Detroit is home to the largest incinerator in the world, burning nearly 800,000 tons of waste a year and producing 68 megawatts of electricity per hour. This waste is then converted in to steam from natural gas and sold to Detroit Thermal and other similar companies. Detroit Thermal relies heavily on this steam to provide for the 145 buildings that depend on this steam for heating and cooling purposes.
In 2003, Detroit Thermal bought this massive steam loop and since has put $35 million worth of improvements into it. When the original purchase was made a contract was set up that was good until October 1st, 2010. Failure to negotiate a new contract has caused the incinerator to go into shutdown mode as of October 8th. Due to this failure, more and more arguments have arisen against the rebooting of this system. Prior to the closing, though, Detroit's trash incinerator was in a debt of $1 billion that was supposed to be paid off by July 2009. City Council voted to provide $24 million to continue the incinerator project.
In fall 2006, 10 community/environmental groups fused together to form what is now called the Coalition for a New Business Model for Detroit Solid Wastes. This group has been one of many to challenge the reopening of the incinerator. Individuals such as Mayor Bing sees it as a financial liability. On the other hand, most that are against it have environmental reasons why. Noah Hall, environmental law professor at Wayne State University Law School and Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit argues that the more than 800,000 tons of garbage burned a year are polluting the air that the citizens are breathing. Pollutants such as mercury, lead, and dioxins (nitrogen and sulfur) are not only a strong cause of global warming and acid rain, but are also the leading cause of the growing number of citizens with asthma. In addition, it creates more global warming carbon dioxide per unit of energy than and other fuel.
The argument posed is that if the Detroit incinerator is shut down for good, recycling programs and landfills would take its place. City Councils vote to continue the incinerator would provide $1.7 million more than making the switch to recycling and landfills. Sandra Turner Handy of the Michigan Environmental Council is strongly against the decisions. Her view is that keeping the incinerator running would allow for more pollution, fewer jobs created, and a lack of interest in the health and safety of the people.
The fact of the matter is, Detroit Thermal can still get all of its steam it needs without keeping the incinerator running because it is on a separate loop. Of the 30 largest cities in the United States, Detroit is the only one to not have curbside recycling. If the switch to landfills and recycling is made 200-300 jobs would be created immediately and thousands more could be in the near future. Residents may also be compensated for their participation in the recycling effort. All in all, it seems to be a win-win situation if the Detroit incinerator were to stay shutdown and the steam loop remain in tact.