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The long haul

Granger plan for transporting waste hurts the public good

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Recently Granger III & Associates, which run the Wood Street landfill, has requested Clinton County to amend the county’s solid waste plan. The proposed amendment would allow fGranger to collect and haul refuse from additional counties — Clare, Mecosta, Lenawee, and Hillsdale — even further away from their existing approved collection territory.

This is certainly reasonable from the private interest perspective of the Granger business. It makes money from the hauling and the landfilling of the refuse. But I would remind the decision-makers in this process that county government should reflect the public good first and private gain only secondarily.

In this case the request to move more trash a greater distance (the additional counties as measured from their county seats range from 70 to 120 miles from the landfill) is not in the public interest, clearly not environmentally. The discussion, especially given the growing concern from the scientific community of the threats from climate disruption and ecological unraveling, should follow the old Hippocratic maxim, “First, do no harm.”

This proposal harms the public good in several ways. By moving waste farther and farther from its point of origin, we unnecessarily add more greenhouse gases from the trucks to the already overburdened atmosphere. In addition, as we all know, the mantra of responsible solid waste is “reduce, reuse, recycle.” There is nothing in this proposal that addresses or attempts to improve any of those priorities of that wellestablished practice. As such, it does not reduce waste but simply adds environmental burdens.

But I like to go back to the responsibility of governmental bodies to protect, preserve and enhance the public good. The Granger company has been a reasonably good local steward of our landfill operation for more than 40 years. We need a landfill to safely dispose of unusable or unrecyclable materials while protecting our groundwater, atmosphere and land. The economic model on which many businesses and supportive policies are constructed is one of growth. In this case, the more refuse Granger can collect, haul, and bury, the better their economic bottom line. The now soon-to-be-retired old myth of MORE is BETTER, or unlimited economic growth (note the similarity to cancer cells), doesn’t work anymore, and certainly not in terms of solid waste. By asking our community members to reduce, reuse and recycle, we’re asking them to shrink waste hauling. Thus Granger wisely got involved in recycling and composting efforts and more recently with capturing the methane from the landfill for energy use.

But it would seem from this proposal that Granger has hit the wall. Its only proposal is to simply ignore the solid waste trilogy as a way out. I believe it falls upon county officials to assist Granger, as a company with local roots and in good standing, by exploring other remedies to their ”wall” that are more in line with the public good -— i.e., reducing, reusing, and recycling. As a private citizen, I see no evidence that this tact has been explored with any sincere due diligence by either of the parties. The lack of imagination and collaboration to create something better is certainly disappointing to me, both as a former county commissioner and as someone with more than a little knowledge about solid waste and environmental issues.

On a finite planet with a growing population, the simple math tells us we must reduce waste, including greenhouse gases. Doing so will require a different set of incentives if the work must bring some entities profit. Government officials are overdue in reviewing the rules of the game. There is plenty of room for creativity in finding solutions. Until some alternatives are offered, this proposal should be tabled and players should take this opportunity to explore — together with a committee of citizens, government officials, and Granger — possible alternatives which might benefit us all and the children and grandchildren we leave behind.

(Consultant Terry Link was the founding director of MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability and is a senior fellow with the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. He can be reached at link @lansingcitypulse.com.)

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