Trash The Detroit Incinerator

BY ON March 20, 2013

Picture of earth with three polluting smokestacks in front of it

This is a guest post written by Ahmina Maxey:

In 1986 the city of Detroit constructed the world’s largest municipal incinerator. It was lauded by the city’s government and citizens as it was expected to bring economic prosperity to Detroit. It was thought that industries would be attracted to the city because at the time incineration, or burning trash, was viewed as the safest, most cost-effective waste disposal method. Although many Detroit residents were in support of the incinerator, there were some citizens and environmental groups that were not. This group, largely made up of suburban environmental groups, was known as the Evergreen Alliance. They felt that the incinerator was a major environmental and health risk, and actively protested against its construction. Their campaign however was unsuccessful.

The concerns of the Evergreen Alliance about the Detroit incinerator unfortunately rang true. The incinerator is one of the worst polluters in Wayne County for criteria pollutants. It emits nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead into the atmosphere – pollutants which can be toxic to human health. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide both contribute to the formation of ozone which is harmful to respiratory health. In addition the toxins emitted by the incinerator are particularly harmful to children’s health. Particulate matter emissions contribute to Detroit’s high asthma hospitalization rate for children, at three times the state average.

The Detroit incinerator has also proved to be a money pit for the city of Detroit. The expected economic benefits of the incinerator were never realized. The incinerator was sold in 1991 to private investors to pay off city debt, and although the city no longer owned the incinerator citizens were forced to continue paying bonds owed on it. In total Detroit’s residents have paid over $1.2 billion in debt because of the incinerator.

Since the incinerat­or’s opening in the late 1980’s it has caused nothing but environmental, health, and economic strife in the city of Detroit. In 2010 the incinerator was bought and renamed Detroit Renewable Energy in an effort to “green wash” the facility although it remains a toxic, polluting facility. Zero Waste Detroit (ZWD), a coalition of organizations advocating for the City of Detroit to move toward a waste recovery system and away from incineration, work hard to hold Detroit Renewable Power accountable for their actions. When residents in the neighborhood began to complain of odors coming from the incinerator shortly after re-opening, ZWD engaged the community to report this information to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). As a result, Detroit Renewable Power has received six notices of odor violation and was tasked with making repairs to their facility to eliminate the extreme odor.

Take Action:

It is extremely important that during the Spring and Summer of 2013 residents living around the incinerator stay diligent in reporting any odors in their neighborhood. Detroit Renewable Power is on trial this summer, and their claims to have fixed the odor problem will be easily tested – with our noses.

Actions YOU can take to support clean air:

  1. Report foul odors in Midtown: If you smell garbage in the air in Midtown, you may smell air pollution from the Incinerator at I-75 and I-94. Please report to the MDEQ at 313-456-4712, and 800-292-4706 after hours.  Please also note the color of what is coming from the incinerator’s tall stack.
  1. Attend MI Energy Public Forum – Mar 25th: Let Governor Snyder know that incineration is not a form of renewable energy.  Renewable energy, as defined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is an energy source that is regenerative or virtually inexhaustible.  Waste incineration is not a source of renewable energy. Municipal waste is non-renewable, consisting of discarded materials such as paper, plastic and glass that are derived from finite natural resources such as forests that are being depleted at unsustainable rates.

Ahmina Maxey is the the Outreach Coordinator for Zero Waste Detroit.  Zero Waste Detroit is a coalition of local organizations advocating for curbside recycling, a materials recovery system that would bring jobs and economic development to city, and an end to waste incineration.   The coalition is made up of over 15 organizations representing the environmental, environmental justice, faith-based, civic, and legal communities of Detroit.  If you would like to support Zero Waste Detroit and their work, or report odors coming from the incinerator, please visit their website at


TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Economics, Michigan, Pollution