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Taxing to terminate Toronto's trash?

20. February 2005 • Murph
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Michigan is currently the third-largest importer of trash in the nation, with over a quarter of landfilled trash coming from out of state, but the State legislature may act to stop that. From the Detroit News

In a plan that has already drawn fire from business interests, House Democrats want to scare Canada and other trash exporters from Michigan by making dumping costs among the highest in the nation. The plan would increase tipping fees for all trash to $7.50 a ton from 21 cents a ton.

Canadian waste has become Michigan’s most-discussed environmental issue since Toronto began trucking all its household trash to Wayne County in 2003.

Still, the tax plan could test residents’ resolve. Higher fees have slashed waste imports to other states such as Pennsylvania, but the Michigan plan would cost households about $12 a year in increased disposal charges.

The Michigan Waste Industries Association is apparently calling the plan “unconstitutional”, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has also lined up against the measure. Interesting that business is opposing an environmental plan that uses market forces (increasing the cost of dumping) to achieve its goals, isn’t it? One would think that they would laud such a move as giving people and businesses the choice of paying to continue to throw things away or to become more efficient and generate less waste.

  1. Of course, the true way to use market forces would be to keep the rate at whatever the market would allow, but include legislation making any company that does dump, and its officers, financially liable for any and all environmental costs at any point in the future stemming from the waste.
    That would send the insurance soaring, and make sure that Michigan taxpayers would subsidize as little as possible the eventual outcome of the dumping. (And, it has the advantage of being a backdoor cost, which makes it look more palatable to business).
       —js    Feb. 21 '05 - 12:23AM    #
  2. I’m pessimistic about the possibility of getting money back from the companies ever. I expect we’d just see all of the companies setting up LLCs that would exist exclusively to dump stuff and conveniently declare bankruptcy if anything nasty happened.
       —Murph    Feb. 21 '05 - 02:25AM    #
  3. Which is why the law should be ammended to include personal civil (or criminal) liability. It’s done in certain industries to avoid just that LLC dodge.
       —js    Feb. 22 '05 - 07:29PM    #
  4. Ah, I get it. But I’ll stick to my preference for higher dumping fees.

    Holding folks liable for future damages, even presuming we can accurately assess the cost of damages caused by landfilling, would be a way to make efficient use of landfill space vs. environmental impact on the area around the landfill.

    Making it more expensive to dump up front is a way for us to say that, regardless of what the direct environmental impact of landfilling is, we don’t like it much, and want to provide an incentive to change behavior by taxing trash dumping at more than the cost of dealing with the dumped trash – not a truly “free” market in trash dumping, but a market-style intervention.

    Of course, that leaves the problem that the “behavior change” induced by the intervention could very well be to just dump stuff on the side of the road…
       —Murph    Feb. 22 '05 - 09:03PM    #
  5. “Of course, that leaves the problem that the “behavior changeâ€? induced by the intervention could very well be to just dump stuff on the side of the road…”

    Yep. My Grandma has a cabin across from a large piece of state land, which is full of old junk people didn’t want to pay to dump—since all garbage service up north costs money. If the dump was free, it might mitigate this problem (but probably wouldn’t eliminate it, considering that people are also lazy).
       —Scott    Feb. 23 '05 - 10:24PM    #
  6. Murph, please respond to my comments. I know you wrote that you will not discuss the topic, but I am really concerned about this topic. Thhe plan that the democrats have to decrease the flow of trash may work. I believe that other countries and states will not pay the high dumping fee because other alternatives may be cheaper. I just hope that Michigan did not turn into a dumping ground. I believe that legislation will protect the citizens of Michigan from any environmental issues.
       —Leah    Jul. 13 '05 - 01:15AM    #
  7. Weird, Leah.
       —js    Jul. 13 '05 - 02:17PM    #
  8. Murph’s on vacation.
       —Dale    Jul. 13 '05 - 02:31PM    #
  9. Leah, I’m not sure where I said I wouldn’t discuss the topic. If the plan you’re talking about is still the one from the original post, I had thought that it was shot down by the legislature months ago, and didn’t know it was still a live issue? If there’s a new plan, can you provide a link to more information?

    In general, I support both high tipping fees (what this plan was about, to raise the price of landfill use) and better liability-tracking, which js was mentioning. I don’t see either of these as perfect; higher tipping fees brings the mentioned possible unintended consequence of increased roadside dumping, and liability fees tend to be underassessed. (With Jared Diamond’s Collapse still sitting a foot from my computer, I refer to his example of liability insurance for resource extraction companies (the opposite of landfills?) which he concludes to have been an almost total failure as an environmental protection measure.)

    What about better materials reclamation and consumption reduction? Anybody know the status of the idea to extend bottle deposits to water and iced tea and juice and other non-carbonated beverages? (In Maine, I noticed, wine bottles all had “15 cent deposit” stickers slapped on them. I approved.) Or putting a deposit on grocery bags? (Worked for Ireland, though I’m sure somebody will jump in to call that idea highly regressive…)
       —Murph.    Jul. 19 '05 - 12:54PM    #
  10. “Worked for Ireland, though I’m sure somebody will jump in to call that idea highly regressive”

    Surely if the city can provide recycling totes to every household, they or some private group can provide a few free canvas shopping bags to those who can’t afford them.

    However, grocery bags are not a significant landfill space concern. The issue there is litter, impact on wildlife, and non-renewable resource use. The non-carbonated beverage container deposit would address the landfill issue in addition to those others.

