cash out Landfills want
to expand, but garbage imports rankle
By TOM HENRY
TOLEDO BLADE STAFF 07/08/2002
Trash flow equals cash flow.
To make sure they have plenty of room for the ever-increasing
amount of trash created by our throwaway society, several
northwest Ohio landfill operators are in the process of
seeking Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approval to
Northwood officials, who negotiated that limit years ago
in an effort to control out-of-state trash there, have expressed
reservations about giving the landfill that much leeway.
The Ohio EPAís technical review of Evergreenís request is
expected to take about two years.
A Browning-Ferris Industries facility in Ottawa County,
east of Toledo, also has applied for both vertical and lateral
expansion, according to the Ohio EPAís district office in
That office recently approved an application from Hancock
County for a vertical expansion of its landfill. It also
is considering a request for a vertical expansion of Wood
Countyís landfill, plus a request for a lateral expansion
from of Erie Countyís landfill, officials said.
Toledoís Hoffman Road landfill, which is about half full,
has an estimated 27 years of capacity left. The site is
the only operating dump left in the city.
Toledo is bound by an agreement to use it only for disposal
of nonhazardous waste generated within Lucas County, according
to Al Ruffell, the cityís manager of landfill operations.
No applications are pending for landfill expansion in Monroe,
Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties, according to John Russell,
supervisor of the Michigan Department of Environmental Qualityís
regional office, which serves those counties.
Many landfills in Ohio and Michigan coordinate their expansion
requests with technical reviews that are required at least
once every 10 years to make sure companies are staying current
Yet the primary reason for these expansion plans is not
technical at all. In fact, itís quite simple.
Disposal or "tipping fees" that garbage haulers pay to dump
their loads at landfills, are about $15 to $16 a ton at
some Midwestern landfills. By comparison, those fees are
$40 to $50 a ton in the eastern U.S.
Plus, the Midwest has land - lots of it - with clays and
other geological features suitable for many types of nonhazardous,
As a result, Ohio landfills accepted nearly 1.8 million
tons of out-of-state trash in 2000, the most recent year
for which Ohio EPA records are available.
New York accounted for 26 percent of that total. Together
with Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the three Middle Atlantic
states accounted for 64 percent of Ohioís total of imported
trash, or more than 1.1 million tons.
For many area landfill operators, it makes little difference
where the stream of garbage comes from - so long as it remains
steady and at a pace they can manage comfortably while turning
But competition near state lines has resulted in a lot of
regional fluctuations in garbage imports and exports. Garbage
haulers, just like anyone else, are bargain hunters who
shop around for the best landfill prices and weigh them
against transportation costs.
In 2000 Indiana was the fourth largest exporter of waste
to Ohio, behind New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Three other neighboring states - West Virginia, Kentucky,
and Michigan - were in the top 10 as well.
Ohio exported more than 800,000 tons of trash to neighboring
states in 2000; half of that went to Kentucky.
Michigan was the second-most popular destination for Ohio
trash exports. Much of that trash originates in the Toledo
area and other parts of northwest Ohio, ending up in a BFI
landfill just across the state line in Michiganís Monroe
County, officials said.
Records compiled by the Michigan DEQ show that landfills
in 16 of 83 counties accepted out-of-state trash in 2001.
Monroe County ranked fifth among the stateís counties in
the amount of outside trash received. Lenawee County was
Michigan has experienced a steady increase in overall trash
imports in recent years, but only a fraction of that has
come from the eastern U.S. Most has come from across the
border in Canada.
In 2001, Canada sent nearly as much trash to Michigan as
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York,
and Pennsylvania combined. Toronto garbage, for example,
is sent to a landfill near Romulus, Mich.
The steady stream of Canadian trash has infuriated U.S.
Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn). In March he issued a report
that accused Canada of failing to stand by a 10-year-old
agreement that requires it to notify the U.S. at least 30
days in advance of garbage shipments.
The advance notice is necessary so that the U.S. EPA has
time to decide whether the shipments should be rejected,
according to Mr. Dingell.
Canada has the same authority over waste the U.S. exports
to that country. The U.S. EPA has said it is reviewing the
Some officials, such as U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R.,
Ohio), said they are worried about mixed signals being sent
to residents of Ohio and other states who make an effort
to conserve landfill space through recycling programs, only
to have that space filled by out-of-state trash flowing
"Ohio has worked hard to create recycling efforts that protect
the environment by reducing the amount of trash we send
to landfills," he said. "Other states havenít been as responsible
and simply ship that trash to us."
Mr. Voinovich introduced legislation in March that would
give states the authority to place limits on trash imports,
would give local communities the authority to determine
where trash within defined jurisdictions is disposed of,
and would allow fees to be assessed on imported trash to
help pay for solid waste management plans.
Co-sponsors include U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) and
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.).
There are currently no such restrictions. In 1991 the U.S.
Supreme Court declared Ohioís practice of charging higher
fees for out-of-state trash was unconstitutional because
it violated the Constitutionís Interstate Commerce Clause
that promotes free trade across the states.
In other words, trash - in the high courtís opinion - is
interstate commerce and under the Constitution comes under
the authority of Congress.
Mr. Voinovichís bill calls upon Congress to grant a waiver
from the Interstate Commerce Clause as it applies to municipal
solid waste, so that states may cap the amount of out-of-state
garbage that new or expanding landfills may accept.
Without such a provision, "all youíre doing [by recycling]
is making more room in your landfill for someone elseís
trash," according to Scott Milburn, a spokesman for Senator
Voinovich. The bill is in the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee but faces an uphill battle, according to
Mr. Milburn, because key members of that committee are from
East Coast states that rely on other states to dispose of
Ohio has seen a steady increase in waste imports each year
But those imports havenít come close to the record of 3.7
million tons hauled to the Buckeye State in 1989.
That 1989 spike came on rather suddenly, considering the
out-of-state haul into Ohio had totaled only 33,000 tons
three years earlier, in 1986.
Out-of-state shipments leveled off and declined steadily
from 1990 through 1996 before steadily rising again in 1997,
according to Ohio EPA records.
Officials view 1989 as a turning point, because Ohio was
mired in a garbage crisis then.
Trash was filling up dumps at breakneck speed, leaving 67
of Ohioís 88 counties with less than five years of disposal
Confusion reigned over how to create more disposal sitesat
an affordable cost while complying with ever-changing and
more expensive regulations designed to keep the sites from
Monumental legislation at the state level, known widely
in government circles as House Bill 592, is viewed as the
framework for what led Ohio down its long path to recovery.
Among other things, that bill established many of Ohioís
current recycling goals and required counties to establish
solid waste management districts - either on their own or
jointly with other counties - to help communities reach
those goals, as well as work their way through the myriad
set of environmental regulations.
Now, with multiple landfills across Ohio proposing expansion,
the state could wind up with a cushion of some 35 years
of disposal capacity.
Andy Booker, an Ohio EPA solid waste planning supervisor,
said Ohioís garbage imports have accounted for about 7 to
8 percent of all the trash buried in each of the past few
years - down considerably from 1989, when it peaked at 20
percent of the total.
"At 7 to 8 percent, itís not at a crisis stage," Mr. Booker
The problem is that states such as Ohio have no control
over their destiny unless there is congressional action
in regard to the Interstate Commerce Clause, he said.
Simply raising tipping fees to make area landfills less
attractive is not an easy solutions. Area garbage haulers
would pass their increased costs along to community, commercial,
and individual customers.
"We would like the ability to restrict out-of-state waste
in the future," Mr. Booker said.
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