Imported trash may have to be 'gift wrapped'

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Mr. Rogers’ motto “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” may have new meaning after announced legislation would require tougher inspection of imported trash crossing the state border.
Pollution concerns and health worries led three House Republicans to announce the proposals to require all waste to be sealed in air-tight bags when dumping. Upon entering the landfill, the company’s vehicle will be inspected thoroughly.
“Accountability is our primary concern,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester. “Hauling companies need to understand that they are ultimately responsible for whatever they are hauling–this includes any environmental fallout caused by their payloads.”
Being a good neighbor means assuring Michigan residents that accepting foreign waste will not put natural resources at risk, said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake.
If those new rules are violated, the companies would have to pay fines in addition to any environmental implications.
Granger Waste Management Co. is a leader in trash disposal with the creation of curbside cart collection in the Lansing area. The company is not directly affected by out-of-state or out-of-country dumping but sees environmental benefits with the stricter rules.
Terry Guerin, director of governmental relations for Granger, said that it’s a two-way street when it comes to dumping garbage in the state. While Michigan imports mostly non-hazardous trash from Canada, the state also exports its hazardous waste at the same time.
“We have to be careful of what we ask for because we might just get it,” Guerin said.”We might be forced to keep our own trash if this continues.”
In an ongoing debate over the disposal of foreign trash, Canada has been less than receptive to Michigan’s idea, according to Bishop. While explaining the newly tightened rules to foreign officials, Bishop was shocked at their “outright arrogance” about Michigan’s position.
Although these bills would not grant the state authority to deny garbage from crossing the border, Bishop believes it is a step forward in improving environmental conditions.
“As stewards of this state we need to buckle down until the federal government comes around,” Bishop said.
While guidelines were put in place to monitor the trash that Michigan generates, the trucks crossing the state borders don’t necessarily abide by these, according to another co-sponsor, Rep. Mickey Mortimer, R-Horton.
“We need to make sure that whatever is in those trucks stays where it is supposed to be and doesn’t drip out and leak all across Michigan,” Mortimer said.
While the primary focus is on trash that is imported through Canada, Ken Silfven, press secretary for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said that the rules need to be applied consistently, including intrastate dumping of waste.
“There could be possible legal problems because we cannot selectively enforce the new rules,” Silfven said.
Currently, the DEQ conducts inspections at the point of entry and follows the trucks into the landfill, ensuring that the waste is disposed of correctly. Silfven said, however, that the added focus will help to underscore the more general issue of denying the dumping of foreign waste.
“In the end, it is up to Congress to give states the authority to impose limitations and restrictions,” Silfven said. “But we are going to keep fighting these battles if by bits and pieces at the state level.”
One of the main forces behind the proposed legislation is a company’s accountability for what it imports. Bishop hopes that the fines incurred during an inspection will be earmarked towards environmental causes such as Great Lakes cleaning.
The new regulations will force some companies to factor in tightened restrictions and added responsibilities to their contracts, Bishop said.
“If you don’t agree with our strict environmental standards, you’re welcome to take your trash elsewhere.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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