    Still, I think following Ireland’s lead would be wise. Among other impacts it would positively change our way of thinking about resources through the daily reminder of carrying our own bags.
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 19 '05 - 02:47PM    #
  11. Steve, I was thinking about state-level actions, and I’m sure nobody’s going to jump forward with reusable grocery bags for every household in the state. There are plenty of places in the state with no recycling service, and most places in the state recycle much less conveniently than Ann Arbor’s curbside pickup.

    Does the City have any sort of ability to levy something like a bottle deposit? My thinking is not.

    These are, of course, pretty minor actions, but better to approach for lots of directions at once, and I think that, as you mention, things like bottle/bag deposits have a greater impact than just expanding free recycling, in part due to the awareness of value contained/wasted in “waste”.
       —Murph.    Jul. 19 '05 - 04:03PM    #
  12. The plan did not pass, so what is a good solution for Canada and out of state trash? Wayne County has nine landfills, which is more landfills tan any other county. Why is Michigan a cheap place to dump? Other states such as Pennsylvania raised their dumping fee to $7.25 per ton in 2002 and their trash imports has been cut by 14% after a year. The plan was to decrease the flow of trash and it would have worked for Michigan. In the Detroit Free Press, I saw where the topic is being discussed and citizens is tired of Canada’s trash and other states trash. I wonder if a large amount of people pulling together to fight the imports matter? I willing to do what it takes to keep Michigan from becoming a dumping ground and many of the residents feel the same. Could you give me some other solutions that will be good to decrease the flow of trash?
       —Leah    Jul. 20 '05 - 12:10AM    #
  13. Well, we’re hampered by the interstate commerce / NAFTA combo, which mean that we can’t discriminate against trash by point of origin. Stabenaw is apparently working on what can be done at the border – homeland security and hazardous waste-based inspections. The State is apparently uninterested in making dumping more expensive, so the only thing I see remaining to do (assuming the State’s mind can’t be changed) is a supply-side slog across the state, and it looks like there are that could be used to make dumping awfully painful,,1607,7-168-89408-,00.html (textile doesn’t want to make that a link)

    “For example, the new laws would require any solid waste going into Michigan landfills to not include certain beverage containers, whole tires, oil, lead acid batteries, low-level radioactive waste, and hazardous waste – all items prohibited in Michigan landfills. The new laws also give county and municipal governments the right to enforce solid waste laws, require inspections of solid waste imported from Canada, enhance the inspection of landfills, and provide increased penalties for violations of solid waste laws.”

    Go Township by Township working for zoning changes to prevent new landfills or landfill expansions, ensuring that, once the current ones are full, no more will be built. This would have to be done regionally – 30-some zoning change pushes in Washtenaw alone, and then moving into Wayne County. Then work to shut down the ones currently in operation: provide testing for air, soil, and water contamination around existing landfills, and help the neighbors bring nuisance suits against the landfills, to stop dumping, and sue for damages related to health or reduced farmland productivity, etc. Make landfills much more scarce, and force the ones that remain to spend more money on settlements, containment, and liability insurance, and costs will go up, just as if the State had imposed the increased taxes on tipping.
       —Murph.    Jul. 20 '05 - 01:12PM    #
  14. This book looks good: Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail of Trash . You can get on the queue behind me for the AADL’s copy . . .
       —Murph.    Jul. 20 '05 - 07:33PM    #
  15. Thank you for the solution that was giving for the decrease of trash imports to Michigan from Canada and other states. I am at the end of the semester and I need just a little more information about the imports of trash to Michigan. While doing my research, I learned that there are nine landfills in Wayne County, and I want to make sure no more landfills will be built in Wayne County because this county has the most landfills by far then any other county. Is there a procedure I can follow to make sure Wayne County do not build any more landfills? I am really concerned with the Wayne County because I live in Wayne County. Please respond to the message, so I can include your answer in my paper.
       —Leah    Jul. 26 '05 - 05:48PM    #
  16. You might want to seek out better sources for your information if you’re going to be citing them in a paper…But:

    Is there any procedure you can follow to make sure Wayne doesn’t build any more landfills? I’d say probably not, at least as far as “procedure” indicates some sort of formal process. The only ways to stop landfill construction are to either make it unprofitable for the landfill operators (e.g. stricter environmental regulations requiring higher expense for compliance) or else convince the local governments that it’s not beneficial, but in fact harmful to their populations to host landfills, so that the individual governmental units all decide not to allow further landfill construction. I’d advise you talk to your local city or county planner for a better researched answer, though.
       —Murph.    Jul. 26 '05 - 06:34PM    #
  17. Well Murph, I have came to the end of the semester, and I will follow up with the conversation on a weekly basis. The purpose of the assignment was to conversate about my topic. I think you gave me resonable solutions and honest answers. The responses made me think about my topic in depth because I want my thesis to be logical.
    The reason why I am concerned about the topic is because I fear that the underground water will become contaiminated. According to this article I researched, the landfills will leak even if they are constructed properly. Do you think the EPA can protect Michigan citizens from contaimination, when the leakage in a landfill occur? What about the old landfills that are built differently?
       —Leah    Aug. 2 '05 - 02:46PM    #
  18. I found it very interesting as to the information gathered here. Would you be able to contact me to discuss this a bit further. Thanks for your time.

    Alex Roudinski
       —Alex Roudinski    Jan. 5 '06 - 12:41AM    #