Michigan hasn’t built a new landfill in more than two decades. That’s not likely to change dramatically as new laws supported by the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer make it tougher than ever to build new facilities. Yet existing landfills in populated areas like Lansing and Detroit are nearing their capacity, the state continues to bury record amounts of trash while Michigan recycles only about half as much as the national average.
Parts of Michigan are nearing landfill capacity, signaling that it’s time to think about what’s next, said Bob Gardner, a landfill consultant with SCS Consultants, which works in a number of states including Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas. He points out that it can often take 10 to 20 years for a landfill to go from concept to taking the first load of waste, “Most haulers don’t want to transport their waste over 25 to 30 miles, and sometimes less depending on traffic issues,” Gardner said. “Doing so results in too much off-route time.”
It’s a pattern across the country, said Timothy Townsend, a University of Florida professor whose work includes landfills. “Sometimes we’re running out (of landfill space) right where we want it but we have a surprising amount further away.” Michigan faces three choices, Townsend said: Waste less, which is important but likely not enough on its own; expand existing landfills in creative ways; or haul trash across the state to areas with more landfill capacity, like West Michigan or further north in Traverse City, at extra cost in time and fuel.