Oakland's looming trash problem

A recent report calls for dramatic improvement in recycling and other efforts to save landfill space in Oakland County, given that the space could run out as soon as 2004.

Of more than 5,000 tons of waste generated daily in the county, about 18 percent is diverted from landfills through programs such as recycling and composting, according to the recent update of the county’s solid waste management plan. The plan update recommends increasing that to 30 percent by 2010.

Given current landfill operations in Oakland County, along with projected population and employment increases, all landfills are likely to be filled in five to seven years, says Roger Smith, the county’s recently retired solid waste planning manager and author of the study.

Preliminary talks about creating new landfills or building an incinerator in Oakland County have been quashed by controversy. Aside from the possibility that current negotiations could produce an expansion of the Eagle Valley landfill in Orion Township – something Smith says could delay the county’s trash dilemma up to 15 years – Smith mentions no other options but the expensive one of exporting all of the county’s garbage in the future.

Oakland County now exports less than half of its solid waste to Wayne, Washtenaw and other counties, but also takes solid waste from other counties, states and Canada, he says.

Mike Csapo, general manager of Resource Recovery and Recycling Authority of Southwest Oakland County, says the news of dwindling landfill space comes as no surprise. The southwest Oakland authority covers Farmington, Farmington Hills, Novi, South Lyon, Southfield, Walled Lake, Wixom and Lyon Township.

"What we’re doing is trying to call people’s attention to the fact that, while we might have landfill space left for now, for the future we should be focusing on alternative means," he says.

According to the report, outside of the southwest Oakland authority and the 12-community Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority, there are few effective programs around the county to divert waste from landfills. In fact, Smith says, some communities, which he declined to name, have cut recycling or composting programs.

Tom Waffen, head of the southeast Oakland authority, says his area’s recycling rate has held steady at about 15 percent of the area’s waste stream for the past few years. Waffen says he believes few people are aware that the county is running out of room for their garbage.

"All they care about is that it’s picked up," he says.

Csapo says the southwest county authority reported record recycling rates this past spring. He says that, overall, trash diversion away from landfills for those communities, by way of recycling and composting, has climbed from 19.5 percent of the total waste stream in 1997 to 24.9 percent so far this year.

But Oakland County could do better than it currently does. Csapo says: "I envision the day when we have large containers set out in front of the our houses for recycling and small ones set out for trash, instead of the other way around."