By Caleb T. Maupin
Published Jun 5, 2008 10:45 PM
The City of Detroit announced May 31 that it had taken the first step in shutting down the trash disposal system known as the “incinerator” by notifying the company that operates it that Detroit would not renew its contract. This device, which currently burns 2,800 tons of household waste a day, dispersing the smoke to Detroit’s skyline, has been the subject of a community-based grassroots campaign, whose goal is ending its use.
Those involved in the campaign, including clergy, environmentalists and other community members, are quick to point out the following fact: The city of Detroit pays $120 per ton to destroy its trash in the incinerator, whereas the national average cost for trash disposal is $57 per ton, or less than half what Detroit spends.
The private companies that have owned the incinerator in the past, as this device was and still is a corporate, nongovernment-operated facility, include Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant. Currently the incinerator is the property of an “investment group.”
It took a fight to win the battle against renewing the incinerator contract. For years, beginning even before the incinerator was constructed, community members have voiced their outrage at the notion of burning the city’s trash for the profit of big business.
Environmental concerns are some of the major grievances against the incinerator. Community members in the area of the incinerator’s location say that cancer and asthma rates in their areas are much higher than average. Almost all people living near the incinerator and poor and working people, most people of color. An elementary school is only two blocks away.
A May 13 meeting nearly boiled over as Detroiters, meeting at the Unitarian Universalist church, were furious that they were refused permission to publicly question a representative of the mayor about any corruption and environmental destruction associated with the incinerator.
Whether the incinerator is to continue its operations is still not fully decided. The city administration states that the city now has the option of buying the incinerator—a decision that reportedly must be made by July 1—and making it the property of the city of Detroit, or using other methods of disposal.
Among the crowds that demonstrated outside City Hall on May 30, the solution was clear. “Burning trash has got to go!” they chanted in unison, sending the city leaders an unmistakable message.
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