A Watershed Moment: The Dangers of Co-Mingling in Landfills

In Grand Rapids, Waste Not bags currently separate organic waste from trash and prevents yard waste from entering landfills.

On this weeks episode of A Watershed Moment we hear from Nick Occhipinti, Policy Director for West Michigan Environmental Action Council as he explains the dangers of reversing the ban on the yard waste co-mingling law in Michigan.

A law may soon be passed that allows the co-mingling of yard waste with trash in landfills. Advocates for the law argue that the excess methane produced by organic materials in landfills can be collected and used as a source of energy. But as Occhipinti points out, “Landfills weren’t really designed to be optimal energy production units.”

Since 1994 it has been illegal to mix organic yard waste with trash in landfills. One of the major reasons why the law was introduced in the first place, was to protect groundwater and the environment from leachate seeping out of landfills. Mixing organic waste with trash produces methane and other toxins that are bad for the environment and bad for us. The law diverts organic waste away from landfills and into a system that will make more use out of it, namely the composting industry.

“The composting industry creates four jobs for every 10,000 tons per year of compostable material, compared to one job for landfilling or incinerating the same material,” said Occhipinti. WMEAC has spoken to composting companies in Grand Rapids, and they too are opposed to the law. The law would devastate the growing and burgeoning composting businesses that survive off of disposed yard waste.

Is collecting methane for energy worth the environmental and social issues that will likely rise by passing this law? “We’ve seen numbers north of 25 percent of [methane] escapes [landfills] and can’t even be captured [to be used for energy],” said Occhipinti. “By burning this material, you’re really wasting the energy and the value of that material. The optimal use in this situation is composted, nutrient rich soils.”

The legislation passed the Michigan House, and is now awaiting decision at the Michigan Senate. WMEAC hopes that the legislatures will recognize that this is bad public policy and will refrain from passing it. To help stop the bill, contact your senator and the governor and visit WMEAC’s web page dedicated to putting a stop to this law.

“[The co-mingling] ban was really significant in creating Michigan jobs in the composting industry, it really optimized the end use of this material stream. We don’t want to take a step back and go back to wasting energy, wasting value from that compost, and hurting Michigan jobs,” said Occhipinti.

Listen to this episode of A Watershed Moment online.

“A Watershed Moment” is a weekly radio program focused on environmental news and happenings in West Michigan, plus solutions for living a greener life.  Broadcast on WYCE-FM 88.1 on Tuesdays at 8:30am and 5:30pm, this program is produced by Grand Rapids Community Media Center and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

0 replies
  1. kas0157
    kas0157 says:

    MI Composting Council Fwd: Analysis HB 4265 & 4266

    This is why Yard Waste Compost should not return to the landfill:

    I was forwarded an e-mail regarding a legislative battle surrounding the controversy of commingling yard waste with garbage. “As this will not only effect the Composting Industry, Solid Waste Haulers, “It will have a trickle down effect on the consumers cost for trash removal and the shortage of compost as an end result”-Douglas A. DeVoid

    On April 12, 2012 I wrote an article covering this subject “Legislation Triggers Debate about Renewable Energy.”

    It seems to me that the sides of debate are leaning towards loss of jobs and increased costs for the consumer can be expected!

    If you would like to see your name or business added to the list of opposed or unopposed please contact me at domesticleanup@yahoo.com. You may also leave a comment if you prefer to be made anonymous but still take part in what will possible effect your wallet and the state of the economy in Michigan.

    Forwarded Message From: Renee Michaels (Uni-Dig Inc).

    Legislators fail to mention an entire twenty year industry will be wiped out without any future way to produce Topsoil.

    There is a shortage of topsoil right now because of the lack of construction. Only the rich will be able to afford topsoil in the future.

    Compost is Topsoil and Topsoil is our growing power for food.

    What about Urban Farming spreading across the State?

    Schools are setting up Gardens, Chrysler in Detroit is paying to put a garden in with the use of topsoil/compost. These community gardens are being established to help feed the poor and it will all be wiped out if “yard clippings” return to the landfill.

    The composting sites across Michigan will be wiped out along with all the 1000”s of jobs that were created from the composting industry without any new ones being created. No new jobs are going to be created if this material is returned to the landfill.

    The passing of this House Bill is going to affect the people of the State of Michigan including the farmers, the businesses that grew because of composting, the huge amount of tax revenue lost to the State itself, the poor and hungry, the children of tomorrow that will not have any soil to grow produce or plants for that matter. They only mention a small number of people on this sheet of paper that oppose this bill, however most do not realize where topsoil comes from and do not understand what is going to happen if this bill should pass. Once it is passed, it will not be something that is easily reversed. It took twenty years to grow the industry to where it is today.

    Most important, yard waste is approximately 25% of the waste stream that has been removed from the landfills currently. Through the efforts of yard waste composting sites located through out the State of Michigan, these sites have saved the Cities and Townships from paying high rate disposal fees at the landfills. Should these Yard Waste Composting sites shut down, then the disposal fees at the landfill in which cities and residents pay will rise again over time.


    This is why the Arguments in support stated are (NOT TRUE)

    The costs to Municipalities that currently provide curbside pick-up of yard waste would reduce cost. THIS IS NOT TRUE. If yard waste is co-mingled with other solid waste picked up at the curb, the same number of trucks are needed to cover the same route. Example: if it takes two trucks to clear one street with compost and garbage that has 50 yards of material separated, those same two trucks will be needed to pick up the same street if the material is commingled. Further, more fuel will be spent sending those trucks to a landfill in most areas because right now compost sites are usually half the distance.

    LANDFILLS WILL BE ACCEPTING A GREATER AMOUNT OF WASTE which will generate additional revenue for both the Solid Waste Program Fund and the communities that receive the waste. ARE YOU KIDDING? OPEN UP THE GATES FROM CANADA! The entire purpose of stopping the trucks coming from Canada was because they did not want to fill up our landfill space. If this view has changed then let the trucks come from Canada and start dumping garbage if you want fund money for filling up our landfill space.

    Methane gas is not captured in its entirety. The amount of methane that will be gained is very minimal if yard waste is returned to the landfill.

    Learn more about Renee’s e-mail conversation with an elected official @ http://www.domesticcleanup.net/2012/05/mi-composting-council-fwd-analysis-hb-4265-4266/


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