The Michigan House House of Representatives moved closer to passing a a package of bills that would allow the co-mingling of yard clippings with garbage in landfills.
Currently Michigan residents are required to separate yard waste from trash due to the “Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act” of 1994, among other benefits of the law. Separating yard waste from garbage keeps landfills from producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The law also ensures a robust composting industry in the state.
Methane is produced when organic waste decompses in the anaerobic environment of a landfill rather than compost piles with sufficient air circulation where very little, if any, methane is produced. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, according to the EPA.
House Bills 4266 and 4265 was passed in the by the House Energy and Technology Committee last tuesday. A similar bill is currently in the State Senate. The proposed bills suggest collecting the excess methane and burning it as an energy source. However, local experts argue that this is not an efficient option, “Burning landfill methane is not an optimal use for methane and comes with major negative environmental consequences” says Nick Occhipinti of West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
According to a report prepared by composting industry experts in response to the corresponding Senate Bill 864, landfill methane collection efficiency would need to increase to approximately a 95 if the organics management solution were to equal an aerobic decomosition method, such as composting. Collection efficiencies at landfills are currently estimated at 20%.
The US Composting Council does not support the implementation of the bills, emphasizing the benefits of composting, such as its ability to improve soil health and fertility, and its contribution to erosion control and stormwater management.
Aside from the environmental debate, the bills could have a negative economic impact, according to its opponents. The separation of yard waste 18 years ago stimulated the creation of small businesses involved in recycling and composting services. One such business, Spurt Industries, is vehemently fighting against the implementation of the bills. Spurt is a West Michigan business dedicated to finding alternative uses for organic waste products, reducing the need for landfill space and preserving and renewing the environment.
“I was always under the impression that our government wanted to help small business expand, the only people that will benefit from this is the waste haulers and big business,” says Rick Menken General Manager of Spurt, “We could lose up to 70% of our incoming raw material. You can’t run a business when you lose that much of your material.”
Currently the law in Michigan does not allow co-mingled trash to be sent to composting sites: Materials mixed with plastics, metals and other non-compostable materials are useless to composters.
Rick Menken believes there will be a trickle-down effect as well. Spurt Industries may likely go out of business, he said, but so would the hundreds of other small business that either depend directly on composting and recycling or depend upon businesses that perform those activities for them.
A study done by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance determined that for every four jobs found in the composting and recycling business, only one job can be found in the landfill and incineration business. Cutting that many jobs will almost certainly have a devastating effect on Michigan’s precarious unemployment rate.
The probable energy potential of yard clippings is only between 0.124% and 0.087% of energy production, according to USEPA/DOE data. Less than 1% of energy will be produced from co-mingling yard waste with trash and with a severe cost.
According to Occhipinti, the new law, if enacted, should not immediately impact yard waste recycling in the city of Grand Rapids, which manages waste removal for its residents. The City would still have the ability to place restrictions on comingling, as would commercial waste haulers. But as wate haulers are among the primary advocates for the new law, it is unlikely that they would chose to do so, he said.