Trash, cash & green dreams

Detroiters opposed to the city’s downtown trash incinerator — the largest and possibly most expensive of its kind in the United States — are gearing up to shut down the air polluter. Clear Air Project, a grassroots organization with nearly 100 people on its meeting list, is holding a fundraiser/concert Friday, Sept. 13, at the Magic Stick, called “Ban the Burn.” The 9 p.m. show features the Immigrant Suns. An $8 cover will help fund the grassroots movement, says Brad van Guilder, a group member who is researching the incinerator for Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center. According to van Guilder, Clear Air members recently met with officials from Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration to discuss shutting down the incinerator in favor of recycling, composting and landfilling. The meeting was a good start, says van Guilder, but officials say the incinerator can’t be shuttered until $600 million in bonds and interest are paid off in 2009. Clear Air hopes to educate Detroiters about incinerator costs and on positive alternatives so that, by 2009, a plan exists to, for instance, convert the incinerator into a recycling center. That year, the city will have the option of buying back the facility from Philip Morris. The tobacco giant bought a majority interest in 1991 when Detroit couldn’t afford the trash burner’s mandatory pollution-control equipment.

Each year, the incinerator burns 720,000 tons of garbage, far less than the 850,000-ton goal, and emits 1,800 tons of pollutants. The incinerator emissions fall within most federal limits, but in October 2000 it exceeded emission limits for dioxin and furan, known carcinogens created by burning plastics. The Environmental Defense Fund ranks the facility among the most polluting in Michigan. Detroiters, who recycle about 7 percent of their waste compared to a 30 percent national average, pay at least $130 per ton to dispose of trash, compared to a national average of $34 per ton. “The incinerator literally burns money,” says van Guilder, explaining that old greenbacks from the Federal Reserve System are among the machine’s weekly meals.

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