recycling and composting programs in the local community."
Mayor John Hieftje stated: "Lifting this ban represents a big step backward for our state."
Naud explains that the cost to collect and dispose of Ann Arbor's garbage in landfills currently costs $24.83 per ton, with anticipated increases each year. In comparison, composting costs are $19 per ton and are expected to decrease during the next five years.
Ann Arbor collects an average of 10,000 tons of yard waste per year from city properties. Landfilling these tons would cost the city an additional $53,000 per year. Ann Arbor's compost site also receives yard waste from other communities and helps lower the solid waste costs for other municipalities.
The suggestion by landfill operators that yard waste buried in landfills contributes a significant source of "green energy" from captured methane gas is not supportable.
"There is ample research demonstrating that perishable organics (including grass clippings, leaves, and food waste) will decompose and release methane into the atmosphere during the initial three months of landfill burial — long before the gas collection systems are installed and operational," explains Naud.
"Even under optimum circumstances, less than half of the landfill gasses are captured for energy production. The escaping methane gas from landfills contributes a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, with 23 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide."
Methane gas-fueled generation is a less effective way to manage wastes according to the most recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's municipal solid waste assessment. "Combustion or gasification with energy recovery, or waste-to-energy (WTE), is the environmentally preferable route for mixed solid wastes that are neither recyclable nor compostable."
In addition to raising costs for the public in managing their yard wastes, lifting the yard waste landfill ban could encourage more states and Canada to send trash to Michigan. The existing yard waste landfill ban had some impact on reducing the amount of unseparated trash coming into the state.
In passing this resolution, the City of Ann Arbor is joining with the Michigan Recycling Coalition, the U.S. Composting Council, the Ecology Center, League of Conservation voters, and others to encourage public involvement in this discussion. The Ecology Center is coordinating comments on these proposed bills to state elected officials online.
Ann Arbor's resolution states that composting offers an environmentally sound, cost-effective, and decentralized method for managing yard clippings and other organic wastes, without the long-term impacts of landfill disposal.
Michigan's compost industry provides sustainable jobs and produces a valuable soil amending end-product used by farmers, landscapers, governments and residents. In contrast, landfills are engineered to exacting and expensive specifications to limit pollution from the disposal of other wastes.
Repealing the existing yard waste landfill ban benefits landfill operators for short-term solutions, while raising long-term costs to the public and environment.
City Council Resolution to Ban Landfilling Yard Waste for Landfills, as submitted for consideration on March 19, 2012
U.S. Composting Council: General fact sheet web page, Presentation for upholding Michigan's yard waste landfill ban
Nicole (Lowen) Berg is the MRF education center and special projects coordinator at the City of Ann Arbor. Nicole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.a2gov.org for more information on local environmental topics including recycling, composting, water conservation, and choices for green living.
Your World provides local environmental information to our community. Contributing partners include: Washtenaw County's Environmental Health Division; the nonprofit Recycle Ann Arbor; the City of Ann Arbor's Public Services Area, Natural Area Preservation, Systems Planning programs for Energy, Environmental Coordination, Solid Waste, Transportation, and Water Resources.