An Analysis of Waste Management and Zero Waste in Detroit, Michigan (2017)

Client Organization: 
East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC)
Project Location : 
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Secondary Client Organization: 
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives:

  • his project will accomplish an analysis of waste management and zero waste options for the city of Detroit, Michigan including:
  • Case study of successful zero waste development and implementation for cities similar to Detroit 
  • Policy analysis of Detroit waste management and zero waste planning options.
  • EJ analysis of communities affected by the incinerator including a job comparison of incinerator and zero waste options. 
  • A spatial analysis of participation in Detroit’s recycling program, and tonnage of recyclables collected across the city.
  • Life Cycle analysis of emissions from Zero Waste Options for Detroit
  • Life Cycle analysis of Detroit Renewable Power Incinerator waste stream and emissions
  • Multi-criteria analysis of waste management and zero waste options for the city of Detroit 

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance:
This research has the potential to improve environmental, health, and economic conditions within the city of Detroit. The municipality’s current waste management system primarily focuses on waste management via incineration, and minimally focuses on recycling and waste recovery. The results of this research will help provide further support and justification to the city embracing zero waste models and practices.

Detroit’s incinerator, where over 80% of the city’s trash is sent, is a major polluter and contributes to Detroit’s high asthma rate. The incinerator is one of the top emitters of nitrogen oxides in Wayne County, which is a major contributor to ozone and has detrimental health impacts. An analysis and comparison of the costs of Detroit’s current waste management method of incineration versus potential zero waste options, has prospective positive impacts on the health and environment of Detroiters. In addition, there is potential economic opportunity that comes with zero waste models.

Specific Activities & Duration:
This project would use both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to tackle the proposed research question. Quantitative includes a life cycle assessment and analysis, spatial analysis, and multi-criteria analysis. Qualitative includes a policy analysis and environmental justice analysis. Yes, the scale is reasonable for a 16-month project for 4-6 students.

Integrative Approach:
The proposed research challenges and builds upon a multitude of skill sets including policy analysis, environmental justice analysis, life cycle assessment, spatial analysis, and multi-criteria analysis for disparate team members to generate an effective final product/output.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 

Environmental Policy and Planning: Key skills/expertise necessary include policy analysis of the current landscape of Detroit waste management and mapping of key decision-makers; and an analysis of prospective zero waste planning proposals/models that would be of the best fit for the city using examples from other major cities with zero waste models. There is a potential opportunity for policy students to get direct hands on experience with Detroit’s councilmen Scott Benson’s Green Task Force subcommittee on zero waste.

Environmental Informatics: Key skills/expertise necessary include a spatial analysis of participation in Detroit’s recycling program, and tonnage of recyclables collected across the city. [Which can then be used in an analysis of potential areas for growth, can get more recyclables from, and can show high/low participation and tonnages].

Environmental Justice: Key skills/expertise necessary include EJ analysis of communities affected by the incinerator and job comparison of incinerator and zero waste options.

Sustainable Systems: Key skills/expertise necessary include assessment of pollutants from incinerator, life cycle analysis of emissions from Zero Waste Options for Detroit, life cycle analysis of Detroit Renewable Power Incinerator waste stream and emissions, and a multi-criteria analysis of waste management options for the city of Detroit.

Team size: 

An appropriate group size for our proposed research would be between 5-7 students. 

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Skills students can expect to develop are critical thinking skills regarding systems thinking at a citywide level. Students will develop skills assessing the power and roles of institutions interconnected amongst the incinerator and zero waste challenges/opportunities presented in Detroit waste management. Students will gain knowledge about municipal waste incineration and the associated social and health impacts. Students will gain policy skills through zero waste and incinerator policy research at a citywide level. Students have the potential to gain hands-on policy experience through engagement in the City’s Green Task Force subcommittee on zero waste. Students will have the opportunity to gain experience with the following technical skills: spatial analysis, life cycle analysis, and multi-criteria analysis. Students will build relationships with community leaders/members of the environmental justice movement in Detroit. There is a potential to present these findings at professional conferences, present to and engage with Detroit City Council and/or Detroit City Council Green Task Force and its zero waste subcommittee, present to environmental justice community in Detroit via EMEAC. 

Funding Sources: 

No known funding sources. EMEAC is a 501c3 non-profit. 

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

Deliverables:
The team will deliver a report on the analysis of waste management and zero waste in the City of Detroit, Michigan and subsequent zero waste planning recommendations.

Implementation:
We will use project outputs to potentially enhance zero waste and waste management policy in the city of Detroit and to educate community members about zero waste options for the city. The project team’s recommendations will be shared within EMEAC, Detroit City Council, Zero Waste Detroit, Climate Justice Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and Midwest Environmental Justice Network.

Contact full name: 
Brittany C. Anstead
Job title: 
Climate Justice Coordinator at EMEAC
City: 
Detroit
State or Country: 
MI
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Greg Keoleian and Tony Reames
Contact Phone: 
(252) 820-3842
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Reema Abi-Akar, MS Sustainable Systems 
  • Gabriel Jones, MS Environmental Justice 
  • Yi Tang, MS Sustainable Systems 
Project Status: 
Past Project