Yard waste ban revisited and rejected by State Senate Committee

Yard waste restrictions in landfills were being considered as a way to increase methane gas production for energy.

Since 1995, Michigan’s Public Act 264 has prohibited yard waste from being disposed in landfills. The legislation was a response to a projected decline in landfill space in the State. At the time the Act was passed, yard waste and other similar organic materials comprised about 25 percent of the waste stream. Because yard waste is the one of the easiest material to divert and its volume was second only to paper in landfills in 1995, the law was seen as a way to extend the operational time of existing landfills. Partially as a result of the ban, residential, municipal, and commercial composting activities increased.

Landfills are engineered to isolate and entomb trash and other harmful waste from our environment. By their nature, and as a result of the decomposition process, landfills produce methane gas and leachate (the liquid that occurs as rain or snow melt move through the landfill). Leachate collection systems have been used for many years to prevent it from getting into ground or surface waters. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, was burned off into the air in a process called “flaring.” Over the last 20 years, technology has evolved to capture, rather than burn, the methane gas from landfills.

This fall the Michigan Senate Committee on Energy and Technology heard testimony on Senate Bill 314, which would lift the yard waste ban at those landfills equipped to capture and burn the methane gas for energy production, direct use or as another substitute for conventional fuels. Because yard waste in a landfill would increase the decomposition rate and production of methane, allowing yard waste into landfills equipped with methane capture technology would increase the amount of alternative energy produced. Similar legislation has been taken up in the past, but failed to pass both chambers.

Supporters of “gas to grass” policies cite the benefits of turning waste into energy. In Lansing, for example, two landfills with methane-capture technology supply about 5 percent of the Board of Water and Light’s customer base. Some opponents of the bill, however, do not want to see yard waste being diverted from composting sites, and the resulting loss of jobs that might ensue. Furthermore, if the yard waste ban is lifted, the state might have to permit out-of-state yard waste into its landfills (under a court ruling, under the U.S. Commerce Clause, the state cannot prohibit the import of out-of-state waste unless it also prohibits the same waste from in-state sources.) Others cite the original reason the yard waste ban was imposed: it fills up landfills too quickly. Still others say that the amount of methane released into the atmosphere during burning will unnecessarily add to climate change.

On November 19, in a 5-to-4 vote, the Senate committee rejected Bill 314.

If you have questions or would like to express your opinion about Senate Bill 314, contact your state senator. Michigan State University Extension public policy educators are also available to answer any questions you may have. You can find out who represents you in the Michigan Legislature and their contact information on the Michigan Legislature website

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